St. Lucia is situated in the Windward Islands, north of St. Vincent and south of Martinque at about longitude 61° West and latitude 14° north. It is a volcanic island with a surface area of 610 km2. The south and central portions are mountainous, with a number of peaks rising over 600 m, the highest being 959 m. The northern mountains are lower and less rugged. There are very few lowland plains. The rivers are all small.
Temperature varies very little throughout the year with the annual mean monthly temperature ranging only between 26 and 28°C. Over most of St. Lucia rainfall is heavy and there is really no dry season. In Castries, the capital, the annual average is 219 cm, distributed throughout the year as shown in the following table. The low-lying northern and southern tips of the island received the least precipitation, less than 150 cm with over 250 cm of rainfall per year in the mountainous centre portion.
Mean Monthly Temperature and Precipitation for Castries
The trade winds blow all year long, but they are especially strong from December to April. Wind speeds of 28 to 37 km/h are common in January, February and March and winds of 56 to 65 km/h are not uncommon.
The island has very few protected bays or lagoons. The east coast is exposed and subject to heavy wave action.
There are some coral reefs around the island. The shelf is small and except in the channels separating St. Lucia and Martinique in the north and St. Vincent in the south, the drop is very steep below 350 m.
In 1978 the population was 112 000. Annual population growth is 1.2 percent. Traditionally the main economy of the island has been agriculture. Sugar cane was the principal crop in the past, but more recently bananas have become most important. Copra is also an important export crop. In recent years tourism has earned about the same amount of foreign exchange as the export of bananas.
There are no inland fisheries of commercial significance in St. Lucia. Tilapia mossambica was introduced in 1949 and is now found in most local waters. The retail price is at the most only U.S.$ 1.48/kg.
The commercial fishery in St. Lucia is almost entirely a small-scale marine activity, mostly in inshore waters with vessels only occasionally going as far as 40 km from the coast. There are an estimated 1 700 full-time fishermen, of whom about two-thirds are part-time or casual, who man 500 to 600 vessels of a 5–8 m canoe type, most of which are powered by outboard engines.
The peak production period is from January to June when schools of migratory pelagics, such as dolphin, kingfish, tuna, barracuda and flying fish pass close inshore. The pelagic fishery accounts for 60 to 70 percent of landings.
Production is lower during the remainder of the year when fishing effort is switched to demersal fish on the narrow shelves on the west and east coasts. Catches are mostly of small reef fish like snappers, groupers and grunts.
Conch is consumed locally and is exported to Martinique. This fishery has declined in recent years, reportedly due to over fishing since the introduction of scuba gear and dynamite fishing.
There is also a fishery for lobster, but no figures are available on the quantity taken, as evidently some lobsters from St. Lucian waters are landed on other islands.
There is a seaweed fishery and seaweed is considered a prime candidate for aquaculture by the Government. Its culture would be possible throughout the region. Edible seaweed, Gracilaria debilis, grows around the island, but mostly on the south side from Choiseoul to Sayarnes Bay. Fishermen dive to harvest the seaweed, breaking it off or pulling it loose, being sure to leave the holdfast. The harvest occurs three times a year for about two weeks each time. It is collected only when the water is clear, and cannot be collected during the rainy season when river runoff keeps the water turbid. Fishermen report that it is best to wait three months between harvests, during which the seaweed will grow to 40 or 50 cm. Anywhere from 10 to 50 divers may take part in a harvest. One fisherman reported that he collected about 200 kg of seaweed (wet weight) in one week. It takes about 3 kg of wet seaweed to make 1 kg of dry. It is common for the fisherman to dive and for his family to transport, bleach and dry the seaweed. Bleaching is done by spreading the seaweed in the sun and sprinkling it with sea-water to keep it moist, or by covering it with clear plastic film. The bleaching takes about two days. Afterwards the seaweed is dried for two or three days, and then it is bagged in 40 kg sugar sacks. The producer is paid from U.S.$ 4.25 to 6.80/kg for dried seaweed1.
The dried seaweed, known locally as ‘sea moss’ is found in the local market in season. It is usually made into a drink, but is sometimes eaten as porridge. Most fishermen sell to agents who apparently, in turn, sell to inter-island traders who sell it in Barbados, Trinidad and Guyana. In Barbados and Trinidad the retail price is said to be about U.S.$ 12.75/kg.
St. Lucia's fish marketing system is fairly simple. Almost the entire catch of the artisanal fleet is consumed locally in fresh form. The fishermen sell directly to local consumers at the landing sites. The surplus is sold to vendors who transport it to Castries or other markets where it is sold to consumers, cooperatives, or marketing boards.
