Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page


1.1 Nutritional benefits of fish and shellfish
1.2 Characteristics of consumption in the region
1.3 Annual consumption of fish and shellfish
1.4 Gross market data
1.5 Specific market data
1.6 Information for the trade
1.7 Technical assistance projects in the sub-sector

1.1 Nutritional benefits of fish and shellfish

First and foremost, increasing the per caput consumption of fish and shellfish in any country benefits health. Aquatic animals contain a high level of protein (17-20%), with an amino-acid profile similar to that of the meat of land-animals. The flesh of fish is therefore readily digestible and immediately utilizable by the human body. Compared with land animals (with some exceptions, such as shellfish), aquatic animals have a far higher percentage of edible flesh, and there is little wastage. Aquatic animals are a source of minerals, such as calcium, iron, and phosphorus, as well as trace elements and vitamins. Marine species are particularly rich in iodine. The fatty-acid content is high in poly-unsaturates, and particularly those which are attributed to reduce blood cholesterol.

1.2 Characteristics of consumption in the region

Fish has played a central role in the food economy of man from early times. The development of civilizations in the Caribbean islands was undoubtedly influenced by the availability of fish and shellfish found in the surrounding waters. The Carib Indians included fish with their staples, maize and cassava, which, together with beans, fruits, and vegetables, constituted a well-balanced diet.

Fish constitutes a traditional element of the diet of most Caribbean people and cannot be easily substituted by other foods. Fish is preferred in a fresh whole form, although salted dried fish is well accepted in some islands. Processed forms are bought in larger quantities due to greater availability and sometimes cheaper prices. Fish imports into the region comprise a wide range of species and product forms, mostly dried, smoked, salt-dried, gutted, iced, and canned.

In the Lesser Antilles the demersal fishes (snappers and groupers) are the most appreciated variety but imported salted cod (from Canada, France, and Norway) is also important as it is used in the preparation of many traditional dishes. In Martinique about one-quarter of the total fish consumption is salted cod. In most country islands fish is regularly a part of the daily diet served with rice and local vegetables, and it is usually boiled and heavily spiced.

In the Greater Antilles most fish are acceptable without preference for those of demersal or pelagic origin. Some freshwater fishes, namely the tilapias, carps, and colossomids have recently become popular. In fact, in countries like Cuba, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago, the growth and transformation of the productive structure of fish farming have had a strong impact on the marketing and consumption of fish.

The use of salted cod throughout the English-speaking Caribbean countries as an economical source of protein during colonial times has established it firmly in the local diets of the region. Complex economic factors combined with traditional eating habits continue to affect the pattern of fish consumption. Thus, although markets for processed fish products exist, the potential for penetrating them through aquaculture remains a challenging enterprise.

Molluscs, on the other hand, are not a traditional part of the diet, with the exception of the stromboid queen conch and the mangrove oyster consumed mainly in Cuba and Jamaica.

Crustaceans are scarce and seldom consumed locally. They have become a valuable export commodity in most islands, particularly spiny lobsters. In the Greater Antilles freshwater prawns are consumed by the local population, although at present they are all being channelled to the local tourist trade due to their high value.

The increase in revenue per caput in some of the Caribbean islands, and the development of the tourist trade, have changed many of the socio-cultural habits of the indigenous populations. The consumption of imported frozen and smoked fish is increasing, particularly in the richer countries.

1.3 Annual consumption of fish and shellfish

The Caribbean region, as described, has a population of some 29.6 million people. Fish supplies (from all sources) amount to some 400 000 t per annum. The average annual fish consumption is about 14.1 kg per caput (see Table 1, Annex I), but there is a large difference between the Greater Antilles (with an average annual consumption of 12.7 kg/y/caput) and the Lesser Antilles (with 23.9 kg/y/caput).

Protein supply in the region is above the daily world average amount per caput, with the exception of Haiti (3.7 g/day/caput)) and the Dominican Republic (6.8 g/day/caput). Fish protein supply varies between 14% of total animal protein (Haiti and Bahamas) and about 50% (Martinique, Guadeloupe, and St. Christopher). With the exception of Haiti all countries of the region are at or above minimal standard of food requirements (in calories and proteins).

