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Christopher Parker
Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development
Fisheries Division, Princess Alice Highway
Bridgetown, Barbados

Section 1. The Fisheries Sector in Barbados and the National Economy

As is the case for all Caribbean islands, fishing and associated activities have been integral components of the cultural, social and economic fabric of Barbados for many years. The fisheries of Barbados are in many ways quite unique when compared to other islands in the eastern Caribbean. A major difference is the traditional focus on pelagic fishing by Barbadian fishers. In 1999 flyingfish accounted for around 65 % of the total fish catch for that year and this is fairly typical.

The intrinsic importance of fishing to Caribbean islands is often not accurately reflected in economic terms such as contribution to gross domestic product (GDP), as the value added component of fishery products, especially in the tourism sector, are not taken into account (Mahon, 1993). In Barbados in 1998, the fisheries sector contributed $23.5 million (0.6 %) to the GDP at factor cost. During the period 1978 to 1998, the fisheries sector contributed from 0.5 % to 1.0 % (mean 0.8 %) annually to the GDP of the island.

In 1988, it was estimated that per caput consumption of fish in Barbados was around 40 kg yr-1, of which approximately 1/3 came through imports (Horemans, 1988). It has been estimated that 84 % of Barbadians eat fish at least once a week (Mahon and Willoughby, 1990). Barbados has historically been and remains, a net importer of fish. Much to the alarm of many local fishers, in recent years flyingfish from Trinidad and Tobago and Grenada have been included in the range of fish imports. Over the last decade, locally processed flyingfish were exported to a number of countries including the USA, the UK and several Caribbean Islands. In 1999, approximately 915 MT (estimated value Bds$7.3 million) of whole, chilled and frozen finfish was imported into the island. An estimated 183 MT (estimated value Bds$1.5 million) of whole, filleted, chilled and frozen finfish products were exported (according to Barbados statistical service data).

Section 2. Flyingfish Fishery and Historical Evolution

Not much has been recorded about the very early history of the fishing industry of Barbados. Although some fisheries were already under legislative control by the beginning of the twentieth century, it was only based on the recommendations of the Royal Commission set up to investigate the causes of the 1937 riots that the government of Barbados focussed on developing the local fishing industry. At that time, much of the Barbadian fishing fleet was forced to remain on land through lack of access to basic materials such as canvas for sails, which the impoverished fishermen could not afford to buy to make their vessels seaworthy. Instead, most of the fish consumed in the island had to be imported. The development of local fisheries to adequately supply the populace became even more critical with the advent of World War 2 when access to imported fish became limited. The Fisheries Division was established to supervise the development of the fisheries sector in 1944. Due to the importance of the flyingfish fishery it is not surprising that development of this fishery has attracted much of the attention of the Fisheries Division over the last 50 years. It is also not surprising that most of the studies conducted on flyingfish and the fishery in the Southern Caribbean have been centred in Barbados.

Within the first fifteen years of the existence of the Fisheries Division, the flyingfish fishery underwent several changes. The first was an increase in the number of vessels in the fleet, encouraged by the availability of government loans to purchase and repair vessels and gear. Furthur significant developments were soon to follow in both gear technology and the fleet. Collectively these developments had signficant impacts on fishing efficiency and are therefore noteworthy.

Gear technology development

During the first half of the 20th century, flyingfish were either captured on handlines, most often made of a small hook (No. 12 - 14, English numbers) attached to a length of number “0” white crotchet line, or with shallow dipnets constructed of 1 ½” mesh stretched over an elliptically shaped split bamboo frame about 3’ by 4’ in size (Brown, 1942; Hall, 1956). This latter method of fishing was referred to as “brailing” (Hall, 1956). Following extensive sea trails aboard the Division’s research vessel, the “Investigator” during the 1950 - 1951 fishing season, the gillnet was introduced to the fishing fleet. By early 1952, seventy fishing vessels were using gillnets. These early nets were knitted by the fishermen with cotton crochet thread that was soaked in Cuprinol® wood preservative to both preserve the net and dye it green. The average dimensions of the nets were 20 yds in length with a mesh size of 1?”. The netting was stretched open in the water between a top line made buyant by a number (around 33) of cork floats and a length of rope weighted with a total of 3 lbs in lead weight distributed along its length (Hall, 1956). Hall (1956) estimated that on average, 240 flyingfish were captured per trip by fishers using the line and brailing techniques alone. Unfortunately, no estimates of the quantity of flyingfish caught with the gillnet by the average individual sailboat fisher are available. However, all reports indicate that catch rates increased greatly as a result of using gillnets (Hall, 1956; Bair, 1962).

Commercially produced gillnetting was imported into the island in 1952 and the whole fleet was equipped with gillnets for the 1952 - 1953 season (Bair, 1962). Nylon netting soon replaced the cotton netting but the mesh size required needed to be slightly smaller to accommodate the elasticity of the nylon. Over the years various authors have quoted a number of mesh sizes as being used by local fishers e.g. 1 ½” (Chakallal, 1982), 1 ½” to 1 ¾” (FAO/IC, 1982), 1?” (Storey, 1983) and 1 ½ to 1?” (Harding, 1986).

