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Factors Influencing the Increasing Prices of Fish and Fishery Products in Trinidad and Tobago
Jul.07.2007



INTRODUCTION
Global production from capture fisheries and aquaculture provides more than 15% of total animal protein supplies (FAO, 2002). Over the years, fish landings have progressively declined as stocks became over-exploited. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, estimates that worldwide 47% of the main stocks of species are fully exploited, producing catches at their maximum sustainable yields, 18% are over-exploited with negligible prospects for increased production and 10% are significantly depleted requiring drastic long term measures to support recovery (FFIT, 2005). Contributing to this decline is the increased numbers and use of larger, more efficient fishing vessels and concurrent improvements in fishing gear technology.

Declining fish catches have resulted in the cost of fish in some local market places increasing to such levels that it places this commodity out of the reach of many low income consumers (FFIT, 2005). The parallel emergence and growth of aquaculture as an alternative supplier of aquatic species must be noted, as aquaculture production has increased from 4% of total global production in 1970 to 27% in 2000 (FAO, 2002).

THE LOCAL SITUATION
There are 65 landing sites in Trinidad and 21 in Tobago (Fisheries Division, 2003). Fish caught in Trinidad is usually marketed domestically in one of the following ways:

1. Fish is landed at the beach and sold directly to wholesale vendors who wait on the beaches for the catch. .

2. Fish/shrimp caught by the vessel is taken directly to the wholesale market and sold to retailers who then sell to the general public

3. The boat owner or captain may opt to sell a small quantity of the catch to community members and the families of fishermen. These are usually cheaper priced species. The price of fish on landing beaches is usually determined by the vendors, either by bidding or by collectively standardizing their price. In recent times vendors and fish processors have been providing ice and other amenities to boat owners in an effort to secure “first call” on fish landed at beaches. In times of low catches or during periods of high demand such as the Lenten season, fish prices are generally high. Over the last four to five years however, it has become noticeable that retail prices were consistently high compared to previous years and these high prices were sustained for longer periods of time during the year. This situation has become very alarming, such that today the price of high preference species (carite, kingfish, snapper) has become so exorbitant that it is almost unaffordable to lower income households.

Figure 1 shows the average wholesale price of traditionally high preference species (carite, kingfish, red fish and shrimp) and low preference species (cutlassfish, cro cro and moonshine) for the period 2002 to 2005. It is to be noted that the price of fish in all instances has been progressively increasing over the years.

Figure1. Source NAMDEVCO Wholesale Fish Prices at Orange Valley and Port of Spain Fish Markets
 

An examination of the situation reveals that there is no single factor responsible for this development. Rather, it would appear that a combination of factors acting in concert has created this crisis in the sector. Factors contributing to decreased landings and high prices of fish locally are as follows:

Declining Stocks

Data collected by the Fisheries Division shows that generally coastal fishery resources are in some instances fully exploited, while others are over exploited. (Fisheries Division 2004). One of the main reasons for this occurrence is the open access nature of the fishery in Trinidad and Tobago. Local vessels for instance, may enter any fishery and catch and land as much fish as they are capable of capturing. Incidental capture of non target species and high levels of discards of juvenile finfish particularly in the artisanal and semi industrial trawl fishery also exacerbate this problem (FFIT, 2005)

Fisheries Legislation is outdated and limits the regulatory agency (The Fisheries Division) with respect to the management measures that can be adopted. Over the years, there has been a steady increase in the numbers of fishing vessels, resulting in over capitalization (too many vessels) and subsequent over exploitation of dwindling resources. Total Allowable Catch (TAC) systems and other management systems to limit the amount of catch cannot be implemented in the absence of appropriate legislation. Other factors such as illegal fishing and inadequate monitoring, surveillance and enforcement capability also impact on the ability to regulate fishing activities.

Consumer Preference

The consumption of fish and fishery products in Trinidad and Tobago is estimated at 14 kg per capita, an increase of 2 kg from an estimated 12 kg per capita in 1986 (FFIT, 2005). Preference for fish as a primary protein source has increased as a result of increased awareness of the health benefits associated with the consumption of fish. The Hospitality and Restaurant trade has capitalized on this demand and now offer a wider range of seafood on their menus. Fast Food establishments have also expanded their menus to include flying fish fillets and other processed fish products resulting in greater demand on such species. Household consumers are also increasing their consumption of fish and fish products. (JICA/GOTT Household Survey, 2000).

Influence of Intermediaries

An examination of the price of fish landed at beaches and the retail price of fish at supermarkets and by retail vendors would reveal that there is a significant difference in the landed price and the retail price. This “mark up” benefits primarily the vendors along the supply chain and can be considered as “price gouging”. This can be somewhat remedied by reducing the number of intermediaries in the distribution chain and by promoting consumer awareness of the difference between the landed price on the beaches and the retail price of fish and fishery products.

Anthropogenic Impacts/Human Impacts

Increasing levels of pollutants from land based industrial, urban and agricultural activities, as well as oil and gas exploration and recovery activities, are potential contributors to declining fish stocks. These activities are also most likely to negatively impact developmental stages (eggs, larva and juveniles) of finfish and other species. Further, there is the real risk of tainting of the flesh of commercially important species, which must be of concern when one considers the potential threat this poses on the entire fishery of the Gulf of Paria and by extension, our entire seafood export trade.

