In the next seven years, tuna export from Barbados is expected to boost the island’s revenue by $7.5 million.
Representatives of the island’s fishing industry and United Nations agencies have drafted a strategy to increase the value of Barbados’ tuna exports.
UN officials say if fully implemented, it could dramatically boost revenue from tuna exports, from $303,000 in 2015 to $7.5 million in 2027.
Fishers will earn an additional $2.5 million over the same period.
The Oceans Economy and Trade Strategy for Barbados aims to give the country’s fishing industry the tools needed to move up the tuna value chain, away from the low-value unprocessed whole fish currently exported, towards fresh boxed tuna loins.
Processed, ready-to-eat fish products sell for a higher price in global markets – about twice as much in North America, for example.
Director of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) International Trade Division, Pamela Coke-Hamilton, says “by processing the tuna before export, the local fishing industry could capture much more of the final price that consumers pay.”
While adding that helping exporters in developing countries transition from raw materials to processed goods is key to helping them reap more benefits from trade, she said, “the result would be transformational for the island’s fishing industry. This is at the heart of UNCTAD’s mission.”
The project, a joint endeavour between UNCTAD, the UN Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea (DOALOS), and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is addressing the different aspects of the national fishing industry where improvements are needed to transition from unprocessed to processed tuna exports.
These include fleet efficiency, quality controls and, most important, infrastructure. Implementation would include building the island’s first fish processing plant, an investment of about $1.7 million.
The strategy also calls for updating national regulations related to fisheries in the Caribbean, such as the Barbados Fisheries Act, to strengthen sanitary standards and traceability systems so that exporters could apply for voluntary sustainability certifications, such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) label.
Sustainability certification will open access to fast-growing markets. Sales of seafood with the blue MSC label, for example, have grown 34% over the past years, from 8.8 million tonnes in 2014 to 11.8 million tonnes in 2019.
Going beyond exports
Improved traceability is also key to fighting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, which steals about $23 billion from our oceans and seas each year and affects one in every five fish caught.
Some six million tonnes of tuna are caught worldwide every year. The global market was valued at $11.6 billion in 2018 and is projected to reach $14.4 billion by 2024.
Growing demand is putting immense pressure on stocks, and better traceability is essential for more sustainability.
Acting Chief for Barbados’ Fisheries agency, Joyce Leslie, says improving the sustainability of the island’s fisheries is as important as increasing the value of exports.
She said protecting fish stocks is essential for food security because Barbadians rely on fish for their main source of protein, consuming about 5,000 to 6,000 tonnes annually.
Though the strategy focuses primarily on exports, a new processing plant and improved sanitary measures would allow the tuna sector to better serve local hotels and restaurants and retain more value on the island.
It would also help decrease dependence on food imports. FAO estimates that about 86% of the fish consumed in Barbados is imported.
Three dozen representatives from the island’s fishing industry and the UN partner organizations agreed on the strategy at a meeting in the capital Bridgetown on 4 March.
The Ministry of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy is reviewing the proposal. Approval of a final version is expected before the fifteenth UNCTAD ministerial conference, set to convene in Bridgetown from October 18-23. One of the conference’s key themes will be the oceans economy.
Once approved, UNCTAD and DOALOS will support Barbados in the implementation of the strategy, providing technical assistance and capacity-building help as needed.