In 1968, gillnets were reported to be 60 by 6 wide (Cecil, 1973). In the early 1980s two different surveys suggested that the nets ranged between 6 m to 24 m long by 3 m to 3.5 m deep (FAO, 1982), 60’ to 120’ in length by 6’ deep (Chakallal, 1982) and 30’ by 12’ (Storey, 1983). In 1982 launches reportedly carried two 24 m long nets and two 6 m nets while the iceboats carried two to three 24 m nets and two 12 m nets. The smaller size nets were for the capture of bait. The catch rate of flyingfish in these gillnets have been estimated at between 125 pieces hr-1, m-1 of gillnet in areas of shoaling to 2 pieces hr-1, m-1 of gillnet in areas of scattered distribution (FAO/IC, 1982).

Fleet development

The vessels used in the flyingfish fishery during the first half of the century were small open sail boats ranging in size between 18’ to 25’, overall length, 6 - 8’ maximum width and with draughts of up to 6’ (Brown, 1942; Bair, 1969) or 4’ 6” according to Rose (1954). The vessels were extremely difficult to steer, requiring coordinated movements for shifting up to one tonne of iron ballast kept in the bottom of the boat while turning the rudder and adjusting the sails. The boats had to be manned by a crew of three and could reach a maximum speed of 4.3 mph (Bair, 1962). The boats carried no ice onboard to preserve the catch thus the time between taking the fish onboard and returning to shore to sell them was limited. The difficulty in manoeuvring and the comparatively slow speed of the vessels together effectively narrowed the fishing range to within approximately 4 - 5 miles from shore (Brown, 1942; Bair, 1969; Willoughby, 1993). Bair (1969) estimated that the length of the fishing day ranged between 10 - 14 hours with only 4 - 8 hours spent in actual fishing and the remainder spent in travelling. The sail boats could carry an estimated maximum quantity of 2 000 - 4 000 lbs of fish (Brown, 1942; Rose, 1954).

Motorization of the fishing fleet was the second major development in the flyingfish fishery. The first motorized fishing vessel in Barbados was in fact, the “Investigator” operated by the Fisheries Division, which was launched in December 1949. The 43’ 6” “Investigator” was built in the design of a standard Norwegian double-ender vessel (i.e. having tapering bow and stern). However, the typical Barbadian motorized pelagic fishing launches were not built along these lines. Initially the basic design of the hull of the traditional fishing sailboat was retained with modifications to the stern, transom and keel to accommodate the installation of the inboard engine and propeller (Research and Productivity Council, 1981; McConney, 1987). A small cabin was built amidship of the vessel to cover and protect the engine while offering some cover for the crew. Engine controls were housed in the cabin while the boat was steered with a stern mounted tiller and rudder (Research and Productivity Council, 1981).

The conversion of the fishing fleet from sail to motor power started in earnest during the latter part of the 1950s following damage to the fishing fleet caused by the passage of hurricane Janet in 1955. Although motorization had started earlier, the hurricane provided felled mahogany wood that was utilized for a more intensive conversion programme. In 1954 only 18 motor powered boats were present in the fleet, but by 1962 the entire pelagic fishing fleet (479 vessels) was motorized.

The dimensions of the motorized pelagic fishing vessel hulls of the 1950s through the early 1960s were appreciably larger than the sailboat hulls, ranging between 22’ to 30’, overall length, 7’ 6” - 11’ width and 3’ to 3’ 9” draught. They were powered by 10 to 36 H.P. engines and travelled at speeds of around 7.5 knots (Bair, 1962). The vessels could be operated by a minimum crew size of 2 but some still carried a larger crew giving a calculated value of 2.5 persons per vessel for the whole fleet (Wiles quoted in Videus, 1969). The increased travelling speed afforded motor powered vessels an additional 2 hours of fishing time (Bair, 1962; McConney, 1987). In addition, the potential fishing range of even the lowest powered (10 H.P.) vessels was extended to about 12 miles from shore (Berkes, 1987). However, the vessels were still constrained to fishing trips of less than one day in duration, which caused them to become known as day-boats.

The overall fishing efficiency of the motorized craft was estimated at between 2 - 2 ½ times greater than that of the sailboat (Wiles, 1956). Boat size and engine power increased over the following years (see Oxenford and Hunte (1985) for an analysis of this trend). In the 1970s, 80 - 180 HP engines became common allowing a further extension of the fishing range to 40 miles from shore (Berkes, 1987) but these vessels generally fished within 30 nautical miles from shore (FAO/IC, 1982). In 1982, day boats ranged between 6 m to 12 m, overall length and carried 50 to 200 HP engines enabling them to travel at speeds of between 10 - 13 knots (FAO/IC, 1982). Oxenford and Hunte (1985) demonstrated that there was a positive relationship between vessel size, power and catch sizes. However, the very powerful engines are considered to be unnecessarily large for the day boats that they propel. Fishermen seem to choose these engines simply to enable them to return to port with their catch before their competitors (FAO/IC, 1982).

The most recent, significant development in the Barbadian pelagic fishing fleet is the introduction of on-board ice holds. These boats are commonly referred to as “ice boats”. Iceholds range in capacity from 8 to 20 m3, but usually only around 60 % of the total capacity is utilized per trip (Horemans, 1988). The first iceboat to enter the local fleet was a converted 10 m dayboat equipped with a small ice-hold. Ironically, it met with little financial success at the time because local consumers were wary of purchasing iced rather than fresh fish and the vessel soon reverted to normal day-boat fishing (McConney, 1987). It was not until 1978 that the first truly commercial ice-boat enterered the fleet (McConney, 1987).

