Aquaculture in Jamaica may be described as a growing sector. In recent times production has increased by 50 percent. In 1992 production was recorded at 3 000 tonnes and by 2002 production was estimated at 6 000 tonnes. Most aquaculture occurs on the south central plains of St. Catherine and Clarendon. Currently there are approximately 180 fish farmers on a area of 526 ha. Aquaculture is organized into small-scale (1-4 ha), medium-scale (5-10 ha) and large-scale (21 - 45 ha) producers. Extensive, semi-intensive and intensive production systems are practiced; approximately 90 percent of the farms are semi-intensive.
The Fish produced is marketed both locally and internationally. The Jamaica Broilers group operators of Aquaculture Jamaica Ltd. produce fish which is marketed overseas through its marketing company Jabesco. In 1997, some 283.7 tonnes of fresh tilapia fillets 97.2 tonnes of frozen fillet and one tone of frozen whole tilapia were exported to the USA.
Several challenges face the sub-sector, chief among these are the availability of land and water for aquaculture. Some areas that are prime for aquaculture experience shortage of water during periods of drought, high capital investment and competition from imported fish are other relevant constrain factors.
Aquaculture started in Jamaica in 1949, when Oreochromis mossambicus was brought to Jamaica from St. Lucia in the eastern Caribbean. This was part of a Government program to increase rural protein through subsistence farming. Community watershed ponds were stocked with tilapia. During the 1950's and 60's several developments occurred which would further assist fish farming. These included the Agriculture Development Program which provided assistance to fish farmers and the passing of the Agricultural Credit Board Law which made provisions for loans to be granted to fish farmers.
Aquaculture production in the 1960's used a monosex culture of hand-sorted male tilapia fingerlings. At that time yields in earthen ponds was 1 250 lbs/acre/yr.
Commercial aquaculture was introduced in 1976, through a jointly sponsored USAID/GOJ Project. This was a two phases project. In the first phase the Auburn University was granted a contract to supply the technical expertise for this project.
The first phase of the project led to the development of the Inland Fisheries Unit which trained staff in the various disciplines in aquaculture and equipped the Government of Jamaica with an institution with the capability and technical expertise needed to design and implement inland fisheries and aquaculture development.
It also introduced another variety of tilapia Oreochromis niloticus in 1977. This led to major increases in tilapia production. At the beginning of 1977 tilapia production was 2.2 tonnes and by 1987 it had increased to 2 600 tonnes.
The second phase of the project began in 1980 and was entitled the Fish Production System Development Project. The aim of this project was to expand the practice or rural aquaculture development. This was met with great success and led to commercialization of tilapia farming. Most people who participated in the early programs are still involved in fish farming. It was during this period (the 1980's) that Jamaica Broilers became involved in commercial tilapia farming.
Several other species were introduced mainly for the purposes of polyculture. However these were not well received by the public. Table 1 below highlights some of landmarks in the history of tilapia farming in Jamaica.
Table 1. The history of tilapia culture in Jamaica.
There are approximately 180 fish farmers in Jamaica. About 8 - 11 percent are women who own and operate fish farms. The vast majority of the hired workers on fish farms are male. On the other hand women make up the majority of workers in the processing plants.
A survey on the economics of the fisheries sector was recently concluded through a joint FAO/GOJ FD project (Van Riel, 2005 in press). The study revealed that small farms, generally, tend to employ on a full time basis 1-2 persons and larger farms employ a range of 12 - 50 persons. The same study estimated that approximately 800 persons were directly employed in aquaculture. This did not account for persons employed in processing plants. Employees on fish farms tend to have skills such as welding, machinery or mechanics, operation of heavy farm equipment. The study also found that the majority of workers completed primary level education but only a few completed secondary level education.
Jamaica is divided into fourteen parishes and three counties for administrative purposes. Fish farming occurs primarily in the south central plains of the country in the parishes of Clarendon and St. Catherine where the soil type and water are suitable. Minor fish farming activity occurs in other parishes such as St. Elizabeth and Westmoreland to the south, and St. Mary and Portland located on the northeast of the island and Trelawny located to the north of the Island.
Aiken (2002) reported that the total aquaculture area estimated to be in production was 526 ha in 2001. A separate study, looking at the distribution of ponds supplied by irrigation water gave a total of 516 ha.
Tilapia culture usually occurs on soils which contain between 20-30 percent clay. Most freshwater aquaculture in Jamaica relies on surface water (e.g. rivers and streams) or ground water sources. Very few may make use of rain-fed ponds. On the plains of St. Catherine and Clarendon some farms receive their water supplies through the irrigation infrastructure installed for sugar-cane farmers. Approximately 50 percent of farms are supplied by irrigation schemes.