The nominal catch for the region as a whole for 1986 was over 300 000 t. This figure includes all marine and freshwater fish, molluscs, and crustaceans, of which Cuba landed 71%, followed by the Dominican Republic (6.7%). Jamaica, Guadeloupe, and Haiti contributed with over 2.5% each.

Of the total catch about 33 000 t (11.2%) were exported with a value of US$ 233 million. Individual countries differ in export earnings relative to gross export volume depending on their specific product range. Cuba was the leading exporting country with 23 912 t (value US$ 180 million), followed by the Cayman Islands (2 711 t and US$ 18.6 million), Bahamas (1 223 t and US$ 17.9 million), Grenada (1 860 t and US$ 2.9 million), and Dominican Republic (1 862 t and US$ 2.3 million).

Recorded data indicate that fish landings in the early 1960s are only just greater than the early 1980s, although the population has increased by about 20%. Shrimp landings show sizeable increases for the period, although most of the catch was exported. The increase in demand for fish was in the form of salted cod, sardines, smoked herrings, and mackerels, all of which constitute the main imports of fisheries products to the region. Total imports now stand at about 122 500 t, with a value of US$ 182 million.

Imports and exports of fisheries products by country as of 1987 are:




US$ ('000s)


US$ ('000s)












1 070

3 730

1 223

17 910


2 000

4 240




1 118

7 717



Cayman Islands


1 290

2 711

18 590


65 800

60 513

23 912

180 913






Dominican Republic

9 653

12 630

1 862

2 340




1 860

2 910


3 851

14 512




7 155

5 790




14 711

25 760


2 200


5 758

21 625








Netherlands Antilles

1 874

6 830



St. Christopher and Nevis





St. Lucia





St. Vincent





Trinidad and Tobago

7 540

14 007


2 865

Turks and Caicos Islands




3 440


122 503

182 069

33 707

233 085

Source: FAO Yearbook of Fishery Statistics: Commodities, Vol. 65, 1987

The region as a whole is a net importer of fisheries products. It imports over 122 000 t and exports just over 33 000 t. Fisheries, however, is a net generator of foreign exchange, with earnings exceeding US$ 51 million annually.

With increasing personal incomes, population rates, and tourist trade (with its associated high consumption of seafoods), the demand for fish and fisheries products in the region is projected to increase substantially.

1.4 Gross market data

The Caribbean is described as having a middle-rich economy, with an average GNP/caput of US$ 1 280 (see Table 2). Only Haiti is below US$ 400 and ten countries are above US$ 3 000/caput. There is a significant difference between the countries of the Greater Antilles (US$ 821/caput) and the Lesser Antilles (US$ 4 734/caput). The total GNP of the Greater Antilles with a total population of 26 million is about equal to that of the Lesser Antilles with a population of only 3.5 million.

Regional and national fisheries statistics in the region are available but not reliable. No regional statistical recording system exists. A large part of national fisheries catches are consumed directly by fishermen themselves or by coastal communities. Between the richer islands and the others there is a "black market" and much fish is sold offshore by fishermen to buyers from the richer islands as the prices offered are often two or three times greater than prices (often fixed by governments) in their home country.

Throughout the region as a whole it is generally accepted that the inshore marine fisheries cannot increase. The traditional fishing grounds are over-exploited, and present policies derived from the adoption of the Extended Economic Zones (EEZ), whereby coastal states are now responsible for the effective management of the marine resources lying within their zones of jurisdiction, prevent the development of distant water fishing in neighbouring countries' EEZs. Although increases in catches through regional pelagic fisheries are possible, the limited and scattered availability of these marine resources usually render their exploitation uneconomical.

The total population of the Caribbean region, as described, is about 29.6 million, of which 25 million live in the Greater Antilles. Each year the tourist industry adds approximately a further 6.5 million to the market place. Tourism is important to the region and in the Lesser Antilles by country it contributes between 4 and 50% of the total GNP. Fisheries, on the other hand, contribute between 0.5 and 30% but typically only 1-3% in most countries.