The increased efficiency of the iceboat is a product of ability to stay at sea fishing for longer periods (up to around two weeks) and to fish further from Barbados in areas of potentially higher fish densities without fear of the catch spoiling. In 1982 iceboats ranged in size between 12 and 14 m overall length and carried engines of between 150 - 215 HP, allowing them to travel at speeds of between 8 - 10 knots. Unlike the day boats, the engine power is considered appropriate for these iceboats (FAO/IC, 1982). The percieved economic advantages of iceboats over day boats ushered in the predictable switching from day-boats to iceboats in the pelagic fishing fleet that has been ocurring from the late 1970s to the present.

Developments in marketing and distribution

One of the first tasks undertaken by the Fisheries Division in 1944 was the upgrading of fish landing sites around the island. At that time fish were sold at several landing sites around the island’s coast. As would be expected, certain sites became major marketing nodes largely driven by the concentration of the human population and thus potential buyers in the area. If a fisherman’s home base was near enough, he would tend to land his larger catches at one of these major sites where the chance of selling them was comparatively greater. The three most important marketing centres were located at Bridgetown, Oistins and Speightsown where some crude infrastucture for the selling and processing of fish existed (Bair, 1962). Fish was also transported and sold by hawkers to areas within the island including other inland general markets and to households. Recognising the importance of improving the system of marketing fish, government erected fish marketing buildings in the three main towns: Cheapside (1946) in Bridgetown, Oistins (1950) and Speightstown (1954). In 1960 another market in the vicinity of Bridgetown was opened at Bay Street. The market buildings were all similar in their basic design and facilities.

In addition, over a number of years, ten fish landing sheds were erected at some of the other more active fish landing areas namely, Consett Bay, Skeetes Bay, Tent Bay, Paynes Bay, Martins Bay, Half Moon Fort, Holetown, Reads Bay, Fitts Village and Pile Bay. These sites became known as secondary landing sites. The sheds offered basic facilities including a shelter, a concrete slab for cutting and boning fish and running water. Finally, there were also a number of other areas around the island where, despite the absence of any permanent, physical infrastructure, fish continued to be landed and sold. Largely these sites were simply the home bases of some of the fishers. These sites are now referred to as tertiary landing sites.

In addition to the physical infrastructural differences between the three categories of landing sites, there are significant differences in both the staffing and marketing operations at the sites. The first major difference is that there is no official management of landing and marketing operations at the tertiary landing sites. The responsibility of managing fish markets was passed to the Markets Division in the 1950s. These markets required more staff than were needed at the sheds. Tolls were paid based on the quantity and types of fish landed at the market. The Fisheries Division retained the responsibilities of managing the fish sheds. Usually someone living in the vicinity of the shed was appointed as caretaker. Fishermen were not required to pay tolls for the use of the sheds but landings were still recorded by the shed keepers.

Although the overall list of fish landing locations around the island has remained more or less the same over the last fifty years, several infrastructural changes have occurred at several of the sites during this period. For example, the old market buildings at Oistins and Cheapside were replaced by the much larger and improved Oistins Fisheries Complex (1983) and the Bridgetown Fisheries Complex (BFC) (1989), respectively. The secondary landing site at Reads Bay was upgraded to a primary site with the construction of the Weston fish market in 1997. and the Bay Street market was closed shortly after the opening of the BFC.

As a consequence of the marked infrastructural improvements, which occurred at these landing sites, there was a commensurate shift in fish landing patterns around Barbados. Of major importance for the ocean pelagic fisheries is the location of ice making facilities at the Oistins and BFC markets. The availability of this commodity is of course critical to the operation of the iceboats. As a result the vast majority of iceboat catches are landed at either one of these two sites. The opening of the BFC finally put an end to a long established practice of landing fish at the wharf located in the Bridgetown Careenage, a few kilometres away from the Cheapside market. Although illegal, for several years this practice remained a nuisance for health officials because of the unsanitary conditions of the area and for fisheries managers because these catches usually went completely unrecorded. With the advent of the iceboats, the area of the Careenage continued to concern fisheries officials when a company located there started supplying ice to the iceboats. This resulted in these vessels offloading at the site where catches were not recorded.

Despite the infrastructural improvements in marketing that occurred, marketing policies and distribution did not keep a pace with improvements occurring in fishing efficiency. As a result, gluts of fish were common in the early 1980s forcing fishermen to sell their catches for a fraction of their worth.

In an effort to ensure that staple commodities such as fish did not become the targets of “black market” pricing during the second world war, Government placed several food commodities under a legislated price control system. The price of fish fell under the net of price control in 1942. Legislated control of the price of fish was not removed until 1972. It was generally considered that the prices dictated by government did not allow fishers to make any appreciable profits. Fishers were therefore restrained from making up for the loss of earnings accrued during gluts by increasing prices during periods of low fish abundance.

Another grouse amongst fishers was the perception that vendors and hawkers to whom they sold their catch for re-sale to the general public, habitually colluded amongst themselves on the price that they would pay for the fish. This put the fisherman at a marked disadvantage as the practice effectively removed the fisherman’s bargaining power. To combat this, many fishers opted to sell their own fish or dealt exclusively with agents who paid a fair price to the fisherman and subsequently sold the fish to established buyers such as hotels etc.