Production occurs mainly in earthen ponds which are usually 0.4 ha in area. This is usually excavated to a depth of 1.5 m. Some production e.g. using the super-intensive flow through systems, occur in concrete tanks. Production occurs in a three phase system of brood pond, nursery and grow-out.
The aquaculture sector in Jamaica is currently dominated by the culture of tilapia. Around 3 000 tonnes were produced in 1997. Although there are up to 100 active tilapia farmers up to 85 percent of production is accounted by Aquaculture Jamaica Limited, a subsidiary of the Jamaica Broilers Group. They operate from two main sites - Barton Isle, Maggotty in St. Elizabeth and Toll Gate in Clarendon. They also operate a contract farming scheme and have eight client farms at present. Table 2 below shows some of the species introduced in Jamaica.
Table 2. Species introduced in Jamaica for aquaculture purposes.
In semi-intensive culture the fish are stocked at a density less than 30 000/ha, in green water and supplemental diets are fed and minimal water exchange occurs
The following was extracted from the Halcrow Study of 1998 and is an overview of the production systems that are used in Jamaica.
In Jamaica, the use of earth ponds predominates due to the relatively lower construction and maintenance costs. At least 50 percent of these ponds are supplied by irrigation schemes.
The most common system is still water ponds where water is only added to the ponds at the initial filling, and then again to make up for seepage and evaporation losses, although sometimes greater flushing is required if water quality deteriorates or a blue-green algae bloom develops. The stocking density of these ponds depends on whether there is any supplementary aeration. Without aeration, final densities of up to 4-5 tonnes/ha are possible. The use of aeration allows higher fish densities (approximately 10 tonnes/ha), whilst flowing water allows stocking densities to rise much higher (over 100 tonnes/ha).
Tilapia farming is divided into three or more phases. The general model for Jamaica is that fish are spawned in ponds with stocking densities of around 10 000-12 000 fish per ha. Fry are captured before they are 5 days old and transferred to concrete tanks. They remain in the tanks being fed a diet containing methyl-testosterone (to produce all-male fry) for about 28 days. They are then transferred to nursery ponds where they remain for about 120 days. Stocking densities at this point are 100 000-150 000/ha for non-aerated to moderately aerated ponds. For flow-though ponds, stocking densities can be over 600 000/ha. The final grow-out phase lasts between 90 and 180 days depending on the size of fish required.
Grow-out itself is often split into two phases with the stocking density reduced in the final phase to improve growth rates. Any smaller females (unsuccessful sex reversals) may also be graded out at this point. For still-water ponds without aeration, stocking densities are in the region of 15 000/ha. This climbs depending on the use of aeration and increase in water flow, through 60 000/ha to 200 000/ha. Aquaculture Jamaica, and a small number of other producers, have hatchery, nursery and grow-out facilities. Many of the smaller producers buy fingerlings and only have grow-out ponds.
Fingerlings are sold at a range of 15 - 40 g. Individual pond cycles are therefore in the region of 100-150 days with a couple of weeks between each to dry and treat the pond with lime. This gives approximately 2.2-2.8 cycles per year. However, a whole cycle of tilapia (fry to harvest) is between 240 and 360 days depending on final harvest size, stocking density, feed quality and time of year (growth is slower during the winter). Overall productivity cited by Aquaculture Jamaica was as follows:
The Jamaica Broilers Group have a feed mill (Master Blend) that produces tilapia diets. These contain 28 percent to 32 percent protein and cost in the region of J$10.50/kg (US$ 0.16) to J$14.00/kg (US$ 0.21) depending on exact formulation, whether they are supplied in bulk or in bags and whether they are formulated as pellets or a mash. For super intensive culture, extruded (floating) feed is imported (mainly from Burris Mill & Feed Inc., USA) costing from J$17.50 /kg (US$ 0.26). Feed conversion rates are in the region 2.1-2.5 in the hatchery, improving to 1.5-2.0 in grow-out. There are two other companies producing fish diets in Jamaica, Jet Pet and Seprod, although Master Blend account for most of the market. Ingredients for the diets are almost all imported and include fishmeal, soya, corn, wheat flour, vitamins and minerals.
Tilapia production accounts for about 90 percent of total food fish production. It is estimated that approximately 5 000 tonnes of aquaculture products was produced in 2001.
The graph below shows total aquaculture production in Jamaica according to FAO statistics:
Most fish farmers rely on vendors to buy and distribute their product. The product is sold at the farm-gate to the vendor who will take it from there to markets. The farmer may also sell tilapia to restaurants, hotels, supermarkets and other distributors. Some retail their own products.
