Fish farming is a well advanced and successful industry in many countries of the world, including Japan, Israel, the United States and the Philippines. Some of the principal fish farming systems which operate on a commercial basis in these and other countries are listed below, with comments on the likelihood of being able to adapt them to The Bahamas.
Oysters have been grown under culture for centuries, and are now produced in large quantities in many countries including Canada, Japan, the United States, Australia, France and others. Mangrove oysters, Crassostrea rhizophorae, are reported to occur in The Bahamas but are not common.
Oysters feed by filtering plant plankton from the water, and they therefore require waters rich in nutrients. The waters of The Bahamas are generally too poor in nitrogen and phosphorus nutrients to be able to sustain oyster culture. It might be possible to fertilize small areas of enclosed or semi-enclosed waters to overcome this deficiency but as John B. Glube points out in his excellent report on “The Feasibility of Aquaculture in The Bahamas”, “… the economics of this would be questionable”.
The potential for oyster culture is poor.
Mussels are grown in large quantities in Spain, and other countries (e.g., France, Canada, the United States) produce lesser amounts. Mussels are also filter feeders, subsisting on phytoplankton, and they depend on rich waters for heavy production. Mussels occur in small quantities in The Bahamas; local and export markets would be weak.
The potential for mussel culture is poor.
The apparently insatiable demand for shrimp in Japan and the United States, and the strong market in some other countries has encouraged the development of commercial culture systems. Profitable shrimp culture exists in Japan, Ecuador, Panama and other countries. The technology is well advanced but in some countries (e.g., the United States) high production costs have prevented widescale commercial success.
Two species of commercially valuable shrimp occur in The Bahamas: Panaeus aztecus and P. duorarum. These are caught in large quantities in Florida and the Gulf States, but there are not enough of them in The Bahamas to support a commercial fishery. Nor are they suitable in terms of growth rates or survival in captivity to be grown under culture. Instead, two Pacific species from the coast of Central and South America are likely to be the best candidates for farming: Panaeus vannami and P. stylirostris. Young can be purchased from hatcheries in Central America or elsewhere, or a hatchery can be established in this country. Two or perhaps three crops a year could be raised. Skillful management and a certain amount of luck in escaping damaging hurricanes and other natural disasters could result in commercially successful operations. Investments will probably be high.
The potential for marine shrimp culture is good.
This species spends most of its life in fresh water, and it can be grown in brackish water, in salinities up to 8 ppt. A successful culture system was developed for Macrobrachium in Malaysia several years ago, and this has been adapted as a commercial operation in Indonesia, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, the Philippines and elsewhere. This animal does not occur in The Bahamas. Its culture would be difficult here because of the shortage of fresh or low salinity water.
The potential for freshwater prawn culture is poor.
Trout farming is a major industry in the United States, Norway, Denmark, Canada and other countries. But these fish (genus Salmo) require large volumes of cold, flowing water, and this resource is not available in The Bahamas.
The potential for trout is poor.
Carp may be the most widely commercially cultivated fish, being raised in substantial quantities in Israel, China, India, Poland and many other countries. There are several species, which have different food requirements; this permits the culture of more than one species in a single pond. Carp live in fresh water or water of low salinity.
The market for carp in The Bahamas and the United States is weak.
Carp could be grown commercially in The Bahamas but the shortage of fresh water and the poor market make it a weak candidate.
Very large quantities of catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) are cultured in the United States. The farming system there is highly advanced and costs have been reduced by continued research. Catfish thrive in fresh water, which is scarce in this country. A Bahamian catfish farmer would find it hard to compete on the United States market, even if he overcame the severe problem of freshwater supplies.
The potential for catfish farming is poor.
Tilapia, or African perch, is a fish gaining rapidly in favour as a farm species because of its rapid growth, hardiness, high reproductive rate and other useful attributes. There are a number of species and hybrids cultured in various countries, and research is developing others. Tilapia are grown in freshwater ponds. The water is usually fertilized to provide the food consumed by the fish. It appears possible, on the basis of a small number of trials, that tilapia can be grown in salt water, at least during the middle and later stages of their life. In that case, farming of this species may be feasible in The Bahamas. As described earlier in this report, experiments along this line are being conducted in Freeport, and the results will be watched with interest.
The potential for tilapia culture in tanks or cages in salt water may be good.