The preservation of fish during times of plenty was the obvious solution to the glut dilemma. From as early as 1942, H.H. Brown suggested that government make refrigeration and freezing facilities available for the storage and preservation of fish. However, it was not until 1962 that the government-operated Barbados Marketing Cooperation took on this responsibility. The venture met with little success however, as the opening hours of the facility often did not correspond with the times when many fishermen returned to port. Barbadians wanted to be able to judge the quality of the fish they were buying themselves by visual inspection, a procedure that could only be accurately done on fresh fish. As a result iced fish were often avoided. For this reason, it took quite some time for the public to accept fish landed by iceboats. However, despite a rocky beginning, the advent of the iceboat has dealt a severe blow to the profitability of day-boats as the increased catches from these vessels often precipitates a fall in the price of fish. To compete, dayboats are forced to reduce their fishing time and return to port as quickly as possible in an attempt to sell their fish before the competition arrives (Horemans, 1988).

The most recent development that has to a greater or lesser extent alleviated the marketing problems of seasonal abundance of flyingfish and indeed other pelagic species is the growth of fish processing companies. The success of these companies largely lies in the fact that consumers tend to have more faith in the quality of the fish being sold by them.

Section 3. Structure and Functioning of the Flyingfish Fishery

The fishery resources

Although twelve species of flyingfish have been reported in the waters of the eastern Caribbean (Gibbs, 1978; Storey et al., 1983; Khokiattiwong, 1988; Lao, 1989), it is the four-winged flyingfish (Hirundicthys affinis) that is most commonly caught by Barbadian fishers (Hall, 1956, Storey, 1983). As such, Hirundicthys affinis is the species that has attracted the attention of most research on Barbadian flyingfish fisheries (Hall, 1955; Lewis et al., 1962; Storey, 1983; Khokiattiwong, 1988; Lao, 1989).

Flyingfish are typically captured off Barbados between the months of November to July of the succeeding year, (Fig. 1). The vast majority of flyingfish (approx. 94 %) are captured between the months of December and June (Willoughby, 1993). The fish is important both as food and as bait for the other important large pelagic fisheries (Oxenford et al., 1993). During the latter part of the fishing season, between May and June, the flyingfish population is composed of both immature and mature fish. While juveniles remain present in the waters during the months from July to November, they are not commonly taken by commercial gillnets (Khokiattiwong, 1988; Khokiattiwong et al., 1993). Between September and April the population is composed only of maturing fish. Flyingfish spawn throughout the fishing season but exhibit peak spawning activity between March to June and may spawn several times during the season (Storey, 1983; Khokiattiwong, 1988; Khokiattiwong et al., 1993). The disappearance of the mature fish after June may be attributable to either post-spawning mortality or emigration out of the area. These factors may account for the marked seasonality in abundance of this species (Khokiattiwong, 1988; Khokiattiwong et al., 1993).

That flyingfish spawn on floating material (flotsam) has been assumed for a long time and supported by observation. The reason for this is that the eggs are not buoyant like those of most pelagic species (Hunte et al., 1995). The attraction of flyingfish to flotsam for this purpose is critical to the aggregating of flyingfish in the open ocean that facilitates their capture by fishers. However, Hunte et al. (1995) reported a surprising lack of flyingfish eggs and flotsam present in the water column at a time of peak spawning activity (April to May, 1988). They concluded that the fish had a tendency to lay eggs on pieces of flotsam until they sank under the increased weight and/or that flyingfish spawn on submerged substrata (Hunte et al., 1995). Flyingfish are believed to be annual species with all life stages sequentially present throughout the year off Barbados (Lao, 1989; Campana et al., 1993; Hunte et al., 1993). Larvae of the Exocoetidae family (to which the flyingfishes belong) were found in greatest abundance during February to August, which corresponds well with the spawning period of the flyingfish. It is believed that the larvae may be retained within the eddy systems down current of Barbados leading to higher larval abundance in that area (Lao, 1989: Lao et al., 1993).

The effects of a range of surface water characteristics on the various stages of the life cycle of flyingfish have been examined. No effect was found on the distribution of juvenile or adult flyingfish by the concentrations of phosphates, nitrates, or by temperature or salinity (Oxenford et al., 1995(a); (b)). However it is was found that flyingfish had higher growth rates in higher sea-surface temperatures while juveniles that had hatched in the warmer months (April - June) had higher growth rates than juveniles hatched in the cooler months (November - March) of the year (Oxenford et al., 1994). The catch rate of flyingfish appears to be negatively correlated with sea temperature but positively correlated with wind speed and swell height (Khokiattiwong, 1988; Khokiattiwong et al., 1993). Tag and recapture studies indicated that flyingfish have a high dispersion rate throughout the eastern Caribbean region (Lewis, 1964; Oxenford, 1994). However, genetic studies revealed the existence of three unit stocks within the central western Atlantic area, suggesting that the eastern Caribbean stock should be managed as an individual unit stock, separate from stocks off Brazil and the southern Netherlands Antilles (Gomes et al., 1998; 1999).

Figure 1. Monthly total catches (metric tonnes) of flyingfish at Barbados (1989 - June1999)

The fishing fleet

Table 1 summarizes hull and engine specifications of the Barbadian ocean pelagic fishing fleet in 1999. Note that all vessels are arranged in “classes” that are defined by overall hull length as follows: Class 1: less than 6 m (19.8’); Class 2: 6 m to 12 m (9.8’ - 39.4’); Class: more than12 m (39.4’).

The range in hull lengths of day boats has changed little from the values quoted for the fleet in 1982 (FAO/IC, 1982). Some smaller vessels have entered the fleet and these are mainly large moses to which a small cabin has been added. These vessels are unique in the Barbados ocean pelagic fleet in that they are powered by outboard engines. The trend to increase power has continued and the maximum values of engine power are now around 300 HP compared to 200 (op. cit.).

