BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, 13 December 2016 (CRFM)—The fisheries industry on Wednesday moves one step closer to making the Caribbean fish and seafood trade safer and more profitable when experts meet in Barbados to finalise a raft of model regional laws, policies and procedures.
The Caribbean region’s ability to cash in on a potentially lucrative, international export trade in fish and seafood – already worth 315 million US dollars a year – is being held back by gaps in sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) standards, the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) said.
But the experts, who are wrapping up an 18-month-long project to investigate fish handling policies and design a new seafood safety regime for the region’s fish and fishery products, are set to introduce a new regime for SPS measures in CARIFORUM states.
“The continued viability and further development of the fishing industry of the CRFM region face several challenges, some of which are related to inadequate development of SPS systems to suit the specific needs of fisheries and aquaculture operations,” said CRFM Executive Director Milton Haughton ahead of the two-day meeting.
Haughton said the experts are meeting to bring forward work begun a year ago on preparing model legislation.
The meeting will unveil model fisheries and aquaculture SPS legislation that is to be presented to CARICOM with the intention of being enacted in each exporting nation. The model legislation has been developed in consultation and communication with policymakers, fisherfolk, processors and other industry players.
Compliance with globally established SPS standards is voluntary – a worrisome development that experts say is stopping member states from tapping into niche markets overseas and boosting foreign exchange earnings.
Investigations by international consultants on the project exposed large gaps in legally binding protocols managing food safety throughout the region.
The experts found barriers to trade of fish and fisheries products due to inadequate SPS standards; minimal legislative standards for aquaculture; concern about food security and decreasing use of local, fresh seafood – the solution for which improved SPS support is an essential component, the CRFM said.
With the impact of global environmental changes including climate change on the Caribbean, the regional fisheries agency said there is need for improved management and monitoring of the natural environment that sustains fisheries and aquaculture production.
The meeting is to be streamed live daily for regional media, industry figures, officials and anyone interested in fisheries and the safety and health of fish and seafood in the region, the CRFM said. The proceedings may be followed on the CRFM’s YouTube channel, youtube.com/TheCRFM.
Government officials from each CRFM member state are to review and endorse the final documents to allow final approval. These will then be recommended to CARICOM’s Council for Trade Economic Development (COTED), the regional bloc’s forum of trade ministers, as well as other CARICOM bodies.
The two-day meeting is the high point of a European Union-funded project to help CARIFORUM countries introduce laws, regulations and a governance system to guarantee safe seafood for export to EU markets and beyond.
The project, which is being carried out by the Belize-based CRFM and supported by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA), aims to ramp up food safety standards to enable CARIFORUM fish exporters to take up trading opportunities under the EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). The project is financed under the EU’s 10th European Development Fund (EDF) Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures Project.
Belize City, Belize, Monday, 21 November 2016 (CRFM)—The coming of the digital age presents novel opportunities for the fisheries and aquaculture sector of the wider Caribbean to build a more robust data and information system that would augment the monitoring of production trends and traceability of catches, support more sustainable management regimes through increased people engagement, and facilitate stronger international and regional trade.
The Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) are teaming up to capitalize on opportunities for Member States to strengthen data collection and management systems through the use of modern technology, such as smartphones and wireless communications to bridge gaps in the system.
“Strengthening our fisheries data and information management systems is extremely important going forward. It is necessary in order to improve resource conservation and management and also improve the socio-economic benefits from the fisheries. It will help in improving income and revenue from the fisheries and strengthen the countries’ capacity to participate in international trade,” said CRFM Executive Director, Milton Haughton.
Haughton said that “…our decisions really need to be based on good knowledge of the resource systems—both in terms of the state of the targeted fish stocks and the marine environment, as well as the activities on land after the fish is taken; that is, activities in the processing and marketing sectors. We really need to have accurate data and information to understand what is happening and to make informed decisions about what is happening in the sector.” Unless traceability is established through enhanced data and information systems, it will become increasingly hard for countries in our region to trade internationally, he said.
Haughton highlighted these challenges in his recent discussions with Marc Taconet, Chief of the Statistics and Information Branch of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Policy and Economics Division at the FAO in Rome.
Taconet was on a working visit at the headquarters of the CRFM in Belize City, Belize, last week. He and Haughton talked about strengthening CRFM-FAO cooperation, and they collaborated on a concept note for cooperation in improving data and information systems across CRFM Member States for fisheries and aquaculture. A planning meeting is tentatively slated for February/March 2017.
