By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Commercial fish farming is being eyed as “the way forward for the Bahamas”, this nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) ambassador yesterday confirming that the absence of a defined aquaculture policy had blunted its “substantial potential”.
Godfrey Eneas, who is also the Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Sciences Institute’s (BAMSI) president, confirmed to Tribune Business that the Bahamas was seeking the FAO’s help in developing an aquaculture policy.
“I think it’s been an obstacle,” Mr Eneas said, explaining why the absence of a defined sector policy meant the Bahamas had been slow to embrace commercial fish farming in comparison to other nations.
“I think people want to know with clarity what is the Government’s position, and a policy that’s not willy nilly. We have a lot of water, and you have to be careful what we allow in because we don’t want to upset the ecosystem.
“That’s why we need a policy to set the parameters. Policy and legislation go hand-in-hand, and that’s being developed. Right now there is no aquaculture policy in the Bahamas, and we’re trying to develop one.”
Mr Eneas added: “Aquaculture is the way forward. The fish eaten from fish farms now exceed those caught in the ocean.
“What has happened is that commercial fisheries areas have been over-exploited, which is why we have this poaching problem. We here in the Bahamas are one of the few countries where fish come from the ocean.
“Aquaculture is the way forward for our people with respect to a rich source of protein. This is a whole new area that has to be explored, which is not explored here.”
Mr Eneas said another challenge facing the development of an aquaculture industry was to encourage Bahamians to eat the fish it produced, even though fast-food consumers were eating farm-produced fish such as tilapia.
The Government and FAO jointly hosted a workshop earlier this week on boosting fisheries and aquaculture governance.
The workshop assessed an FAO State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture report, which showed that global aquaculture production had surpassed captured fisheries production.
The aquaculture sector contributes to the livelihoods of some 12 per cent of the world’s population, and supplies an average 19 kilograms per capita of fish and fisheries products.
Mr Eneas told Tribune Business that aquaculture held “substantial potential” for the Bahamas. He added: “The Government has had a number of requests from commercial growers for fish farms in the Bahamas.
“I can tell you there’s been requests to engage in cage production in the ocean. It’s been done all over the world, but not here, because of the species.”
Mr Eneas said aquaculture would be “a very important part of BAMSI”, with the Andros-based Institute developing a demonstration project to show entrepreneurs, investors and Bahamians that the sector was commercially viable and environmentally sustainable.
He added that BAMSI would provide the research to help develop an aquaculture policy, arguing that this component had been previously lacking in the Bahamas, where the Department of Agriculture was simply a regulatory agency.
In a speech given on Mr Eneas’s behalf at this week’s workshop, he said Bahamians had to understand the “changing dynamics and governance” of their marine resources.
“Most Bahamians on these Family Islands have existed simply because they have lived off the land as pot-hole farmers and off the sea as subsistence fishermen,” Mr Eneas said.
“This gap has also caused void in the thought-process for an appreciation for value-added processes using local resources from the farm and marine environment.”
As a result, Mr Eneas said the Bahamian fisheries industry needed to co-operate with scientists to “find a balance between conservation and sustainable utilisation of our fisheries resources” for the sector’s survival.
He added that it was “only a matter of time” before aquaculture became important to the Bahamas, with 62 per cent of food fish projected to come from the industry globally by 2030.
The fastest supply growth will come from tilapia, carp, and catfish. Global tilapia production is expected to almost double from 4.3 million tons to 7.3 million tons a year between 2010 and 2030.
The Bahamas is the third largest producer of captured fisheries products in the CARICOM region, after Guyana and Suriname, but its aquaculture production is insignificant. The sector currently contributes 3 per cent of Bahamian GDP.
Rena Glinton, permanent secretary in the Ministry, of agriculture and marine resources, told the workshop: “The growth of the sector is constrained by the absence of adequate planning, which has limited the development of aquaculture and the utilisation of marine resources, and hampered efforts to fight Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. The absence of a government policy and strategy has also stunted recreational fisheries development and the export of fish and fisheries products.”