Prices for fish are subject to control at the fishermen, wholesale and retail levels by the Government Price Control Board. The present system of price control sets a ceiling for transactions, but does not protect the fishermen when there is a glut. Thus, it apparently favours the consumer more than the fishermen. In most areas there are no facilities for holding fish for even short periods.
The Fisheries Division of the Ministry of Agriculture, Land, Fisheries, Labour and Cooperatives, is responsible for fisheries. There is a Fishery Officer and three extension workers. One extension worker is now undertaking training in Canada. The Fisheries Division is trying to hire another biologist. Facilities for fisheries research do not exist at present.
1 U.S.$ 1.00 = E.C.$ 2.60 at the time of the Mission's visit
Fishery statistics are not collected, so landings have to be estimated. Total marine landings in 1979 were estimated to be around 2 300 metric tons. According to Villegas (1978) around 60 percent of landings are fish.
Consumption of fishery products is high. Local production does not satisfy demand, and like other countries in the region St. Lucia imports significant amounts of fishery products, while exports are minimal. In 1978, 1 200 metric tons were imported.
The Government has a fish farm at the Union Agricultural Station. It consists of three small ponds with a total surface area of 0.3 ha. The ponds have no permanent water supply and must be filled by rain water. They have to be drained by pumping. The demonstration farm has been in active operation for three years. It is now under the supervision of a Peace Corps volunteer. Tilapia mossambica have been reared and last year fry were distributed to local farmers.
The Government offers a subsidy to landowners who wish to construct fish farms. Only six ponds/reservoirs have been stocked. They are small, in the order of 25 to 250 m2. Of the three ponds the Mission saw, one was dry; the other two had water. To date no fish have been harvested.
The Government is investigating the possibility of building a second farm to culture tilapia, so that the economics of tilapia culture can be ascertained. One possible site is along the Black River near the southern coast. There is 3 to 4 ha of land available. The soil appears suitable. The area is adjacent to a UNDP ‘Black Vegetable Project’, which utilizes water in the stream for irrigation. The prospective fish farm site is downstream from the vegetable farms, and these might take all the limited amount of water from the small stream during dry periods. Since there are no legal rights to river water in St. Lucia, the upstream user has first chance to take the water. Also, vegetable farmers might use pesticides which would return to the stream and subsequently enter the fish ponds. A thorough study of stream flow and competing water use should therefore be carried out before any ponds are constructed in the area proposed.
The Government is planning a series of small dams in the mountains. When these are completed they could be stocked with tilapia.
There is no ongoing mariculture in St. Lucia.
A seaweed culture project has been approved for funding by IDRC. It will be located in Savannes Bay. The aims are to establish simple, profitable, operational methods for culturing different species of edible marine algae by test cultures and pilot operations. Test cultures will be established on bottom racks, longline, and floating culture systems. It is thought that eventually seaweed culture can be established at many other areas along the coast. Eventually, village groups will be shown how to establish the culture systems which have proved effective by demonstration and in-service training.
Protected sites for cage or open culture of marine fish are limited. The few bays with any protection, with the exception of Savannes Bay, are all heavily used now for other purposes.
There are no laws concerning aquaculture, either in marine or freshwater.
Aquaculture is not a priority area for the Government. The Minister for Fisheries feels that the major effort in fisheries should be to develop methods for better utilization of fish from the capture fishery during periods of glut. The Government is therefore involved, with assistance from CIDA (Canada), in the modernization of the fishery industry. This will involve construction of a new complex at Castries which will include freezing and storage facilities, a pier and provision of modern fishing boats.
Even so the Ministry should proceed with the seaweed project as rapidly as possible. A local biologist should be assigned to work on a full-time basis. Other eastern Caribbean countries should be kept informed of developments.
The potential for expansion of tilapia culture in small fresh water ponds is limited due to scarcity of water. Also, the most suitable sites, i.e., places with ample level areas and water supply, are already planted, primarily with banana. Given present availability and cost of coconut meal and beer waste it is plausible, but by no means sure, that tilapia could compete with banana cultivation, as a net money earner per unit area. The uncertainty of the economics, the limited area for development and the difficulty of convincing farmers they should undertake a new type of culture in place of a profitable existing one, make it reasonable to stop present plans to commercialize tilapia culture until simulated commercial culture has been carried out. This can be done at the Union Agricultural Station.
In the future, the low-lying coastal areas in the south could be developed for intensive culture of shrimp, or other valuable seafood products, and it is recommended that this is started after the seaweed culture has become established.