Oistins. Friday night. Enjoying some delicious local fish? Bridgetown Fisheries Complex. Saturday morning. Choosing some fresh local fish to cook for Sunday lunch? Chances are that over ¾ of the ‘local’ fish that you are buying and consuming is not even local.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, approximately 86 per cent of seafood consumed in Barbados is imported.
The fisheries sector, one of the established sectors within the Blue Economy, is important for employment, livelihoods and food security. Barbados has a history and culture strongly linked to fish with fishing and associated activities having been integral components of the social and economic fabric years.
Approximately 8 000 people are employed in this sector which accounts for six per cent of the labour force with over 1 000 active fishing vessels. Bajans’ consumption of fish per capita is also very high in the Caribbean region.
Recently, annual catches have declined with marine capture production being between 2 000 to 2 500 tonnes of fish, with flying fish, dolphin fish and yellowfin tuna contributing to the majority of landings. Lower catches and high imports are not the only threats that the fishing industry faces.
In addition, overfishing and unsustainable fishing, land based and marine sources of pollution, coastal development and loss of coral reefs, changes in climate and the introduction of invasive species such as lionfish and the influx of sargassum further threaten the fisheries sector.
So what can we do to ensure that flying fish remains part of our national dish and that fisheries continues to play an important role in Barbados? Many people argue that we should stop eating fish to save our seas. Would eating less fish and choosing the right fish help?
Working together from the ground up, we need to continue educating and spreading awareness for fisherfolk as well as capturing their local knowledge. How many of you have roasted fish on the beach or eaten sea egg on a sea grape leaf or learnt how to build a wooden boat or cast a net? Do we wish these traditions to be lost?
As policy makers, we need to look to management measures such as size limits and potentially even closed seasons for some species. What about the regulation of the use of seine nets, or abandoned, lost and discarded fishing gear (ghost gear) such as lost pots? Or what about the potential presence of foreign fleets in our waters and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing?
There are many ongoing projects working on sustainably developing the fisheries sector in Barbados. However, there is still much to be done. From fisherfolk coming together to have one voice to advocate for change, whether it be fighting for a decrease in the fuel tax or for better haul out facilities to our country having a presence on the international scale for example for the allocation of quotas for yellowfin tuna, we all need to work together to play our part. As a member of the Fisheries Advisory Committee, I hope to continue spreading education and awareness on fisheries issues as well as advising on policy.
As individuals, one of the biggest areas in which you can have a positive impact is by being more responsible and conscious consumers. Did you know that marlin, for example, one of the most popular fish consumed in Barbados is overfished and that some can contain high levels of mercury, which has the potential to negatively impact human health?
Sustainability of seafood is based on their reproductive and growth cycles, the methods used to catch them, whether they are local and in season.
The best choices include the invasive lionfish, flying fish and dolphin fish (greater than 7 pounds). When it comes to fish, size matters!
If these are not available (such as is the case with flying fish in recent times), some alternatives include barracuda, amber jack (which has been plentiful with sargassum) and ocean trigger fish (turpit).
The species to avoid and say no to include sharks and rays, and marlin due to them being overfished and potentially containing high levels of mercury. It is recommended that pregnant women and children limit their intake of these species. Pass on Parrotfish (chubs) as they are important to our coral reefs which in turn protect our coastline!
Get to know your local fisherfolk – have a chat with vendors such as Gemma, Judy, Ricky, Sharon or Muscles in Bridgetown or how about ask Zeuss, Wellington or Red Man for lionfish in Oistins or visit Melissa in Payne’s Bay? Become familiar with the journey of your fish from bait to plate and ask some of the following questions: Where is your fish coming from? How was it caught? Which boat caught it? Is it local?
My challenge to you this week is to go to one of the fish markets around the island, take this seafood guide and first ask for those species on the best choices list. If you are getting dolphin fish, ask them to weigh it and if it isn’t over 7lbs, ask for another one! Or ask for lionfish fillets at Oistins and try preparing some lionfish ceviche.
Nikola Simpson is a marine biologist that uses her voice to speak for the ocean. She is passionate about raising awareness on ocean conservation such as the impacts of plastic pollution and how we as individuals can make small changes that create a big positive impact towards an environmentally sustainable and conscious Caribbean.
She is the founder of Sustainable Caribbean where she offers a range of sustainability consulting services and the Crate Barbados, the Caribbean's first one stop eco shop.
Social: @sustainablecaribbean @thecratebarbados on IG and FB