One major company sells tilapia on the export market. The main importing countries are the United States of America, the United Kingdom and Belgium. The Jamaica Broilers Group has a processing plant at their Barton Isles site. This employs 80 - 100 people and produces a range of fresh and frozen tilapia products including fillets, de-boned and marinated products. These are marketed by the company's subsidiary Jabexco Ltd. under the trade name "Best dressed foods".
In 1997, 283.7 tonnes of fresh tilapia fillets 97.2 tonnes of frozen fillet and one tonne of frozen whole tilapia were exported to the USA. This is the equivalent of around 1 155 tonnes of whole live tilapia.
Jamaica is not able to compete with Taiwan Province of China on the price of whole frozen tilapia, which fell from US$1.56 to US$1.12/kg on the US market from mid 1997 to mid 1998. Their main competitive advantage is their proximity to the USA and good air links which enables Jamaica to compete on the fresh fillets market. Wholesale prices for fresh tilapia fillets were between US$ 7.37/kg and US$ 8.25/kg in the USA during 1997. Prices for frozen fillets were a little lower at US$5.50 to US$6.60/kg. (Halcrow, 1998).
Export of aquaculture products to the United States requires that the farm and processing facility from which it is produced meet HACCP certification standards. This is administered through the Veterinary Services Division of the Ministry of Agriculture. No specific labelling standards exist for aquaculture products, only general labelling requirements. The labelling standard is administered through the Jamaica Bureau of Standards.
The institutional agency
The Fisheries Division of the Ministry of Agriculture is the agency vested with the responsibility for the administrative control of fisheries; aquaculture is a component of fisheries. The Fisheries Division is comprised of two Branches, the Marine Branch which deals with the capture fisheries and the Aquaculture Branch which deals with the culture fisheries. The major thrust of the Aquaculture Branch is training, extension and research in aquaculture and mariculture.
The Aquaculture Branch evolved from the Inland Fisheries Unit which was established during the first phase of the USAID/GOJ project in 1977. The Fisheries Division has been charged with the expansion and development of the fisheries of Jamaica. This mandate has been further expanded to include the management and sustainable development of the fisheries sector.
Role and support of the private sector organizations
Jamaica Aquaculture Association (JAA). In 1998 there were 109 registered members of the JAA. The organization provides a vehicle for political lobbying as well as being a network for technical and commercial support.
Jamaica Ornamental Fish Farmers Association. This organization has a membership of 300 persons and serves as the umbrella organization for ornamental fish farmers in Jamaica. Several interventions have been made by this organization in terms of improving the production and marketing of ornamental fish in Jamaica and the on the export market.
Fishing industry act
Although the Fisheries Division is the agency with the administrative mandate for aquaculture, there is no legislation under the current Fishing Industry Act for the management and development of Aquaculture. The Fisheries Division is in the process of reviewing its legislation and a draft bill has been prepared which contains a component on Aquaculture.
Environmental regulation of aquaculture
Several agencies are responsible for environmental regulation in Jamaica. These include the Water Resources Authority, the National Environment Protection Agency, the Forestry Department and the Fisheries Division.
The Water resources authority
The Water Resources Authority regulates ground water supply in Jamaica. It administers the Water Resources Act (1995). Under the Water Resources Act a license is required for the abstraction and use of water. However, if the person has the right of access to the source of water, a permit is not required. The sinking or alteration of well requires a permit.
Natural resources conservation Act (1991)
This act established the entity Natural Resources Conservation Authority which is mandated to manage the physical environment of Jamaica thus ensuring the conservation, protection and proper use of the island's natural resources. Under the NRCA Act the discharge of effluents into open bodies of water requires a permit. The NRCA also has the authority to request environmental impact assessments where this may be deemed necessary.
Other laws falling under the NRCA are outlined below.
Wildlife protection act
The Wildlife Protection Act prohibits the release of noxious substances into the environment. As a consequence, it is important for effluent to be monitored. The National Environment Protection Agency has developed general industrial trade standards for effluent discharge. The agency is in the process of developing standards which are more suited to aquaculture. The Wildlife Protection Act also protects endangered species and prohibits the killing of species that are endangered (e.g. crocodiles).
The beach control act (1956)
This Act vests the rights in the foreshore and floor of the sea in the hands of the Crown. Any encroachment or use of the sea floor will require a license.
The endangered species (protection, conservation and regulation of trade) Act 2000
This act prohibits the trade in endangered species. This may only be done through appropriate permits and licenses. Scientific and Management Authorities have been established to monitor the trade in animals on the first, second and third schedules of CITES.
