The financial burden of Sargassum on Caribbean fisher folk
(Barbados Today Guest Column)The massive influx of sargassum seaweed to Caribbean waters since 2011 has had a number of negative touch points on the fisheries value chain, resulting in a catastrophic hit to the livelihoods of Caribbean fisherfolk, particularly in the harvest sector. In spite of impressive demonstrations of adaptability and resilience by the fisheries sector, the impacts cannot be ignored, especially given the role of fisheries in food security, employment, livelihoods and foreign exchange revenues.
These impacts were discussed on November 21-22, 2018 during the second annual Sargassum Symposium, hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies (CERMES) at the University of the West Indies in Barbados. Much of CERMES’ work on sargassum has been funded by the Climate Change Adaptation of the Eastern Caribbean Fisheries Sector Project (CC4FISH) of the FAO.
In 2015, the number of Caribbean fishers (from the 17 Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism member countries) directly involved in marine capture was estimated at 115, 582 with an estimated 32, 906 vessels and production levels of 141, 574 metric tonnes per month. Caribbean exports of fish were valued at approximately US$263.7 million with the economic value of this sector accounting for up to eight per cent of GDP in some CRFM Member States.
Sargassum has had negative economic consequences for the industry through the altered composition and availability of fish populations, the disruption of fishing activity and through damaging fishing vessels and gear.
Quantity of catch has been impacted tremendously by the sargassum influxes. In the case of Barbados, the two main fish species, flying fish and dolphinfish as well as wahoo, have been affected both in quantity and in fish size landed.
According to Professor Hazel Oxenford and Dr Shelly-Ann Cox, the official landings records from the Barbados Fishery Division reveal significant decreases in the average annual fish landings before the first sargassum influx of 2011, compared with the post-influx fish landings, with declines of 56 per cent for flying fish, 42 per cent for dolphinfish and 50 per cent for wahoo.
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