Aquaculture is in a very early stage of development in The Bahamas. The activity that is underway consists of a small number of projects all at the research and experimental stage. There are no commercial operations actually producing plants or animals for sale, but there are a number of serious trials by private interests to develop cultural systems for several species. (As yet there is no government research and development in aquaculture.)
In addition to the experimental and development operations underway there have in the past number of years been a substantial number of enquiries to the Government in respect to aquaculture. These either asked for information, or in many cases made application for research permits or licences and leases for carrying out aquaculture operations at various levels of development or commercial activity. From 1972 to 1980 there were about 30 such enquiries and applications; in 1981 there were 14; in 1982, 12 and in the first seven months of 1983, 7. Some of these were by individuals, and some by large commercial firms or major research institutions (e.g., Weyerhauser Company, Morton Bahamas, Perry Oceanographics, Smithsonian Institution). Interest was expressed by these individuals and groups in the commercial culture of a wide variety of animals and plants, with the greatest number of enquiries being made about marine shrimp, freshwater prawns, conch, spiny lobsters and seaweeds. Other species in which interest was expressed were tilapia, stone crabs, blue crabs, dolphin fish, turtles, clams, groupers, snappers, jacks, grunts, mussels, land crabs, Scylarid lobsters, catfish, pompano, bonefish, brine shrimp, and pearl oysters.
The Government of The Bahamas has made it clear in a number of ways that it favours the expansion of aquaculture in the country as a means of providing additional animal protein food, providing employment (especially in the Family Islands and for women), restoring populations of fish, crustaceans and conchs, and providing foreign exchange through the export of marine products raised in farms. This encouragement takes the form of proposing to extend the privileges now enjoyed by many industrial enterprises in respect to exemption from import and export duties, and leases of Crown land on favourable terms. The Government has stated that “The participation of foreign entrepreneurs in fish farming is actively encouraged…”
Fish farming has been attempted in past years in The Bahamas but always on a small scale, and so far without success. An attempt was made for example, to raise oysters. It failed; one factor doubtedly was that too little plankton is available in the ocean waters to feed oysters. (This constraint will make it hard to farm oysters in The Bahamas in future years too, as will be discussed briefly below.) A trial was made to raise the “freshwater” shrimp or prawn, Macrobrachium. This animal spends part of its life in brackish water, so that it is not entirely a fresh water species. The early attempts at its culture in The Bahamas were unsuccessful. Lastly, the fish called tilapia (Tilapia mossambica = Saratherodon mossabicus) was introduced into brackish ponds in Eleuthera and into brackish lakes on New Providence Island. Reproducing populations of this fish are reported still to exist in these waters but there is no systematic use of them for food. This fish is a native of Africa, and may be very useful as a culture species in The Bahamas.
As would be expected, the majority of the enquiries (and some of the applications for permits) concerning possible fish farming enterprises in The Bahamas did not progress past the first stage. But there have also been a number of individuals and companies which have launched serious and substantial research or development activities, with the ultimate objective of commercial operations. In the second half of 1983 the following aquaculture trials are underway or have just terminated in The Bahamas:
This fish is not native to The Bahamas, originating in Africa. There are a large number of species and hybrids under culture in many parts of the world. Some of the strains exhibit very high rates of reproduction and survival, fast growth, attractive colour, and other characteristics useful to the fish farmer. They have a good market in many parts of the world, although they are little known in The Bahamas or the United States.
Trials are underway in Freeport, Grand Bahama to develop procedures for growing tilapia commercially in saltwater canals. These fish normally inhabit fresh water but are known to be able to adapt to sea water under some conditions. The Bahamas Mariculture Research Institute in Freeport has carried out successful trials to spawn certain hybrids of these fish which exhibit an attractive and commercially valuable red color, fast growth and good flavour. After production of fry in a land-based hatchery, the fish are being raised in floating cages in saltwater canals. If these trials continue to be successful larger grow-out facilities will be used, and substantial quantities of tilapia are projected to be produced. In the beginning at least all of this production will be exported to the United States.
Another commercial firm, Bahamas Marine Farms Limited, Nassau, has asked permission from the Department of Fisheries to experiment with the farming of tilapia on New Providence Island.
The demand for shrimp in the United States and in many other markets is very strong--usually outstripping supply. As a consequence there is a great deal of interest in many parts of the world in shrimp culture. The technology is well advanced, and in some areas (Japan, Ecuador, Panama) successful commercial operations exist. The technology must, however, be adapted to each new area to take into account differing environments, and social and economic systems.
In The Bahamas, Worldwide Protein (Bahamas) Limited has purchased the property of the Diamond Crystal Salt Company on Long Island. The latter company has abandoned production of salt, and the former salt pans and pumps and other facilities are being adapted to shrimp farming. This operation is in its early stages, but large-scale production is contemplated. This company will bring in postlarvae (young) from its existing facility in St. Croix, American Virgin Islands; at a later stage it plans to raise its own postlarvae in a hatchery on Long Island. It will be raising species from the West Coast of Mexico, Panaeus vannami and P. stylirostris. (The local species of shrimp, which occur in small numbers in The Bahama Islands, are not suitable for culture).
The Morton Salt Company of Inagua Cay has also initiated an experimental marine shrimp operation. This company is also using abandoned salt pans, which have been rebuilt for shrimp culture. A hatchery has been built to produce postlarvae, which will be grown to market size in the ponds. There are 20 acres of ponds. The species to be raised are the same Pacific shrimp being grown on Long Island. Eventually three crops a year are projected, with the hatchery scaled for 200,000 postlarvae every three months. The market is expected to be in the United States, at least in the beginning.
A substantial effort to develop a culture system for conch was conducted at Freeport, Grand Bahama, and in the Berry Islands. This work was done over three years with the support of The Wallace Groves Aquaculture Foundation, by biologists from the Rosensteil School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Miami. The object was to develop a procedure for raising conchs from the egg and either holding them to market size or to a size large enough so that they could be released to replenish wild populations. Success was achieved in developing hatchery techniques, and large numbers of young conchs were raised to the crawling stage. When the project ceased in mid-1983 there was still much to be learned about how to feed and maintain juveniles so that satisfactory survival could be obtained. In addition a system needs to be developed to create enclosures for the growing conchs, to prevent theft. But enough information was collected about conch culture, and enough field data concerning the life history of the animal, to encourage the hope that with more work a viable culture system for this species can be developed.
The Wallace Groves Aquaculture Foundation is supporting a research and development project to raise stone crabs. The work is being done at Freeport. It is in the early stages as this report is being prepared (August, 1983). A hatchery is being built, and plans developed for grow-out raceways and other facilities. It is hoped to develop a system either to grow stone crabs to market size or large enough to release to increase the size of wild populations, which tend to be small in The Bahamas.