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(Fishing and Aquaculture)


Table 1 outlines the source and consumption of fish and fish products in Jamaica, between 1977 and 1991. The per capita consumption of fish appears to be relatively stable, varying by about 25% over the period. The domestic marine catch has been relatively constant and inland fisheries (farmed Tilapia) relatively low (although increasing); the aggregate estimate of the annual consumption of fish has been relatively constant over the period.

Table 1:


YearEstimated domestic marine catch (mt)Total imports of fish (mt)Farmed Tilapia (mt)Estimated total fish consumption (mt)Estimated per capita consumption (kg/cap)

Sources: Planning Institute of Jamaica, 1987; Ministry of Agriculture, 1986. Inland Fisheries Unit; Livestock and Feed Statistics 1979-1991; External Trade 1987–89. n.a: not available. See also annex 3


2.2.1 Marine catch

The relative paucity of bigger fish on the coastal shelves (and more recently on the offshore banks), a reduction in fish size in real terms, and a change in species composition towards more trash fish, are strong evidence that the marine stock is not being regenerated. An increase in fishing effort and changes in fishing practices are depleting the fishery, possibly past the point of sustainability.

Table 2 :

Estimated fish production, Jamaica, 1945–1983

yearestimated production
(million pounds)
yearestimated production
(million pounds)

Source: Ministry of Agriculture (1963), page 3; Sahney (1981), page 10; Livestock and Feed Statistics 1981–91)
1 million pounds = 454.5 metric tons.

Figure 1

Figure 1 : Evolution of the marine fishery catch in Jamaica

Figure 1 is a plot of the data in Table 2. The area labelled A represents the tail end of the pre-mechanization period where catches were falling due to overfishing on the coastal shelves. The rapid mechanization of the Jamaican canoe fleet through the “Boat Mechanization Scheme” (1956), as well as improved equipment and new techniques, led to a doubling of the volume of fish caught between 1950 and 1958 (labelled B). Larger boats and improvements in navigational skills meant that fishers could further exploit the coastal shelf and also could reach the banks. This dramatic increase in production was not ecologically sustainable, and the decade of the 1960s saw massive reduction in fish catches (especially on the coastal shelf), and a near return to pre-mechanization production levels (area C). Fishing in three non-territorial offshore banks resulted in slight short term increases in fish catches (area D), followed in the long term by a new decline; the appearance of stability in catch is misleading as Jamaican fishers have had to roam further afield to obtain the same catch. One can predict that with the expiration of the Treaty with Columbia in 1986 there would have been a further decline. Poaching -- especially of lobster -- by vessels from Central America has also reduced Jamaica's catch.

Unless the fisheries resources (and their exploitation) are effectively managed, one can predict a rapidly worsening situation in the capture fishery. Considering the need to increase the availability of fish protein to Jamaica's increasing population, sources other than the capture fishery will have to be explored.

2.2.2 Existing aquaculture production in Jamaica

Besides oyster culture, which presents interesting opportunities in Jamaica (ESPEUT & LALTA, 1992), aquaculture is limited today by the production of red Tilapia hybrids in freshwater. This culture developed after initial attempts to farm the fresh water prawn (Macrobrachium rosenbergii), using a technology transfer from Israel. The culture of the Tilapia, using an hybrid of Oreochromis mossambicus and O. niloticus, introduced from Florida, developed relatively rapidly, especially between 1984 and 1988 with excellent results (HANLEY, 1991), then leveled around 2 500 metric tons per year since this date.

The technology used (semi extensive production in large earthen ponds), works well and the industry does not have to face any major biological problem and the market potential of this species is high, providing interesting opportunities for local consumption but also exports, both to the american and european market. However, the activity suffers from the impossibility to extend its production due to the unavailability of additional surface water allowing to extend the existing acrage of ponds, with severe competition with other users of the water resource and agricultural land. Moreover, damage caused to existing dams during recent tropical storms has affected the availability of freshwater, and in some coastal areas, the rise of salt from the ground create some problems.

It is to note that a private project (Gabriel's Fisheries), situated on the north coast of the island is rearing with some success red Tilapia in concrete ponds fed with pumped sea water. However, the project remains at a limited scale.

Figure 2

Figure 2 : Production of red Tilapia in Jamaica

2.2.3 Imports and exports

In 1990 (the most recent data available at the time of the mission, Jamaica imported 15,000.8 tons of fishery products from 17 countries at a value of J$227,517,480; at the same time 1,093.3 tons of fishery products worth J$23,808,635 were sold to 20 countries. (J$ 26.90 = US$ 1.0, October 1993)


Imports, exports and re-exports of fish and fishery products by country, Jamaica, 1990

Quantity : kilos, Value: J$

Antigua & Barbudc  368  
Argentina29 139739 032    
Bahamas  49836  
Barbados  23814 151  
Belize214 0918 079 9332 84135 737  
Canada5 312 57677 267 8784 979290 016  
Cayman Islands  40 1032 466 414  
Chile14 322156 296    
China224 3282 077 983    
Dominican Republic  31 045167 335  
France  19 998571 494  
Guadeloupe  38 133629 263  
Guyana506 56110 131 412    
Haiti  1 20714 490  
Hong Kong73523 206    
Iceland47 4961 207 903    
Japan252 4032 495 268    
Martinique  51 7221 309 444  
Netherlands94 512486 2542278 000  
Norway3 913 24083 089 665    
Panama  43743  
Poland236 1892 803 982    
Puerto Rico  275 0191 748 461  
Spain425684 802  
St Martin (Fr.)  18 182680 400  
Switzerland  2 253169 249  
Thailand1 804 88916 708 751    
Trinidad & Tobago109 0352 646 0096 356109 627  
UK686 98242 0251 498 819  
USA2 241 22219 596 901558 81216 089 286  
Total15 000 810227 517 4801 093 30323 808 635  

Sources: Calculated from External Trade 1990, STATIN, 1991.