Competition for Coastal Space

Seismic testing, exploratory drilling, construction of permanent oil and gas recovery structures, laying of undersea pipelines and heavy traffic associated with oil and gas exploration and exploitation activities have resulted in a contraction of coastal space traditionally available for fishing. According to fishermen lighted rigs act as fish aggregation devices (FADs) that draw fish and bait away from traditional fishing grounds. To compound the problem, for safety reasons, fishermen are not allowed to come within five hundred metres of these structures. Fishermen therefore lose access to almost 0.8 sq km of space for each structure at sea. They claim that although this may seem insubstantial when this area is multiplied by the number of existing structures, the total amount of area that is inaccessible becomes quite significant. The concern expressed is that with the future expansion of the oil and gas sector, and the consequent placement of additional structures, the situation would become worse and results in further contraction of available fishing space and by extension less fish being landed.

Increasing Production Costs

Operating costs of fishing vessels have increased as a result of increased cost of fuel, engines and marine parts and accessories. Fishermen claim that the average cost of fishing gear and boats, as well as repairs in general have also increased. When this is factored into decreased catches, the cost of harvesting a pound of fish would clearly be higher than in previous years. These increased costs are passed on to consumer resulting in a higher price for fish.

Increasing cost of imports

In the past, imported fish may have provided a means of regulating local fish prices, however this may no longer be the case. The cost of imported fish has also increased, not only due to declining catches elsewhere, but also because the cost of air and sea freight has also increased substantially.

In Trinidad and Tobago, CARICOM imports do not attract duty, however, import duty for chilled and frozen fish from non-CARICOM countries amounts to 40% of the value of the fish. CARICOM countries like Suriname and Guyana, who were once large exporters to Trinidad, are also experiencing declining stocks, and the price of raw materials in these countries have also increased. Strong competition from other CARICOM countries for Surinamese and Guyanese fish has further contributed to the high cost of their fish in the Trinidad and Tobago market.

Impact of Piracy and Inclement Weather

The impact of piracy at sea and increased illegal activities at landing beaches, have severely affected the ability of fishermen to ply their trade. Although this has not been quantified nor assessed, fishermen claim that these factors impinge heavily on their daily activities. They are reluctant to fish at night for fear of being accosted by pirates who attempt to steal their boat and engines with at times fatal consequences. A Study by Nagassar (2000) revealed that 55% of gillnet fishermen in Trinidad opposed a ban on the use of monofilament net claiming that piracy and banditry at night was a major cause for their continued use of this gear, which allowed them to fish in daylight hours. Fishermen also claim that changing weather conditions and damage to vessels and gear from freak storms and other natural disasters have affected their ability to continue fishing.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  • As an interim measure, immediate removal of the 40% import duty on fish and fish products may serve to increase the quantity of fish available on the local market. The impact of this measure would have to be assessed in light of the possible effect on the local harvesting sector.
  • Take urgent action to “fast track” Fisheries Legislation so that fishery resource management plans could be developed and implemented. Enforcement mechanisms should also be put in place and resources provided to ensure compliance. Support sector unification and stakeholder “buy-in” in the development of fishery management plans to ensure effective implementation and compliance.
  • Modernize fishing fleets and improve fishing technology allowing fisher-folk to stay out longer and fish further offshore. This must be coupled with protection of near shore nursery habitats and spawning areas to allow recruitment to the fishery. SIDC will promote development and expansion of offshore fishing fleets, positioning fishermen to exploit Trinidad and Tobago’s EEZ as well as international waters and the resources of other CARICOM countries where appropriate. Infrastructure to support this activity will be developed.
  • Develop marketing and distribution channels that reduce the influence of intermediaries. Markets can be developed where direct harvesters (fisherfolk) can sell their product directly to consumers.
  • Create a Fishing Industry Development Fund to assist the fishermen to re-direct their fishing activities. This fund could be financed by the energy companies and other agencies locally and internationally
  • Promote greater use of underutilized species locally.
  • Promote research development (production and marketing) of value added products (breaded products, fish sausages, smoked fish, chowders etc.)
  • Support the development of alternative sources of supply locally through aquaculture development, both of marine and fresh water species. Joint financial and technical arrangements with private local and foreign companies will be promoted as a means to achieve this.

LIST OF REFERENCES

FAO 2002. State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture.

Fish and Fish Processing Industry Team 2005. Strategic plan for the Development of the Fish and Fish Processing Industry in Trinidad and Tobago. September 2005.

Nagassar N. 2000. Frame survey on the Gillnet fishery of Trinidad and Tobago. Proceedings of the National Consultation on the Monitoring and Advisory Committee on the Fisheries of Trinidad and Tobago. January, 9th, 2001.

JIICA/GOTT Household Survey 2003, Report on Survey on Seafood Consumption Patterns in Trinidad and Tobago. Japan International Co-operation Agency and Caribbean Fisheries Training and Development Institute. Project for the Promotion of Sustainable Marine Fisheries Resource Utilization.


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