In the iceboat fleet, the range in hull sizes has expanded in both directions (23’ to 54.7’). Modern iceboats are now either purpose built vessels or converted day boats. The rush to add ice holds to vessels has led to iceholds being installed in even the smaller dayboats. This practice is of some concern to boat inspectors as the deck space can become reduced to the point where the vessel is unsafe for normal operations at sea. The increase in hull length on the other hand, reflects the continuing trend of increasing vessel size reported by Oxenford and Hunte (1988). In keeping with the trend of increasing power (not always commensurate with vessel size), the maximum power of engines in the fleet has increased to 450 HP compared to a maximum of 215 in 1982. The typical range of icehold capacity for iceboats (not longliners) remains around the range of 8 - 20 m3 quoted by Horemans (1988). However some larger holds also exist.

Table 1. Hull and engine specifications of the Barbadian ocean pelagic fishing fleet



Overall length (ft)

Beam width (ft)


Engine power(HP)














Day boat














Day boat










































Long liner














Long liner













A synopsis of the Barbadian pelagic fishing fleet in terms of the materials used for hull construction is presented in Table 2. Although the majority of hulls are still typically wooden, fibreglass hulls are gaining popularity.

Table 2. Types of hull on Barbadian fishing vessels in 1999



No. of vessels



GRP and wood






















Long liner













Long liner












The age of a vessel is generally judged by the age of its keel. In keeping with the trend of upgrading and converting fishing boats that has existed in the Barbadian fishing fleet for the last 50 years at least, it is not surprising that many vessels, even iceboats, are over 20 years old (max.= 40 years). The average age of an existing launch is 5.1 years, a class 2 dayboat is 11.3 years, a class 2 iceboat is 11.9 years, a class 3 iceboat is 7.6 years and a longliner is 7.2 years.

The method of pelagic fising has remained essentially unchanged since the introduction of gillnets in the early 1950s. At sea the fisherman searches for the presence of flotsam, which is a good indicator of the presence of flyingfish. If flyingfish are spotted around the flotsam he immediately commences fishing. For this he turns off the boat’s engine and allows the vessel to passively drift with the surface currents and wind. As the boat drifts he releases his gillnet into the sea. If fish are not spotted in the immediate area, the fisherman deploys temporary fish attracting devices known as “screelers”. A screeler is simply a bundle of sugar cane or coconut fronds attached to the boat by a length of rope. Most often a number of screelers (max of 6) are tied to the same line at roughly 100 m intervals. The fisherman may also then hang a basket of pieces of fish and offal (called “chum”) over the side of the boat. As the boat rolls with the waves, the basket dips into the water causing the pieces of fish to spill out onto the sea. Once flyingfish are spotted in the area, the fisherman deploys a drifting gillnet. He then pulls the screelers closer to the ship, positioning one behind the net. This action draws the flyingfish into the vicinity of the net and facilitates their capture. At some point during the exercise the fisherman will deploy baited lurk lines to capture any large pelagics in the area (Harrison, 1988).

The surface gillnets typically used by Barbadian fishers vary in length from 3 m to 5 m and depths from 2 m to 4 m. The rationale for using shorter nets than in the past is to facilitate faster clearing of the net and thus quicker redeployment and increased soak time of the gear. However, some older fishermen still prefer to use the longer nets. The number of nets carried by modern vessels are reportedly 2 to 4 on dayboats and 4 to 12 on iceboats. Launches may have as many as three nets in the water at the same time while iceboats may have up to four. The nets are attached at intervals along the side of the vessel so that they hang vertically and parallel to each other in the water. Each net is hauled in and cleared of flyingfish and spawn and then immediately redeployed. The soak time of the nets depends on the abundance of the fish in the area and may vary from under an hour to several hours. A dipnet may also be used to scoop fish out of the water if they come within the range of the fisherman in the boat (Willoughby and Leslie, in press). The length of time actually spent fishing largely depends on the time taken to gather a reasonably sized catch. Obviously for dayboats the maximum time allowed will be governed by the time that would be needed for the vessel to return to port.

The modern fleet uses mesh sizes ranging from 4.3 to 4.7 cm (roughly 1?” to 1?”) stretched mesh. Nets made of the smaller mesh are used at the beginning of the season when the fish are generaly smaller and are replaced by the nets of the larger mesh later in the season when the fish are generally larger (Willoughby and Leslie, in press). Based on the interviews of ocean pelagic fishing boat captains conducted specifically for this report, the mean maximum distances from shore for the main classes of vessels involved in the flyingfish fishery are approximately as follows:

Class 2 dayboat - 18 miles
Class 2 iceboat - 121 miles
Class 3 iceboat - 190 miles

For several reasons, fishermen are generally very cautious not to reveal the exact location of preferred fishing grounds but it is well known that most of the iceboat fishing in particular is conducted mainly to the south of Barbados. Based on the results of the fisher survey conducted for this report (see Appendix 1 for details), the average length of a day boat fishing trip is approximately 11 hours, a class 2 iceboat is approximately 8 days and a class three iceboat is approximately 9 days. Dayboats make approximately 139 trips per season, class 2 iceboats make around 18 trips and class 3 iceboats make around 20 trips. The length of the fishing season also varies among groups with day boats fishing an average of around 6.3 months per annum, class 2 iceboats fishing for 7.6 months per annum and class 3 iceboats for around 9.1 months every year.

The fishers, their income and living conditions.

