It is not clear how great the potential is for aquaculture in The Bahamas: the degree to which the controlled farming of marine animals and plants can contribute to the food supply, employment, foreign exchange and other values. Uncertainty exists because successful aquaculture depends on a number of factors, some of which are within the power of the Government or of private individuals or groups to control, while others are not. If appropriate actions are taken in respect to the factors that can be controlled, and if a certain amount of good fortune favours the environmental variables that are beyond human control, aquaculture in The Bahamas has a moderately good potential in years to come.
In general, the factors which determine the success of aquaculture ventures in The Bahamas that are not under human control are those relating to geography, climate and the land and water environments. These determine the temperature and the amounts of nutrients, which in turn determine the kinds and amounts of plants and animals that can be farmed.
Factors that can be controlled to a greater or smaller extent include the level and effectiveness of fish culture technology systems, the availability of skilled personnel, the amount of encouragement or the degree of constraint imposed by the Government on prospective or operating fish farmers, the level of investment by private culturists, and the markets available.
The Bahamas enjoys a number of important advantages which favour the establishment and conduct of aquaculture operations. These include:
Water temperatures that favour the culture and rapid growth of some valuable plants and animals--a number of warm-water species, including marine shrimps, fresh water prawns, tilapia, snappers, groupers, conch and others. In some colder climates fish farming operations have failed economically because only one crop could be grown in a year due to slow growth rates in the cold water. (On the other hand there are certain valuable species like salmon and trout which can thrive only in colder water, and The Bahamas environment is not suitable for such resources.)
Extensive areas of shallow banks. Fish farms usually are located in shallow areas since these are the most efficient for the purpose. There are said to be about 8 million hectares of such banks in The Bahamas, and while it is clear that by no means all of these would be suitable for fish farms, the country is blessed with more good areas than any other in the Caribbean and perhaps than most in the world.
Large areas of level land near the sea. Many fish farms use saltwater ponds on land adjacent to the ocean, and even when fish are raised in enclosures or cages in the sea these structures will have to have support buildings, pumps and other infrastructure that requires level land nearby.
An abundance of good quality sea water. In most places in the country sea water free of pollution can be pumped from the sea or from wells sunk about 9 to 18 meters.
Favourable rainfall patterns for some valuable species. There is a wide variation in rainfall patterns in different parts of the country, which stretches some 550 miles from north to south. Rainfall is considerably less in the south. Species to be cultured must therefore be chosen with some care, but conditions in certain places favour particular valuable organisms.
A large export market exists, especially to the United States. In some countries aquaculture is opposed by the local fishermen who conceive it to be a competitive threat to their markets. The fact that this is usually not true does not alter the impact that this can have on the policies concerning development of fish farming.
The Government is planning its program of aquaculture development and control at an early stage of the industry. This should help to create a more rational Government-industry relationship, and avoid errors.
The Government exhibits a favourable attitude toward aquaculture. Government has taken a number of policy stances that make it easier for private individuals and groups to initiate and continue fish farming. The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Local Government and other Government officials have made it clear in public statements that help is available to prospective fish farmers. Enquiries from those who want to organize aquaculture enterprises and conduct ongoing research and development in this activity are being given careful attention and assistance. The Bahamian Government is in the process of granting exemptions from import duties to equipment to be used in fish farming. And the Government has undertaken to review the statutes and regulations that refer to fisheries, water control and other public activities that impact on aquaculture, with the objective of coordinating these laws and making them more effective in the support of fish farming.
At the same time, aquaculture in the Bahamas is handicapped by reason of a number of natural constraints:
A major deficiency is the low level of nutrients in Bahamian waters. The high degree of clarity of the ocean water is attractive, but it denotes a lack of plankton, which is a result of the low levels of nitrogen and phosphorus compounds needed for plant growth. This poverty of the water nutrients and plants has an adverse effect on animals that might be grown in sea farms, and it will probably prevent the establishment of culture operations for such valuable animals as oysters, clams and mussels.
There is very little fresh water available for fish farming in The Bahamas. Virtually all the aquaculture will have to be in brackish or marine areas. There are no rivers and few ponds, and the only extensive supplies of fresh water are in the Abacos and on Andros Island. This eliminates or significantly reduces the opportunity of raising some animals farmed in greatest quantities over the world, including trout, catfish and carp.
A low tidal range, usually in the order of two to three feet. This can handicap fish farming operations where it is essential to have a flow of water through ponds or cages, or where ponds must be drained.
A high rate of water evaporation. This requires that water in ponds be replaced by pumping or other means.
The hardness of the water. This is detrimental to the growth of some kinds of animals that might otherwise be cultured.
The Bahamas is situated in an area where hurricanes occur at fairly frequent intervals. These violent storms could destroy ponds, cages or other fish farming facilities, and they increase the risk associated with this kind of enterprise.
Inadequate biological information and insufficient experience in the husbandry of most of the plants and animals that might be farmed in The Bahamas. With a few exceptions (e.g., marine shrimp and freshwater prawns) research is insufficient to establish commercial operations. Considerable research and development will be necessary, including in most cases lengthy pilot trials. The Bahamas does not have any fisheries/aquaculture research and development activity, so that this important function must be provided by the private sector. A disadvantage of this is that in most cases the information and skills gained are not made public or shared with potential competitors.
A severe shortage of skilled and experienced personnel at all levels of science and management of aquaculture.
A shortage of locally produced materials that can be used as food for animals raised under aquaculture. In most cases satisfactory growth of cultured organisms can be achieved only with diets containing high proportions of animal protein, and these tend to be expensive. This is particularly true if they must be imported, so that the availability of local raw materials is helpful. Some individuals are hoping to undertake trials on the use of material now discarded from pig and chicken farming operations and conch trimming. Such sources may help to overcome this deficiency.
Certain aspects of Government infrastructure for aquaculture is missing. There are, for example, no advisory services.
Logistics are difficult. The possible farming areas are scattered among 3000 islands (30 of which inhabited), sometimes with slow communications. Isolation, while minimizing conflicts with shipping, navigation, and recreation, may result in greater poaching and vandalism.