Far smaller use is made of plants for human food from the sea compared to those from the land. In the Western World almost no marine plant food is consumed, and in the East (Japan, Korea, the Philippines and some other countries) while consumption is common, the amounts are still far smaller than land plants. But other uses are made of marine plants, notably to serve as sources of useful industrial products like agar and carageenin. There is a market for these products in the United States and some other places, and a commercial seaweed industry might be profitable in The Bahamas.
The technology for seaweed culture is well established, with farms of large size existing in Japan and other Far Eastern countries.
The feasibility of commercial seaweed culture is well discussed by Dr. James. A. Deboer in a 1981 report entitled “The Marine Plant Resources and Their Aquaculture Potential in The Bahamas”. He points out even though the potential for seaweed farming is reasonably good, much research and development will have to be carried out here to adapt the culture system to local conditions. In particular, the lack of nutrients in the water will prove a constraint, and it is likely that fertilizers will have to be added to get satisfactory production.
The two kinds of seaweeds which seem most likely to be profitably raised here are Gracilaria, for agar, and Eucheuma, for carageenin. Species of both of these genera occur naturally in The Bahamas, but it may be desirable to introduce species that have proven successful in other countries.
One of the attractive aspects of seaweed culture here is that they can be raised on small, family-type farms. The technique is labour-intensive, favouring the policy of providing employment, especially in Family Island areas. Further, seaweed farming is based on a low level of technology, and requires a relatively small investment.
In properly chosen areas the potential for seaweed culture is good.
Farming systems have been perfected for all of the species discussed above, and they are all raised profitably in some parts of the world. There are a large number of other animals which would be desirable as culture species, but for which the necessary biological and other technical research has not been done, or pilot-scale operations have not been conducted locally to establish the feasibility of commercial culture.
Crawfish (Panulirus argus) support by far the most valuable commercial fishery in The Bahamas, supplying between 58 and 67% of the catch in various years, and yielding millions of dollars in foreign exchange. Despite intense fishing, the demand for crawfish considerably exceeds the supply, and there is great interest in the possibility of commercial farming.
A culture system for this species has not yet been developed, largely because of the complicated life history of the species. The larvae of crawfish float in the plankton in the sea, developing over a period of months. Further, these larvae are broad and leaflike in shape, and are easily damaged. These characteristics make it very difficult to raise crawfish larvae in captivity; they starve or become entangled with each other, and survival is low. Consequently there are no successful spiny lobster farms.
The potential for crawfish culture is poor.
This species, Menippe mercenaria, is native to The Bahamas. It has a high market demand, but unlike the crawfish it is far from abundant here. Because of its high value and the strong export market available, there is considerable interest in the possibility of commercial farming of stone crabs.
This marine species has been raised in the laboratory from the egg, but no culture system has been developed anywhere. As described earlier in this report, The Wallace Groves Aquaculture Foundation is supporting work on the research and development of stone crab culture at Freeport, Grand Bahama. This effort is in its early stages, and much better information will be available about the feasibility of farming those species at the end of the work.
Brine shrimp, Artemia salina, are widely used as food for larval and adult invertebrates and for small fishes raised for display or in commercial culture systems. For example, Artemia are a preferred food for the larvae of marine shrimp raised in farms. Adult brine shrimp are also fed to aquarium fishes.
Because of their superiority as food for many cultured organisms, the supply of good quality brine shrimp has been insufficient and high priced in recent years. Consequently considerable interest exists in the possibility of culturing them.
Brine shrimp live in waters of high salinity--about 40 to 170 ppt. (compared to 32 to 35 ppt. in most oceans areas). They occur in natural salt ponds or in the pans where solar salt is produced. Under conditions of moderate salinity brine shrimp reproduce as most other crustaceans do, but when salinities become very high and larvae would not survive, this species produces blastocysts which can withstand hypersaline conditions or complete desiccation indefinitely. Dried cysts can be stored until needed, and larvae hatched from them by immersion in water.
Culture systems for brine shrimp have been developed to some degree, but this species has not been cultured as long as those discussed under the category of “developed technologies …”, and considerable research and development will be necessary to adapt existing systems to Bahamian conditions, and to discover whether the economics of brine shrimp culture here are favorable.
The potential for brine shrimp farming is reasonably good.
The conch (Strombus gigas) has long been a stable resource in The Bahamas, constituting an important source of food for local residents. It is also offered in restaurants to tourists. Increased demands from both of these uses have resulted in greatly reduced populations of conchs, and there has therefore been substantial interest in the possibility of culture, either to produce adults for sale or smaller animals for release to replenish wild populations.