“There are innovative technologies such as the use of mobile phones, tablets, and remote inputs; and the co-involvement of fish workers is necessary to be set up. This is one of the needs that were strongly expressed,” said Taconet, in speaking of wider discussions with fisheries experts from the Caribbean.
He said that one gap is the lack of an integrated software system—an issue that was raised when he paid a courtesy call on counterparts of the Belize Fisheries Department, located on the same premises as the CRFM.
According to Taconet, the timeline to reach ‘cruise speed,’ with an upgraded data and information system is two to three years.
The CRFM and the FAO are currently sourcing funds to undertake this new joint initiative, which furthers a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed this January between the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)/Western Central Atlantic Fisheries Commission (FAO-WECAFC), the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism, and the Organisation of the Central American Fisheries and Aquaculture Sector (OSPESCA), in Cartagena, Colombia, to facilitate, support and strengthen the coordination of actions to increase the sustainability of fisheries.
The Caribbean Network of Fisherfolk Organizations (CNFO), which comprises National Fisherfolk Organizations (NFOs) from CARICOM member states, held its first General Assembly at Blue Horizon Hotel in Barbados on 20 October 2016.
Milton Haughton, Executive Director of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM), was selected to chair the General Assembly.
“Looking forward; fisheries development and management have in the past been the main purview of the national Fisheries Departments, but we know that fishers and others involved in the sector including vendors now need to be playing a more prominent role in these matters. Much is now dependent on voluntary cooperation of fishers to implement the policy decisions made and move the fisheries sector forward. Fishers provide food for the people of the region. There is a lot of talk these days about improving food and nutrition security. Furthermore, the employment opportunity provided by the sector is important,” Haughton told CNFO board members, staff and observers who attended the meeting.
Mitchel Lay, a fisherman of Antigua and Barbuda, is the Coordinator of the CNFO Unit.
“I have appreciation for you having confidence in me over the years. We have been able to make some small advancements. As we look at the CNFO’s development, let’s look back, but we have much more responsibilities moving forward,” Lay said.
He noted that the CNFO gets support from the CRFM, and the CNFO registered office is housed at the CRFM Secretariat in Belize.
CRFM Executive Director, Milton Haughton with
Ms. Vernel Nicholls of Barbados, CNFO Chairperson
The General Assembly was held during the workshop titled, “Strengthening Caribbean Fisherfolk to participate in Governance: Fourth Regional Caribbean Fisherfolk Action Learning Group (FFALG),” held from 19-21 October 2016 with funding provided by a European Union funded project being implemented by CANARI, a regional NGO.
The CNFO’s purpose is to improve the quality of life for fisherfolk and to develop a sustainable and profitable industry through networking, representation and capacity building.
In 2003/04, a regional study done by the CRFM with funding provided by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) examined the organizational needs and operational strengths and weaknesses of existing national and primary or community-based Caribbean fisherfolk organizations. It also made recommendations to address them, and eventually led to the establishment of the CNFO as an informal network of fisherfolk organisations of 5 CARICOM countries.
The CNFO, which was formally registered in Belize this year, has expanded from 5 members to 13 active members today, with organisations participating from virtually all member states of CARICOM. At the recent General Assembly, members adopted the CNFO’s Articles of Association and Memorandum of Association, established the Board of Directors, and elected the 7 person Executive. Ms. Vernel Nicholls, President of the Barbados National Union of Fisherfolk Organisation (BARNUFO) was elected as the first Chair of the Board. The Board and Executive will provide direction and supervision of the work of the CRFM.
Grand Cayman, Thursday, 27 October 2016 (CRFM)—The Ministerial Council of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM), the top policy and decision-making arm of the CARICOM agency, is meeting today in Grand Cayman for its 6th Special Meeting. The meeting is being held as part of the Caribbean Week of Agriculture, which is being hosted in Cayman under the theme, “Investing in Food and Agriculture.”
High on the Ministerial Council’s agenda are plans to develop marine capture fisheries and aquaculture across the Caribbean, with the aim of reducing the region’s US$4 billion food import bill, while building a Caribbean seafood cuisine brand that the region and the world can embrace as a safe and healthy choice.
The 17-member Council is meeting at The Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa for a three-hour session, to advance proposed legislation and guidelines which will support an enabling environment for a harmonized regime of food safety.
At the Ministerial Council’s recent meeting in Jamaica, chairman Karl Samuda, Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries of Jamaica, urged the region to explore the untapped market of open-sea fish and aquaculture and to lock in a bigger share of the US$136-billion global industry.