In dollar terms, Jamaica bought 36.5% of its fishery products from Norway, 34% from Canada and 8.6% from the USA. Cod was the largest single species imported in 1990, with Sardines second, Mackerel third and Herring fourth. Despite the fact that there is no local source, the consumption of cod is firmly rooted in Jamaican culture (it is a main constituent of Jamaica's National dish: Ackee and saltfish). Imported tinned fish (or locally tinned bulk-imported fish) is one of the cheapest sources of animal protein, and a major component of the diet of the lower socioeconomic groups. Increases in local fresh fish production are unlikely to replace all fish imports.

Table 4 :

Imports & exports by quantity and value of items, January to December 1990

Quantity: kilos, Value:J$

SITF revised
Salmon, Trout, Halibut    
Sole and Plaice53 684727 92787314 863
Snapper, Shark, Croaker    
Grouper, Dolphin    
Bangamary, Sea Trout592 44210 879 11614 141398 149
Kingfish113 884705 812912 000
Cod4 747 453105 178 0031143 155
Mackerels2 471 73824 190 72850 201464 027
Herring679 4307 248 1641 02210 516
Alewives143 9781 276 890  
Salmon2 452213 451  
Trout33631 880  
Sardines3 138 80649 716 412  
Other fish2 908 06318 969 34193 1123 038 148
Shrimp125 23475 724 795451 200
Lobster5 173309 71275 7835 007 993
Other crustaceans, molluscs17 003922 695857 57014 869 329
Caviar, caviar substitutes59957 388  
Total15 000 810227 517 4801 093 30323 808 635

Sources : External Trade 1990, STATIN, 1991.


Jamaica's demand for fish and other marine products far exceeds the local supply; the quantity of marine products imported largely exceeds local production. Even if successful fishery management measures are initiated, the severe depletion of marine finfish stocks renders unlikely any dramatic improvement in the harvest from the territorial capture fishery in the near future.

The alternatives to imports are well known:

  1. Extend the reef capture fishery beyond Jamaica's EEZ;
  2. Develop Jamaica's pelagic fishery in the EEZ;
  3. Develop capability to harvest pelagics outside the EEZ;
  4. Expand land-based aquaculture activities;
  5. Develop marine cage culture capability;
  6. Reduce the demand for fish and fish products.

These options are not mutually exclusive; a choice for one does not preclude the selection of another. However, each has its own special problems. Extending the reef fishery beyond Jamaica's EEZ has also its own logistical problems and requires the negotiation of unilateral fishing treaties. The extent of Jamaica's pelagic resources is not known, and the development of a capability in this area carries high capital costs. There is evidence that Jamaica's freshwater resources are being substantially exploited and that this factor will limit further expansion of freshwater aquaculture, or would require the exploration of new modes of exploitation necessitating a higher control of the production parameters. Attempts to change consumer tastes from existing products (familiarity with red Tilapia and traditional marine species) cannot be expected to yield quick results if any.

The option of marine cage culture is attractive because it does not require substantial land or freshwater resources and does not depend (in the long run) on the status of the capture fishery or pelagic resources. Marine cage culture can therefore function as a fisheries resource complementary to the wild stocks, except that it would require additional feed inputs.

But marine aquaculture is not without its own drawbacks : a technology for the culture of local species does not yet exist, some period of research and development will be necessary. The cost in time and money will be worthwhile if a workable technology emerges, and Jamaica could then play a leading role in tropical finfish aquaculture.

Like in most other countries, it is likely that carnivorous fish species suitable to the consumers' tastes, will be selected for culture; these will require a more elaborate diet than Tilapia (a herbivorous/omnivorous species). The relatively expensive fish-meal which will be required will, at first, have to be imported, which will raise significantly the cost of production and, the artificial propagation and rearing remains a costly operation. For instance, the cost of production of the Red Drum (Sciaenops ocellata) in Martinique using state-of-the-art technology was estimated to US$12/kg (J$264/kg in October 1992) for a hatchery and growing farms producing 50 tons of fish/year. If the problems encountered by cage culture of Jamaican marine species are comparable, it will be unwise to expect substantial local demand for products at that price. However, if research can determine that good market exists in Europe or the USA for high-value Caribbean species, then profits from export sales may offset imports of cod or other cheaper but acceptable species in Jamaica. An important area of research will be identifying sources of fish-meal for supplementing their feed, which can reduce production costs (such as Tilapia unsuitable for sale and/or shark meat which is not consumed in Jamaica).

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