By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
Bahamian fishermen are opposed to COVID-19 restrictions that force them to sell their product to wholesalers at prices that make it difficult to gain a proper return, an industry representative said yesterday.
Adrian LaRoda, the Bahamas Commercial Fishers Alliance’s president, told the Rethinking Food Security webinar: “The fisheries sector in The Bahamas is thriving, but under challenges. We feel that we are over-managed by policies that impact fish production and fisher livelihoods. COVID-19 has exposed the vulnerability of the sector in terms of food supplies and the access to fresh seafood for our citizens.”
He added that the domestic seafood market was “unfortunately affected” by the Government’s “cookie-cutter approach” to containing COVID-19’s health impact, which closed the markets used by fishermen to sell directly to the Bahamian people. All sales instead had to be channelled through wholesalers.
Mr LaRoda said: “The shutdown did affect fisheries harvests. The COVID-19 rules required fishers to go out and harvest seafood, but it had to be sold to a wholesaler. Of course, that affected production and a lot of operators didn’t see the need, or didn’t feel they would have gotten the yield and wouldn’t have been able to maximise the economics by going out and harvesting their product just to sell to a wholesaler.
“Due to economies of scale, the wholesaler would not have given them what they felt would have been worth the effort. Given what has taken place, our sector is now duty bound to demonstrate that we have always employed best practices and have always had a measure of self-governance.”
Mr LaRoda said the fisheries industry has always been self-regulating, and pointed to the lobster harvest control rule. This limits the amount of lobster that could be exported from The Bahamas, and does not affect domestic sales. He added that the industry has also controlled the “gear type” employed to catch fish to ensure the industry’s sustainability and prohibit illegal practices.
The main fisheries industry management system in The Bahamas is the “seasonal closures,” which regulate when persons can harvest - particularly for lobster, grouper and stone crab.
Mr LaRoda said despite the seasonal closures, and the ban on catching turtles and sharks, the entire marine-ecosystem is “under-utilised” and there are other fisheries products that can be profitably and sustainably harvested.
He argued that the Bahamian fisheries sector can supply 100 percent of the country’s needs without importing products such as shrimps. Although imported seafood is still a “big part” of the fisheries sector, Mr LaRoda voiced optimism that The Bahamas can begin to chip away this if it can remove “non-traditional” products from the Bahamian diet.