Permits and licenses regulation/act
Under the Permits and Licenses Regulation/Act several permits and licenses are required for aquaculture facilities. These include:
The animal (diseases and importation) act
This Act is administered through the Veterinary Services Division of the Ministry of Agriculture. It controls the importation of animals into the country. It also establishes procedures for the quarantine of imported and in the case of diseased animals quarantine, control and slaughter of animals in the event of an outbreak of a communicable disease.
Aquaculture, inland and marine products and by-products (inspection, licensing and export) act 1999
This Act is also administered by the Veterinary Services Division. It provides legislation for the export of fishery products and by-products from Jamaica. All processing facilities on land and at sea require licenses. An export health certificate is required for the export of such products.
Applied research in aquaculture has been occurring since the 1950's. Research appears to be driven by the needs of the Industry. However, no single body establishes what the research priorities should be. Currently very few organizations and institutions are involved in applied research, education and training in aquaculture. The main agencies are the Fisheries Division, the Scientific Research Council, the University of the West Indies and the College of Agriculture, Science and Education and the private sector through Aquaculture Jamaica Ltd., a major company involved in aquaculture in Jamaica.
The Fisheries Division through the Aquaculture Branch (Inland Fisheries Unit) has been conducting applied research and training in aquaculture since its inception. However, as a result of inadequate resources most of these activities have had to be curtailed.
The University of the West Indies has offered a final year six-weeks course in aquaculture since 1984. This course in now combined with Fisheries and titled Fisheries and Aquaculture Technologies. In the academic year 2005/2006, the University of the West Indies has introduced a new MSc. Program in Coastal, Estuarine and Marine biology of which aquaculture/mariculture is a component, through the Department of Life Sciences.
The Department of Life Sciences also operates a marine laboratory at Port Royal, Kingston Jamaica. Research at this facility has centered mainly on mariculture e.g. mariculture of corals, sea urchins, sea horses and the culture of algae for the feeding of peneid shrimp. Applied research in the Life Sciences Department in relation to tilapia culture has largely centered on acclimatization of red hybrid tilapia in cages to sea water, stocking density variations and effects on growth rates and protein digestion (Aiken 2002).
Aquaculture Jamaica Limited frequently conducts research in aquaculture. Their research has focused on improving feed conversion and growth, water quality consistency, genetics and market appearance (Aiken 2002).
The College of Agriculture Science and Technology offers aquaculture both in their Natural Science Program and in their Agriculture Program. This operates as an elective in both its Associate of Science Degree Programs in General Agriculture and Natural Sciences and an elective in its Diploma of Agriculture Program.
Most institutions do not appear to practice on farm participatory research. However, Aquaculture Jamaica Ltd. does this with its contract farmers. The results are also filtered back to them.
Few technical schools offer training in aquaculture. Most school programs in aquaculture were discontinued due insufficient resources to manage them.
The Fisheries Division is now in the process of drafting legislation and policy that will govern the development and management of fisheries and aquaculture in Jamaica. The policy will address areas such as the establishment, maintenance and development of an appropriate legal and administrative framework that facilitates the development of responsible aquaculture, and promote responsible development and management of aquaculture, including an advance evaluation of the effects of aquaculture development on genetic diversity and ecosystem integrity, based on the best available scientific information.
Some of the strategies to be adopted include:
A consistently high demand for fish products ensures a ready market for aquaculture products. However, local producers are facing competition from foreign competitors that produce at a lower cost than they do. There will be the need for farmers to improve their efficiency so that they can compete with fish that is imported into the island.
In terms of research and production there is the need to continue research in improving growth rates and control of production traits through genetic manipulation and the development of focused breeding programs. There is the need for improved feeds and feeding programs, better monitoring and control of production parameters, improved processing yields and product packaging, diversification of product presentation and lowered production costs.
Aiken, K.A. et al. 2002. Aquaculture in Jamaica, Naga, World Fish Centre Quarterly (Vol. 25, Nos. 3 and 4) . July – Dec. 2002.
Carberry, J and F.C. Hanley. 1997. Commercial Intensive Tilapia Culture in Jamaica p. 64-67. In D.E. Allston, B.W. Green and H.C. Clifford (eds.). The Fourth Symposium on Aquaculture in Central America: Focusing on Shrimp and Tilapia, 22 – 24 April 1997, Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Associacion Nacional de Acuicultores de Honduras and the Latin American Chapter of the World Aquaculture Society.
Ferlin, P and P. Noriega-Curtis. 1989. A Regional Survey of the Aquaculture Sector in the Caribbean. United Nations Development Program, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Rome, 1989.
Halcrow, Sir William and Partners Ltd. 1998. Multi sector Preinvestment Program South Coast Sustainable Development Study Technical Supplement, Aquaculture September 1998.
Van Riel, Wesley B. 2205. Economic Study of the Jamaican Fishing Industry. Draft Report. January 2005.