Study reveals huge potential for Caribbean aquaculture

Investment in offshore mariculture in the Caribbean region could easily produce 34 million metric tons (mmt) of seafood a year, according to recent University of California study.

_LeS_ | Bigstock.com
_LeS_ | Bigstock.com

Investment in offshore mariculture in the Caribbean region could easily produce 34 million metric tons (mmt) of seafood a year, according to recent University of California study.

This is more than twice as much as the region achieves now, and it may turn out to be a conservative estimate: The harvest could be as much as 40 mmt, which is equivalent to around half of the global wild fisheries catch, according to the research team from the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB), and the Marine Science Institute (MSI).

“The Caribbean has a large potential for offshore mariculture,” said MSI researcher Lennon Thomas, referring to a form of aquaculture in the open ocean, far from shore.

Just as important, according to Thomas, is that this output could be achieved using a relatively small amount of ocean space, helping to preserve environmentally sensitive coastal stretches as well as precious land resources and wild fisheries.

A first of its type, the MIS study has been published in the journal Nature Sustainability. Co-authors of the paper are based at Stanford University and Florida State University.

Testing model

Taking a new approach, the researchers analyzed mariculture potential from the bio-economic angle at a regional level, according to another MSI researcher on the team, Tyler Clavelle.

They developed a model using a high-value fish, the cobia, which thrives in warmer waters. By combining factors such as fish growth and habitat suitability with political and socioeconomic elements such as farm profitability and investment risk, the scientists felt their estimates are more realistic than if they had considered these factors individually.

Their results were then tested against three scenarios. First was the “ideal case,” as if the aquaculture enterprises were applied in all suitable areas of the Caribbean. A second considered only those areas that would be profitable after a 10-year time period and at a discount rate of 10 percent. The third and most conservative case adjusted the discount rate between 10 and 25 percent for each individual country in the region.

Shortage of capital is a barrier to setting up aquaculture enterprises in the region, according to Thomas, and there is political and economic instability in some countries. Furthermore, the costs of setting up cobia farming are relatively high. Nevertheless, the study found this form of offshore aquaculture could be economically rewarding across large areas of the Caribbean, particularly Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas.

Cobia (Rachycentron canadum) is found widely in warm and tropical waters, and is also known as black kingfish or ling. It is one of several aquaculture species for which a new hatchery was opened in India last year.

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