Imagine being able to eat freshly caught spiny lobsters and groupers, even during their closed season?
Imagine a Bahamas where instead of 70 percent of the population indirectly working for tourism, we have businessmen and businesswomen working together to create a new industry that will not only save our beloved seafood products but also create great wealth amongst Bahamians, just as it did to boost Norway’s economy over 40 years ago.
Let us seriously consider making way for a new industry in The Bahamas.
Aquaculture is defined as the rearing, breeding and harvesting of marine or freshwater animals and/or plants in a controlled environment such as a pond, a stream, the ocean or tanks.
Throughout the years, it has become a necessity for many countries to fully invest in this industry as they witnessed their fishermen having to voyage farther out to continue getting the same catch that they were previously used to obtaining.
Currently, over 100 million persons are being employed by the aquaculture industry. In fact, more than 50 percent of the fish that people eat worldwide is farmed.
Despite this percentage, our capture fisheries stocks are still being depleted at a rapid rate.
Aquaculture can not only help to restore the population of threatened and endangered species but, when done sustainably, it can provide good protein and omega-3 fatty acids sources.
The keyword is “sustainable”. It is essential that when we invest in aquaculture, we do so in a sustainable manner.
It is not sustainable to grow fish by feeding them fish; it is costly and defeats the purpose.
Current research shows that fish feed makes up 50 to 65 percent of total fish farm operating costs. Unless the fish being fed is its waste such as fish heads and fins, there is no point in feeding fish to farmed fish.
Unsustainable aquaculture causes the release of organic wastes into the ocean which can lead to an overgrowth of algae. This can be harmful to many marine organisms.
It is, therefore, important to examine which species would make ideal aquaculture candidates, which in this case could be herbivores.
Raising them has been proven to reduce the release of organic wastes.
It could also be beneficial to examine how to efficiently combine the farming of different species so that one species is a filter feeder, which can help to greatly reduce the release of organic wastes into the environment.
In other words, as long as a fish farm mimics the natural environment in the form of an integrated multi-trophic aquaculture, there is bound to be success.
This implies combining fish with shellfish and perhaps sea cucumbers or seaweeds.
An even better option is looking into aquaponics which is combining the raising of aquatic species with the growing of plants by using the aquatic species’ wastes as nutrients for the plants.
The plants, which are usually vegetables such as lettuce, can help filter the water that will be recirculated back into the aquatic species’ tanks. This process is mainly done for freshwater organisms such as carp, tilapia and crayfish.
One may wonder why go through all the trouble of recreating this if there is a vast ocean that already has the ideal environment.
The issue that has propelled aquaculture is that fisheries catches have been dwindling throughout the years and, due to climate change, the environment is gradually becoming hostile for a few organisms which can affect ecosystems.
Furthermore, there is a need for immediate action to continue producing or obtaining enough marine products to sustain our growing population.
A controlled environment, whether it’s in a pond, tank or in cages in the ocean, can help safely grow large amounts of seafood and lessen the strain that we are placing on our already depleting stocks due to poaching, overfishing, destruction of marine organisms’ natural habitats and illegal fishing practices.
A downside to aquaculture is dealing with diseases and, as a result of this, its bad reputation due to persons using copious amounts of antibiotics in order to make the cultured species disease-resistant.
It is important to note that any fish farmer aiming at sustainability would take care not to poison their fish or shrimps with chemicals as the safety of their consumers is more important than growing large amounts of seafood and making a lot of profit.
Another downside is dealing with global warming and hurricanes, but with the technology available to us, there are many ways that we can ensure the safety of the farm; unfortunately this may be costly but worth the effort in the long run.
A major success in aquaculture is that it has helped a few countries in restoring their fishery stocks and there are even cases where farmed fish are preferred over wildly caught fish.
For example, in Japan, the pufferfish is an organism that has a delicious but toxic liver due to an accumulation of tetrodotoxins.
Ingestion of a certain amount of these toxins have caused deaths in human beings as they affect the nervous system.
The accumulation is caused by them feeding on crustaceans, starfishes and some mollusks, but this can be eliminated through aquaculture as fish farmers can create their own feed for the fish.
Since aquaculture of pufferfish has started, people have been safely consuming it without worrying about it being fatal to them. Most importantly, the great taste still remains.
Aquaculture or seafood farming can be done by anyone equipped with the appropriate knowledge.
It can be done small-scale to sustain a family or large-scale to provide locally to supermarkets, hotels and restaurants.
There is also great benefit in exporting because many people would trust seafood coming from The Bahamas as the reputation of clean, pristine waters precedes us.
We are globally renowned in tourism and banking. Let’s create legislation that will ensure that our aquaculture products are up to par and meet world standards. It may be a slow start but with consistency, it could be the start of something new.
Here are some numbers to remember (please note that some of these are just estimates):
16,776 metric tons — the total amount of fisheries products caught by Bahamian fishermen in 2003
11,633 metric tons — the total amount of fisheries products caught by Bahamian fishermen in 2016
10,378 tonnes — the amount of spiny lobsters caught in 2003
6,526 tonnes — the amount of spiny lobsters caught in 2015
6,383 tonnes — the amount of Queen Conch landed in 2006
4,056 tonnes — the amount of Queen Conch landed in 2015
281 tonnes — the amount of groupers caught in 2001
148 tonnes — the amount of groupers caught in 2014
23 kg/capita/year — per capita fish supply in The Bahamas in 1990
31 kg/capita/year — per capita fish supply in 2013 largely due to imports
3 — fish imports in The Bahamas have tripled since 1990
2/3 — by 2030, about 2/3 of all consumed fish worldwide will originate from fish farms
7,270 — the number of people in Norway working in fish farming, producing 1.24 million metric tons of salmon annually. They are now the leading supplier of salmon, and they did this with a small manpower. We can do it too.
— Dr. Amina Moss, graduate of the College of The Bahamas who obtained a master’s and doctorate degree in Fisheries Science (Aquaculture Nutrition) in Japan