Food is life and fish is food

Fish has since time immemorial been a food for man. It is variously consumed: grilled, fried, steamed, stewed and even eaten raw. Fish includes shrimps, crabs, octopus, and other edible produce from the sea/ lake/rivers.

Fish has a high nutritive value.

It is a source of protein par excellence and contains many useful micronutrients as well as Omega-3 fatty acids.

It is postulated that Omega-3 fatty acids reduces inflammation throughout the body. The Omega-3 fatty acids may decrease triglycerides, lower blood pressure, reduce blood clotting, decrease stroke and heart failure risk, reduce irregular heartbeats, and in children may improve learning ability. Eating at least one to two servings of fish per week appears to bring the foregoing benefits.

People in all strata of society consume fish. The demand for fish is increasing on account of its high protein content, nutritive value and taste. A decrease in the supply of fish may affect the prices; this would undoubtedly impact upon the consumption pattern particularly of the lower income earners who are more price-sensitive. The removal/ reduction of fish from the consumer’s basket may in the long run affect the overall well-being of the people who may end up malnourished. Alternative sources of protein may not be easily and cheaply available. New catch methods are applied to keep the supply of fish steady.

However, a sophisticated fishing method is of little use when we all know that our rivers/ lakes no longer have the shrimps, carps, tilapia etc in quantities to cater for the needs of the people. The lagoons and even the open sea are already over-exploited and it is becoming harder and harder to meet the market demand. On account of the good prices offered (scarcity value) very often fishermen tend to sell their meagre catch instead of feeding themselves and their families. Wealth in this way becomes a predictor of fish consumption.

We have been importing fish for some time now. A small island with a population of around 1.3m and an enormous oceanic economic zone surrounding it imports its fish for local consumption! There is global overfishing of wild-caught seafood as revealed by FAO reports. That may be the reason for the Minister of Finance in his wisdom and futuristic view, to announce in the last Budget speech that: ”concerning the fisheries sector, Government is creating vast new opportunities for fishermen to engage more and more in aquaculture through partnership with large operators” . This statement may be read as an urgent need to produce more fish in a sustainable, efficient and safe manner in aquacultures. It also may mean that the future growth of the fisheries sector will come mainly from fish farms. Theoretically, it would be a way to produce an almost unlimited amount of protein. It would promote wealth, job creation and health.

Fish farming is done in the same manner as farming for livestock, poultry, and crops. Fish farms/Aquaculture/ Aquafarming can be inland or in the open sea. The risk of pollution and the need for a large supply of water all year round associated with the inland fish farming make sea fish farms the preferred option. In the open sea fish farms, the pollutants are diluted and washed away by currents or become a food for other forms of life weeds, algae, mollusc etc in the sea.

There are ocean fish farms in the south and the Fisheries Department have a fresh water farm in the west.

In sum population growth, income growth and fish’s heart – healthy reputation are driving demand on fish. Global catch of wild fish is not increasing hence the urgent need to create fish farms on a grand scale in a sustainable, efficient and safe manner in places which are not already exploited for other purposes such as tourism and leisure. Such aquatic farms should in no way encroach upon the natural reserves/habitat.

The FAO recognizes the contribution aquaculture makes to food security. The Organisation even provides technical assistance for the development, and bio-security of fish farms. Fish farming is one of the fastest growing global industries, and meant for both big and small “farmers”. It will undoubtedly play a sizable role in tomorrow’s food industry to meet the seafood demand with its associated health and socio-economic benefits.

The time to make it happen is now.

* Published in print edition on 29 May  2015

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