Until recently little research had been done to develop a commercial culture system for conchs, but the program supported by The Wallace Groves Aquaculture Foundation, summarized briefly earlier in this report, has supplied considerable information. What is still lacking is a technique for the “grow-out” of young conchs from the first crawling stage to market size or to a size where survival would be satisfactorily high if the animals were released into the ocean to augment wild populations.
A serious problem encountered by the investigators attempting to develop a viable conch culture system was loss sustained from theft of animals in enclosures or in restricted shallow water areas where young had been released.
It seems possible to overcome the biological and social problems still impeding commercial conch culture, and the potential for this species is good, at least in respect to growing them to a size large enough for stocking depleted areas. Governments (or other potential buyers of small conchs for restocking) should be cautioned, however, that evidence has not been provided anywhere that such a restocking program would be cost-effective. Carefully controlled experiments to determine this should be conducted before public money is spent on such restocking programmes.
This is a “prestige” fish in Florida and other markets, where it demands a high price. Pompano (Trachinotus) were raised in Florida some years ago by catching young fish in the shallow edges of the sea and raising them in ponds. Pompano culture was also attempted in Puerto Rico, but neither effort was successful. Considerable work must still be done to develop an economically viable farming system for pompano.
The potential is small in the foreseeable future.
Mullet (Mugil) have been cultured in some parts of the world, including Hawaii, and suggestions have been made that it be farmed in The Bahamas. But commercial culture is only justified where the demand and the price is much higher than it is in The Bahamas. This fish is abundant in Florida and other parts of the United States South, where it is held in low regard and brings a small price. The local market would probably not be strong either.
The potential for mullet culture in The Bahamas is poor.
This is an excellent marine food fish (as well as being a popular sport fish) which exhibits extraordinary growth rates. Some research and development has been done, suggesting that under favourable conditions dolphin culture could be profitable. But no commercial enterprise has yet been established, so that the essential pilot-scale trials remain to be performed. Culture in floating cages in the sea seems likely to be the preferred method of grow-out of young. The dolphin could be fed scrap fish or similar products, as captive yellowtails (Seriola) are in Japan.
If appropriate pilot-scale experiments are performed and if they are successful in leading to the design of a viable culture system, dolphin fish farming in The Bahamas has a good potential.
These two groups of fishes (Epinephelidae and Lutjanidae) (which each comprise a large number of species) can be discussed together since their ecology and certain aspects of their biology are similar.
The prospect of farming these fishes in The Bahamas has the strong advantage that many species are native to these waters, eliminating doubts that they might not adapt well, and avoiding any of the possible perils of introducing exotic species.
No farms for groupers or snappers exist except in the Far East where some are raised in cages. Thus, the research and development necessary to establish commercial culture systems in The Bahamas remains to be performed. It may take a considerable time for this to be completed, especially since there are a number of possible species that would require separate testing.
The long-range potential for farming groupers and snappers is good.
A market exists in some countries for turtle products, including the flesh for food, and the shells for various purposes. The most valuable species for food is the green turtle, Chelonia midas: the most valuable shell comes from the hawksbill, Eretmochlys imbricata. But marine turtles are listed among the endangered species, and the market for their products has disappeared in the United States and some other places. The incentive for farming them has therefore been reduced. It is for this reason that a commercial turtle operation in the Cayman Islands, which raised green turtles, has closed.
There is still interest in some quarters in raising turtles to restore depleted populations.
The closing of the United States market for turtles and the uncertainty that viable operations could be organized in The Bahamas since pilot trials have not been conducted make the potential for turtle farming here poor.
The Bahamas was once famous for production and export of high quality sponges. This industry was virtually destroyed in the 1940's when a blight killed a high proportion of the sponge populations. Partly in response to that disaster, techniques were developed to culture sponges. These were simple, taking advantage of the ability of sponges to regenerate themselves. The culture technique consisted in essence of cutting an individual live sponge into small pieces (about an inch in each dimension), fastening these pieces to a concrete disc or other artificial substrate, and placing the pieces in the sea to grow. This system worked reasonably well, but sponge farming did not develop commercially since it proved impossible to protect the cultured beds from theft.
After the disease struck, the market for natural sponges declined in the face of competition from synthetic sponges, but in more recent years demand for natural sponges has strengthened again, and their culture is more attractive economically.
If protection can be given to the crop against theft, sponge culture may have a good potential in The Bahamas.