The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries will be spending some $39 million on marketing, training and rehabilitation initiatives in the fisheries sector this year.
Through resources from the Fisheries Management and Development Fund, some $22 million will be allocated to undertake a marketing and promotion drive, training and capacity building of fish-farmer groups.
Additionally, $17 million will go towards rehabilitating the hatchery/nursery facility at the aquaculture branch to provide quality seed stock for the industry. “We will be creating the space for our aquaculture industry by ensuring that only wholesome fish products are imported into this country,” portfolio Minister, Roger Clarke stated in his budget presentation recently.
These measures are part of a comprehensive revitalisation plan for the sector, developed by the Ministry in conjunction with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and in full consultation with stakeholders. It calls for aggressive marketing and promotion of aquaculture products and by-products, organization of fish farmers into viable clusters, and training of farmers.
According to the Minister, there must be a renewed thrust at reviving the sector, including the aquaculture subsector, which in the last five years, has experienced an almost 50 per cent decline, due to the exit of Aquaculture Jamaica Limited from the export market, increased costs of inputs, threats from cheaper imports and praedial larceny.
He expressed concern about the alarming rate of depletion of fisheries resources, with recent scientific data revealing that Jamaica’s most productive fishing ground, the Pedro Bank, is in a serious state of over-exploitation. “This is due largely to our unsustainable fishing practices – dynamiting, use of small diametre mesh sizes for traps and nets, and spear fishing at night among other things,” he stated.
He said measures to protect the industry will be intensified including enforcement activities relating to mesh size, the closed season on lobster and conch, the ban on spear fishing at night and dynamiting, as well as fishing in the protected areas.
A part of the effort, the Minister stated his intention to bring the new fisheries bill to Parliament this legislative year, which will provide a comprehensive legal framework for the sustainable management of fisheries in keeping with international standards. A critical provision of this new bill, he said, is the significant increase in fines for breaches, “as our own fisherman experience when they run afoul of the law in countries such as Colombia, Mexico and Honduras”.
He said further that the Ministry intends to impose an indefinite closed season on sea cucumber fishing until a proper management regime is put in place. “Additionally, we will ban shark fining, promulgate regulations for the harvesting of marine crab, ban pair trawling, as well as, beach seine in certain areas,” he said.
It is also being proposed to extend the cess levied on conch exports under the Conch Export Levy Act to lobster exports. The move, the Minister said, will provide resources for the conservation and management of the marine resources.
Even while unsustainable practices are being curtailed, responsible alternatives are being promoted, including the exploitation of under-utilized and un-utilized species such as diamond back squid and the pelagic species such as tunas, dolphin fish, sword fish and king fish.
As it relates to efforts to protect and replenish the fish stock, Minister Clarke informed that some $25 million has been allocated in the 2012/13 budget to complete the installation of two echo-reef systems in Montego Bay, St. James and Bluefields, Westmoreland, as a means of enhancing the fish population in these areas.
The project was started under the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)-funded Improving Jamaica Agricultural Productivity Project (IJAP), but the funding was exhausted before the project was completed.
Minister Clarke said that already “we are seeing an increase in the population of fish in the project areas”.
By Tracey Thompson