The estimated demand by the tourist trade is not important at a regional level. A total of 6.5 million tourists spending about 7 days each in the region is equivalent to only 125 000 full-time residents. Recent studies indicate an average consumption of fish and fisheries products by tourists of 50-100 kg/y/caput. or 6 250-12 500 t for the whole tourist industry. However, for the Lesser Antilles this demand represents a large part of the total demand; for example, in the Bahamas there are over 44 000 tourists annually and about 234 000 residents, and in Cayman Islands there are almost 6 000 tourists annually and 18 000 residents. In addition, the tourist demand is concentrated on the high-value and high-priced products, such as lobsters, shrimps, conches, snappers, and groupers.

The Caribbean countries have maintained an increase in their fish landings during the last few years amounting to over 300 000 t in 1987 (see Table 3). In spite of a decrease in their export value in 1984 (US$ 122 million) a recovery took place later on, reaching US$ 233 million in 1987, i.e. an increase of 90%.

The leading Caribbean commercial fisheries are red snapper, grouper, croaker, dolphin fish, conch, spiny lobster, and shrimp, all of which are exported by air, either fresh or chilled, frozen, or live. However, some of the obstacles to acceptance of these products are the lack of continuity in supply, inconsistent product quality, difficulties with letters of credit, and scheduling of agreed delivery dates. All these factors result in a lack of reliability and credibility, and also discredit other potential exporters and even the country per se from where shipments originate.

1.5 Specific market data

In most of the islands of the Lesser Antilles there is no functional marketing organization for fish and fishery products. Most fish are sold on the beaches and on the sides of coastal roads, often without benefit of a stall. This is typical of Grenada, Dominica, Anguila, and Bermuda. Wholesale and retail companies exist in Jamaica, French West Indies, Trinidad and Tobago, and Haiti, and in Cuba where the organization is public.

In some countries, such as St. Vincent and St. Lucia, there are fish markets in the largest centres of population. In the more advanced countries, such as Trinidad, Antigua-Barbuda, Cuba, Jamaica, and Martinique, retail fish shops, are becoming more common and sell not only local fresh fish but also imported fresh and frozen fish. In Martinique, for example, the number of retailing shops in Fort-de-France has increased from one (in 1980) to eleven. Imported preserved fish are sold at supermarkets and other retail shops.

The most popular species of fish in the market place are the demersal snappers and groupers. The large pelagic fish, such as the tunas and dolphin fish, are also considered prime fish and preferred by consumers, especially between January and June. In the Greater Antilles some freshwater fish are popular on the markets, such as the tilapias in Jamaica, and armoured catfish or cascadora in Trinidad. Shellfish, such as the marine lobsters, shrimps, and conches, are exported or retained for the demands of the tourist trade.

Prices of fish and shellfish vary greatly from one island to the other. For example, average prime fresh fish prices (1985, ex-vessel) in US$/kg were 0.41-2.20 in St. Vincent, 2.40 in St. Lucia, 1.06 in Barbados, and 4.50 (2.50-8.00) in Martinique. Conch prices (ex-vessel) were US $ 1.80/kg in Turks and Caicos, 2.00 in St. Vincent, and 26.00 in Martinique. Lobster prices were US$ 4.40/kg in Turks and Caicos, 4.10 in St. Vincent, and 20.00 in Martinique. Freshwater tilapia was sold at US$ 1.20/kg in Jamaica, and US$ 1.00/kg in St. Vincent.

Local fish and shellfish are sold fresh when marketed locally. In Cuba, Jamaica, and Trinidad part of the catch is often processed into fillets, or canned, or frozen. In Guadeloupe there is a small smoking factory for pelagic fish (balacu, swordfish, and kingfish).

Imported fish are usually frozen or salted (cod), although some is fresh and iced. Lobster (heads off) and conches (without shell) are exported frozen. Cuba is exporting part of its catch, particularly high-value fish and shellfish (first-category fish, lobsters, and shrimps) and imports low-value fish.

For the period 1984-86, average exports of fishery products from the region amounted to 15% of the total catch but were worth over 50% of the total value of all landings. Imports, on the other hand, amounted to almost 50% of the total fish supply available for direct human consumption, and consisted mainly of fish either dried, salted or smoked, and secondly, of fish products and preparations (whether or not in airtight containers). Cuba, however, is the major sole importer in the region of fish in fresh, chilled, or frozen forms. Crustaceans and molluscs are imported in only small quantities.

