Stories from the sea leave us with big questions


This is the third blog I have been writing for the Caribbean-Pacific Agri-Food Forum, and I notice that all I have written biases the next steps. I mean to say that we know where we are, but where are we going? What is the corporate action plan moving forward?

The strong ones often are foreseen as those withstanding change, but in fact I believe, that those who recognise the need to adapt are the ones that will”. – Keith Andre, President of the Regional Indian Ocean Federation of Artisanal Fishermen and owner/ operator of Future Pêche.

Keith Andre first uttered these words in attendants’ hearing on Monday, the first day of this forum. They not only encapsulate the spirit of his story, but also the story of fisheries all over the Caribbean and Pacific.

Challenges abound…

Vate Ocean Gardens in Vanuatu was started as an aquaculture facility to specifically address the issue of local food security. Aquaculture of Tilapia was tried first, with great success after a few months. However, when the demand for Tilapia grew, importation of Tilapia increased, and Vate Ocean Gardens was put out of the market by cheaper imports into Vanuatu.

Vate Ocean Gardens then transitioned to aquaculture of Barramundi, a saltwater fish. A similar situation ensued: great success, then they were pushed out of local markets by cheaper imports. They have now moved to take advantage of export markets, specifically export to Fiji. This yielded sustained profit, and opportunities in the local market even began to reopen for them, until cyclone Pam. Pam devastated their entire infrastructure, and their fish are now all over the lake they we were using as a water source. Vate Ocean Gardens is now in the difficult process of assessing how they will move forward.

Similarly, Dr. Iris Monnereau from the Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, shared on the startling state of Barbados’ fisheries. The facts are that:

  • Barbados’ sea space is 462 times bigger than its land space, yet it does not produce enough seafood to feed its people;
  • In fact, Barbados imports 1.5 times more fish than they catch;
  • And about 70% of fish served at Oistins, probably the most popular Barbados liming spot and fish dinner pavilion, is imported.

…Is all lost?

The real question is one that has been asked repeatedly at every conference, forum and discussion. A question asked so often that we’re all somewhat drained in asking it again: how do we address these challenges? Success stories are a reality in spite of how dismal situations may seem, many were in fact shared at this forum. And fisherfolks are truly renown for their resilience. Yet, how do we ensure sustainability? Can there be a regional plan, or a cross-regional exchange that supports our fisherfolks and meets our demand across both regions? How can we cultivate relationships that produce comprehensive, succinct and executable solutions, tailored to the ways our cultures are changing?

These are very big questions with complex answers dependent on relationship and exchange, so really, the ball is in our court. I’ve seen evidence of connections being made that will assist in ways forward for individual businesses at this forum. For example, Vate Ocean Gardens’ Christian Ray was encouraged by a previous presenter’s story and planned to meet with him to discuss new ideas and ventures for Vate Ocean Gardens.

I am expecting that this was not only one instance of connection, but an indication of more cross-fertilization to come. We all look forward to next steps, even as CTA takes all the discussions that have happened here into consideration while drafting their 2016 strategic plan.

What are your ideas for ensuring security and sustainability in small island fisheries sector? Let us know in the comments below!

Photo credit: Silke von Brockhausen/UNDP

Blogpost by Chelsea Wallace, Social Reporter for the Caribbean-Pacific Agri-Food Forum 2015.

Copyright © 2016, CTA. Technical Centre for Rural and Agricultural Cooperation

CTA is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.