All Barbadians enjoy access to free primary and secondary health care provided through a system of polyclinics and a general hospital. At least one polyclinic is usually in close proximity to any community in the island. The government offers free and compulsory education (since the 1950s) to all Barbadian children up to 16 years of age. The government heavily subsidizes teriary level education of Barbadians attending the University of the West Indies and a Polytechnic. The literacy rate in Barbados is greater than 90 %.

Under the Fisheries Act (1993), all commercial fishers are to be licensed by the Fisheries Division. However, the necessary regulations for this are not yet in place. At present some perons involved in the fishing industry have registered with the Division. No registration fee is charged and upon registering the registrant is issued with a unique identification number. Personal information recorded include contact address, date of birth and the role of the registrant in the fishing industry. Duty free concessions are offered to registrants on inputs into the fishing industry such as fishing gear, vessel electronics etc. The general pattern is that the owners of the vessel and in some cases the captains register while those fishermen who see no advantage simply don’t bother to register. In general, therefore the register fails to give an accurate picture of the size and structure of the fishing community of Barbados.

Estimates of the number of persons involved in the fishing industry of Barbados vary widely, but estimates of around 2 000 are generally accepted. However, Willoughby (1993) estimated that as much as 6 000 persons were involved in the industry. The discrepancies however probably largely relate to the time devoted to the industry i.e. the definitions of part-time and full-time. A census of members in each sector of the fishing industry is currently being conducted by the Fisheries Division (Jones pers. Com.). My projected estimates based on the preliminary estimates from this survey are that 450 persons (140 male and 310 female) are directly involved in the post-harvest sector (vendors, boners and cleaners, hawkers and agents) this value includes persons involved in these capacities at all major landing sites and in processing companies. There are presently six recognized fish processing companies operating in Barabados.

Based on vessel registration records of the number of crew stated to operate on every vessel involved in the flyingfish harvest sector (in the case of moses, this figure includes only data for those that capture flyingfish), it may be estimated that around 1 100 fishers are directly involved in this fishery. This figure of course more reflects potential numbers for any given year as only a portion of the fleet is active in any one year. For example only a total of 288 vessels recorded flyingfish catches in 1999. Based on this value and considering that mean typical number of crew on each type of vessel (2 including captain on dayboats and moses and 3, including captain on iceboats and longliners), it can be estimated that a total of about 710 fishers were employed in the flyingfish harvest sector in 1999.

Records indicate that there are a total of around 550 owners of vessels who do not actually fish on the vessel. In fact, based on records it appears that only about (8 %) are owned by the fishers who operate them. Approximately 20 % of the vessels are co-owned. Therefore, in total my estimates indicate that a total of at least 2 100 persons directly participate in various in the flyingfish industry of Barbados.

Of the fishermen interviewed for this report, 78 % indicated that at least one of their family members was involved in a sector of the fishing industry. This suggests that strong kinship ties still exist within the local fishing industry. 70 % of the fishers were unmarried although 70 % listed at least one dependent (the maximum number was 10). The average age of the fishers surveyed was 47 years and the average length of time as a fisherman was 25.4 years. Information based on analyses of the fisher registration database is summarized in Table 3. The data indicate that most sectors of the fishing industry are dominated by middle aged persons. Although the individual values may not be considered as being accurate, the information does well reflect the general perception that the fishing industry is not attracting the participation of many youth.

Table 3. Age structure of the fishing industry of Barbados

Role in industry

Minimum age (years)

Maximum age (years)

Mean age (years)





















Based on information obtained by the survey of fishers for this report, it appears that the payment system is very consistent throughout the industry and is the same system that has been effect for many years. Basically, ½ of the profits from the catch (i.e. revenue from sale of the fish - operating expenses for the trip such as fuel, bottled gas and food etc.) is taken by the owner of the vessel. The other ½ is divided equally among the crew. In this case the captain gets the same sum as the regular crew. Only longline captains may also be paid a captains fee. It is usual that if the captain owns the vessel, he does not collect any additional money as a crew member i.e he takes only his half as owner. General maintenance, insurance expenses etc. are all paid for by the owner.

Many vessels are not insured as the rates for fishing vessels are quite high and most privately owned companies do not accept the risk. The Insurance Corporation of Barbados, a government company does insure fishing vessels at an annual basic premimum rate of around 4 to 5 % of the vessels value. The vessels are revalued at approximately 2 year intervals. It is believed that few fishers carry personal insurance.

They are presently 13 community level fisherfolk organizations under a single umbrella organization. The attitudes about membership vary greatly among fisherfolk. Of the fishers surveyed for this report, only 40 % belonged to a fisherfolk organization. The Government supports the development of these groups and encourages their participation in the development of fisheries policy and management.

Section 4. Distribution and Marketing of Fish

A programme of upgrading fish landing and marketing facilities at sites around the island is continuing through the present time. Within the last year new small market buildings have replaced the rundown fish sheds located at two rural sites. A major modern marketing complex is shortly to be constructed at a site in the North-West of the island. It is envisaged that these improved facilities will have the same effect of further aggregating fish landings as the Oistins and the BFC did. For example, among markets and sheds in 1999, the majority of flyingfish were landed at the BFC (68 %) with the second largest portion of the catch being landed at Oistins (18 %). The average proportion of the catch for each shed was under 2 %. These infrastructural improvements form part of the government’s plans to improve fish handling and processing standards on the island. An added advantage will be improved recording of catches for pelagic fisheries in particular.