Most of the governments of the islands aim at self-sufficiency in fish production. Some, such as Antigua, try to prohibit exports; others, such as Jamaica and Trinidad, limit imports. All of them are giving more attention to post-harvest practices both at sea and on shore, processing and storage, and to improved marketing and distribution. Many are now more interested in assessment of their resources, and collecting statistics to determine the best management practices to sustain the stocks.

Also, because most Caribbean countries depend mainly on marine catches for their local supply of fish products, and because the commonly harvested marine resources have begun to show signs of depletion, governments are starting to recognize the importance of aquaculture as an alternative to food production through the exploitation of under-utilized resources.

In addition, the rising costs of landing wild stocks occasioned by oil crises, and the depletion of natural stocks together with improved techniques of aquaculture through selection, breeding and management, have led to renewed interest in aquaculture in the region. A change from past failures to future success rests upon finding adequate solutions to the production and distribution problems.

With the exception of penaeid shrimps aquaculture pursuits in the region are mainly centred on fresh or brackishwater species which are unfamiliar to many potential consumers. However, only a few species (such as tilapia, common and Chinese carps, cascadura, etc.) have been readily accepted in the region.

CARICOM, through the Caribbean Food Corporation, has addressed the issue of marketing surplus fish within the region, as transportation, pricing, availability of foreign exchange, and consumer acceptance of surplus species constitute obstacles to interregional trade.

The problems facing some of the countries which have surplus/deficit catches are summarized in the table on page 9.

1.6 Information for the trade

There is no specific source of marketing information for the Caribbean region. The countries have proximity to information in both Latin America and North America. The principal marketing information service in the Latin America region is INFOPESCA, although it does not as yet differentiate aquaculture products. INFOPESCA assists the fishing industry and governments in the region by establishing contacts between buyers and sellers of fish products, and providing technical information and advice on post-harvest aspects of fisheries, such as handling, processing, equipment selection, and quality assurance. INFOPESCA is based in Panama City, and its working languages are English and Spanish.

INFOPESCA is one of four regional services (in Africa, Asia/Pacific, and the Near East in addition). This network of services produces a two-weekly news bulletin called "Trade News", in English, French, Spanish and Arabic. This deals with prices, cold storage holdings, short-term market trends, and business opportunities. The network also publishes a two-monthly magazine called "INFOFISH International" (incorporating the Marketing Digest) in English, which contains articles on market analysis, new products, processing, packaging, equipment, and other aspects of fisheries including aquaculture, with summaries in he other three languages. Again, as yet, little information is relevant to aquaculture in the Caribbean.



Period of






lobster and reef fish

St. Martin
St. Thomas

Can only market twice a week

Antigua and Barbuda

No surplus


demersal finfish



Prices low elsewhere

snappers, grunts


flying fish



West Indian Communities

British Virgin Islands

dolphin fish, king mackerel, shrimp


St. Lucia

Unreliability of interregional transport


No surplus


dolphin fish, wahoo, kingfish yellowfin tuna



No market for frozen fish






No surplus

St. Christopher & Nevis

conch, lobster

Marketing problems could cause surplus

St. Lucia

pelagics - dolphin fish, tuna, wahoo


Br. Virgin Islands

lack of foreign exchange availability

St. Vincent & the Grenadines

No surplus

Trinidad and Tobago

flying fish
canned tuna
lobster, conch
snapper, mackerel


The fifth member of the network service is the FAO computerized system of fish marketing called Globefish. This database stores original information collected by INFOPESCA and the other regional services, on such things as production and trade statistics, price series, the supply and demand situation, information on aquaculture, investment, joint ventures, and general economic data relevant to fisheries. Specific searches are made on request. FAO also produces "Globefish Highlights", which is a quarterly analysis of medium trends. It is based on the information in the databank and is distributed as a supplement to the Trade News (above) in four languages.

Annual fishery statistics are also stored on an FAO database called FISHDAB. As yet aquaculture statistics are not separated.