In 1999, 87 % of moses always landed fish at the same site while 68 % of dayboats, 67 % of iceboats and 90 % of longliners were faithful to a single site. This pattern reflects the comparatively greater mobility of the day boats and iceboats over the moses. The higher degree of site specificity of the long liners is governed by the highly specialized facilities needed by these vessels. It should be noted that long liners, like all other Barbadian fishing vessels, capture flyingfish with conventional gillnets and not with long line gear. These vessels traditionally only take flyingfish if catches of the other large pelagic target species are low and ice-hold space is available. The vast majority of the island’s flyingfish catch is landed by iceboats (76 %), followed by longliners (11 %) then dayboats (10 %) and finally moses (3 %). Because of the marked differences in fishing capacity, the relative importance of the flyingfish catch to each category of vessel are not well reflected in these figures. In fact, flyingfish account for 21 % of the total long liner catch while flyingfish contribute 80 % of the day boat catch. For iceboats the value is 67. % and for moses it is 26 %. This confirms that the flyingfish is of greatest importance for day boat and ice boat fishermen.

In 1990 it was estimated that most fishers sold their fish to vendors (70 %), 23 % occasionally sold their fish themselves and 7 % sold their fish directly to consumers. The results of the survey conducted for this report agreed quite well with these figures with 72 % of fishers interviewed stating that they sold their fish wholesale and 9 % selling their catch themselves with the remaining 19 % selling their catch either wholesale or retail depending on prevailing conditions. The comparatively small proportion of fishers that sell their own fish suggests that the previous concerns over unfair business practices on the part of vendors have not caused many fishers to avoid using the “middle-man” approach to disposing their catch. In fact a 1990 survey suggested that the economic impact of low catches on fishers was less than on vendors, as fishers demanded higher wholesale prices during these periods. The vendor’s response was to demand a higher retail price from consumers. For large pelagics vendors decreased their profit margin but actually increased their profit margin with flyingfish sales (Mahon and Willoughby, 1990).

Although by observation, most Barbadians typically still buy their fish directly at fish markets and other landing sites, the aversion to purchasing iced fish seems to be declining. The distribution of fish throughout Barbados has in recent times been greatly improved through the activity of the local fish processing companies. Consumers may now purchase vacuum packed frozen filleted flyingfish from many supermarkets. The rise in prominence of fish processing companies was assessed in a survey of the Barbados fishing industry conducted in 1987. The survey suggested that these companies accounted for approximately 20 % of throughput while vendors accounted for 80 % at that time, compared to a ratio of 10:90 in 1983 (Crown Agents, 1987). The Fisheries Division is currently conducting an economic survey of fish distribution channels in Barbados but the results of this survey were not available for publication at the time of writing.

Section 5. The Flyingfish Fishery’s Institutional, Policy and Management Aspects

Since 1993 most of the legislation related to the management of the fisheries of Barbados have been consolidated into the Fisheries Act (1993). The Act vests the Minister responsible for fisheries with the responsibility to make regulations relevant to the management of any fishery. The Act also establishes a Fisheries Advisory Committee (FAC) consisting of representatives of the harvest and post-harvest sectors of the fishing industry as well as government representatives. The role of the FAC is to advise the Minister on the development and management of the island’s fisheries.

The first specific management regulations related to the Act were enacted in 1998 in the form of the Fisheries (Management) Regulations. The only regulation pertaining to the flyingfish fishery in this first set of regulations is the restriction of the maximum length of gillnets to less than 2.5 km. As no local vessel uses this length of net, this regulation is really targeted at international fleets, none of which have been authorized to fish in Barbadian waters.

Barbados has established a 12 nautical mile territorial sea limit around the entire island and a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) off the eastern side of the island. Negotiations on the delimitation of EEZ boundaries around the other sides of the island where there is overlap with the EEZ’s of the island’s Caribbean neighbours are ongoing. Foreign vessels may be legally allowed to fish in Barbadian waters via licensing by the Minister responsible for fisheries if a number of criteria are satisfied. However, surveillance within the island’s maritime area is poor and there are several reports of illegal foreign fishing activities.

Registration and licensing of local commercial fishing vessels is free but mandatory. The vessel is first inspected for general sea-worthiness and must have on-board a suite of safety equipment and navigational gear. The list of gear requirements varies with the category of vessel.

The intention to construct or alter a fishing vessel is to be with the permission of the Fisheries Division. No duty or taxes are charged on inputs into the fishing industry including boat construction materials, engines, fishing gear, along with navigation, safety and communication equipment. Every person fishing commercially in Barbadian waters is expected to apply for a fisher’s license. Fishing vessels are to be registered annually with the Division.

Section 6. Capital Investment, Income and Expenditure in the Capture Sector of the Fishery

Hunte and Oxenford (1988) compared the economics of operating the two main types of Barbadian pelagic fishing vessels. They concluded that in the end it was more profitable to operate an iceboat than a day boat. Based on the results of interviews with fishers and boat owners conducted for this report as well as records of the current costs of new fishing vessels equipment declared to the Fisheries Division for various purposes, it was possible to update the estimates of investment in pelagic fishing in Barbados.

It was noted that the prices of inputs varies greatly and the validity of information for various inputs differed between sources. For example, the variability in the estimates of capital costs such as vessel and gear given by boat captains was too great, even considering the differences in vessel sizes that exist. For estimates of capital investment, therefore it was thought more prudent to rely on the prices given by owners and boat builders to the Fisheries Division for registration purposes. There was more concurrence on estimates of regular operating expenses given by the boat captains and mean values of these costs were used for the model.

Insurance rates were said to be around 5 % of the value of the vessel. The schedule and costs of servicing loans on fishing vessels are calculated as per Hunte and Oxenford (1988) i.e. 70 % of the price of the vessel charged at an annual interest rate of 13 % with 7 years to repay for day-boats and 10 years for iceboats. However, many commercial banks are unwilling to provided loans to the fish harvesting sector and often do not accept the vessel itself as collateral. The terms used here are based on those of the government owned Barbados Development Bank, which had been mandated to service the fishing sector. The bank closed in 1995. Annual variable investment costs are calculated on the basis of 139 trips for day-boats and 20 trips for ice-boats, these values being the average numbers of trips stated by fishers interviewed in the survey for this report. Table 4 summarizes the estimated average annual costs of the two main categories of flyingfish fishing vessels in Barbados.

Table 4. Breakdown of mean estimated annual investment costs in Barbadian pelagic fishing vessels


Class 2 Day-boat

Class 3 Ice-boat

Capital Cost: Fully equipped vessel

45 000

250 000

Fixed recurrent costs:

Annual insurance premium

2 250

12 500

Annual loan repayment and interest

6 840

30 013

Annual depreciation

3 000

10 000

Annual maintenance (including gear replacement

3 375

8 125

Annual Variable operating costs


11 815

10 000



14 000

Food rations

1 390

5 000

Total costs

28 670

89 638

Only 5 of the fishers interviewed in this study refused to give an estimated value for their income from fishing. Of the day boat captains interviewed who responded, income values for a trip ranged from a loss to $1 000 (mean $324). While, the stated income of iceboat fishers (over all classes of iceboats) ranged from $100 to $8 200 (mean approximately $3 200) per trip. Note that few fishers gave an estimate of income from flyingfish alone. However, all agreed that it was the large pelagics that were more profitable for them. It is of course impossible to determine the validity of the responses given and it is difficult to imagine that the fishing prowess of those interviewed could have differed enough to account for the differences in stated income.

Based on recorded landings data for 1999, a day-boat caught an estimated 110 kg of flyingfish in one successful trip, while an average successful iceboat trip netted around 1 200 kg of flyingfish per trip. Therefore, based on the stated average number of trips made per annum by each respective vessel type, (i.e. 139 trips for a day-boat and 20 for an iceboat) an average day boat would have landed a total of 15.3 MT and an average iceboat would have landed 24 MT in 1999. Flyingfish typically sold at around a wholesale price of $1 650 per MT but fetched an extreme maximum price of $3 200 per tonne towards the end of the year. Based on the more typical prices (i.e. $1 650 per MT) obtained during the year, the estimated revenue from flyingfish for a day-boat was $25 245, while that of an ice boat was $39 600 using the same calculating system. If all of the fish had been landed at a market, a toll of $40 per MT would have been charged resulting in a total revenue loss of $612 from the day-boat catch and $960 from the iceboat catch. Even assuming that all fishing trips were successful, as the above calculation assumes, it can be seen that the calculated annual expenses would only have been nearly met by the flyingfish catch taken in the case of the day boats but not in the case of the iceboats. By all indications, despite the popularity of flyingfish among Barbadians, it appears that the fish is not the most profitable of the captured species in economic terms.

It should be noted however that many vessels are not insured. This increases the profit margin in the short term provided that nothing costly happens to the boat. Proportionately more iceboats than day boats are insured. Of course, the owner garners the lowest profits initially when the costs of paying off the loan are highest. As most day-boats are presently around 11 years old, this debt should now be low or non-existent for most day-boats, provided that the loans were duly paid. The current average age of a class 2 ice-boat in the fleet is around 12 years and a class 3 ice-boat is around 7.5 years (see Section 3). This suggests therefore that the owners of these vessels should also have paid off this initial debt by now. However, this conclusion is based on the cost of new hulls, but it must be remembered that it is the keel of the vessel that determines it’s age and as many iceboats have been converted from day-boats, the owner may still be indebted for a more recent conversion. The cost of converting a day-boat to an iceboat varies depending on size but can be pegged at around $80 000. Even though this is less than the price of a new hull, it is still a substantial sum.

Section 7. Evaluation of the Flyingfish Fishery in Barbados

The comparatively higher abundance and\or catchability of flyingfish has allowed the species to dominate fish catches in Barbados. As such, despite it’s lower profitability compared to some other fish species, it continues to be of great importance to the fishing industry of Barbados. Even taking into account the impact of natural interannual variation, it appears that the quantity of flyingfish landed at Barbados has increased slightly over the last ten-year period (Figure 2.)

Barbados has adopted the view that the flyingfish fishery must be managed on a regional rather than island specific basis. The official Barbados Fisheries Management Plan (1997) identified that the development of the local fishery was constrained by the marked seasonality of the fish, the uncompetitive pricing of local exports of the commodity compared with those of other territories and the absence of fishing agreements to harvest under utilized resources within their waters. In addition, the possibility of overexploitation of the resource through further expansion of the regional fishing fleet is a major concern.

Oxenford et al. (1994) suggested that regional fleets, including the Barbados pelagic fleet presently typically fish in areas of both high and low flyingfish abundances. The authors suggest that the range of the resource extends beyond the currently fished range. Therefore, in essence total catches may be increased by concentrating fishing effort in areas of high abundance and by fishing further afield. However, the possible effects of increasing fishing effort in these ways on the existing stock are also of concern and warrant careful consideration and further research.

Figure 2. Annual recorded landings of all fish and flyingfish at Primary and Secondary sites for the period 1989 - 1998 (metric tonnes)


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