Consumer and marketing information is through international magazines and trade papers which are obtainable on subscription. Most of these at the present time deal with capture fisheries, but a number of articles appear about aquaculture periodically. In the region there is "Mar y Pesca" (Cuba), and in the proximal region "Pesca Marina" (Costa Rica). "Chile Pesquero" (Chile), "Pesca - Revista de Circulacion Mundial" (Peru), and "Redes de la Industria Pesquera Nacional" (Argentina).

Magazines useful to the region related to North American and European markets are "Seafood Business" (USA), "Seafood International" (UK), and "Il Pesce" (Italy), and product newsletters, like Shrimp Newsletter (USA).

Regarding international market quotations for aquaculture products, the Commercial Fishing Information System handled by INFOPESCA processes and distributes through its reports the prices of some cultured species, in addition to specifying their presentation and preservation forms, the type of market, and the origin of the products. At present, quotations for cultured shrimps, tilapia, common and Chinese carps, eel, salmon, trout, catfish, and seaweeds are occasionally published. It also offers technical and commercial assistance in marketing operations for placing traditional products at better price levels, as well as introducing and maintaining new products until they are able to establish a position in international markets.

The National Marine Fishery Service of the US Department of Commerce publishes a Fishery Market News Report three times a week with information on primary wholesale selling prices for shrimp and fish and other selected wholesale frozen fishery products in the principal fish markets of New York, Boston, Portland, etc. It also gives information on imports entered into the New York Customs District and provides additional services such as listings of available trade opportunities, and various reports of the fishing industry. This Market Report is relevant to the region as it provides an indication of prices of various commodities imported from the Caribbean.

All these commercial publications are available through subscription and, in addition to prices and market trends, they contain relevant articles on aquaculture production world-wide.

1.7 Technical assistance projects in the sub-sector

There have been a number of technical assistance projects in the region in recent years dealing with aspects of marketing, but all have been associated with the offshore fisheries sector, and not aquaculture. Some have involved facilities for post-harvest handling and processing, which may indirectly benefit the aquaculture sector.

As in most of the other regions, marketing is invariably a component omitted from technical assistance projects and therefore there are few projects in the region with components at this level of the aquaculture sector.

The most important project is INFOPESCA - a marketing and advisory service specializing in Latin American and Caribbean fisheries. INFOPESCA is part of a network of marketing services established by FAO in four regions (see 1.6). This regional service has been rather restricted in its coverage within the Caribbean although it is expected to play a more important role as the sector develops.

In 1976 the 10th West Indies Agricultural Economics Conference addressed the matter and a study was conducted on prospects for intraregional trade in fish products.

In response to the need for data on food composition, the Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute has conducted a number of studies on local fishery products. In terms of marketing, this information has proved to be of value to government personnel in the control of imports of foodstuffs, as it has appraised their value, and in fixing import duties. Among the species studied, some products of aquaculture, such as tilapia, carps, catfish, shrimp, and oysters have been included.

The Tropical Products Institute of London has also reviewed possibilities for wholesaling and retailing fish in the Caribbean.

Through the FAO-sponsored "Organization and Management Training for Aquaculture Development" project, a regional workshop was held in 1987 in which it was recognized that a market potential for aquaculture products from the Caribbean exists and that market analyses and consumer acceptance surveys play an important role in fostering successful aquaculture development. Therefore, a request was made to the CARICOM Secretariat to assist member governments with appropriate programmes to achieve production and marketing objectives for aquaculture development. The workshop also proposed the organization of regional and national seminars on various topics among which marketing of aquaculture products was included with the rationale of enabling participants to acquire basic marketing principles for the proper promotion and disposal of aquaculture products. The main goals of these proposed seminars would be to propitiate an increased understanding of the basic concepts of marketing as applied to aquaculture in the global, regional, and national environments. Also to acquire the tools for determining consumer behaviour, develop marketing strategies for aquaculture products, and for planning and financial control.

As a means of developing expertise in marketing, which is considered to be a constraining factor for the expansion of aquaculture within the Caribbean, the Workshop provided officers from CARICOM countries and representatives from regional training and research institutions with orientation and insights on problems in market development for aquaculture products.

Local and national market surveys for fisheries and aquaculture products have been conducted in various countries of the region. These have either been contracted directly by governments with private commercial firms, or as components of external technical assistance projects; for example, in Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, Haiti, Martinique, and Barbados.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page