Chair of Ministerial Council: Hon. Karl Samuda, CD, MP; Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture & Fisheries, Jamaica (Official photo)
Today, the fisheries ministers are looking at strategic interventions which the region can make to develop the full potential of its marine capture fisheries and aquaculture, in line with the current push towards the Blue Economy and Blue Growth, which aims to maximize benefits from the region’s expansive maritime spaces.
With the recent battering of some CARICOM countries by hurricanes and storms during this hurricane season, the need for the region to establish better mechanisms to provide risk insurance for fishers is also a high priority. The Council is reviewing the progress made towards the activation of the Caribbean Ocean Assets Sustainability Facility (COAST), which includes a risk insurance facility for fishers.
The Caribbean Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF) is developing a new sovereign parametric policy for the fisheries sector, and a micro-insurance policy for small-scale fishers based on the template for the existing Livelihood Protection Policy (LPP) that targets farmers and labourers. Fishers will soon be able to purchase the policy and obtain quick payouts when they experience losses due to storms, heavy rainfall, high winds and other climate related variables.
The CRFM Ministerial Council is also discussing a model protocol for responding to the influx of sargassum seaweed that has been affecting fisheries, coastal and marine ecosystems and other economic activities in the waters of Caribbean countries. The initiative by the Western Central Atlantic Fishery Commission of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO/WECAFC) to establish a Regional Fisheries Management Organisation in the Wider Caribbean Region and a proposal by South Korea for the establishment of a World Fisheries University are also being considered by the Ministerial Council.
The meeting of the Council precedes the 62nd Special Meeting of CARICOM’s Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED), scheduled for Friday. The CRFM—which is represented at the meetings in Cayman by Executive Director Milton Haughton—has lead responsibility for the development of the marine fisheries and aquaculture industries, highlighted by COTED as priority commodities.
Belize City, Friday, 23 September 2016 (CRFM)—Fifteen fisheries personnel, including senior fisheries officers, fisheries officers, analysts and policy officers, traveled to Australia this week to participate in a specialized training course on “Enhancing Fisheries Management Capacity in the Caribbean Region.”
The Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) and the Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security (ANCORS) partnered in developing the 4-week course, to strengthen the region’s capacity in fisheries law and fisheries management.
More specifically, the training—which is being held at the Innovation Centre at ANCORS, University of Wollongong, ranked among Australia’s top 10 universities—is intended to address the conservation and protection of living marine resources and biodiversity; monitoring and surveillance; as well as measures to curb illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing.
“This is a great training opportunity for CRFM Member States, and we are grateful for the valued contributions which Australia continues to make to help advance fisheries management and development across the CARICOM region. The CRFM appreciates this sustained support,” said Milton Haughton, CRFM Executive Director.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the Australian Government institution which is funding the training, awarded Australian Awards Fellowship to nominees who were selected from 10 CRFM Member States.
It is expected that when the training concludes on October 15, they will partner with relevant stakeholders to help improve frameworks and cooperative agreements at home and across the wider Caribbean, to achieve sustainable fisheries, which would, in turn, mean more dollars for the fishing industry and improved socio-economic conditions in beneficiary states.
This training builds on two previous training workshops, successfully held in Australia in 2012 and 2014. It helps to fulfill a Memorandum of Understanding which the CRFM and ANCORS signed back in 2012.
"Many CRFM states continue to harvest and sell fish as just fish, shrimp as just shrimp. The scales, bones, guts and shells are usually thrown away. But when we do so, are we throwing away other potential profits? And it‟s not just the fishing sector that should ask this important question."
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“Every single part of the fish has a value…” says CRFM Executive Director, Milton Haughton
Caribbean takes first step to maximize value of fisheries and aquaculture sector
Belize City, Friday, 29 July 2016 (CRFM)—At a time when countries across the Caribbean region are faced with economic challenges, innovation in one of its prime sectors—the fisheries and aquaculture sector—can spur the kind of growth needed to help buttress the regional economy. However, this kind of change won’t come overnight. The Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) is working with Member States from around the region, as they prepare to take the first steps in converting fish waste to fish wealth—a change which could multiply earnings from the sector.
“Going forward, we need to make the point that proper utilization of fishery resources is not about increasing production or increasing catches, it is more about maximizing value of what we are now taking and realizing the significant benefits that is possible by focusing on value addition,” said Milton Haughton, Executive Director of the CRFM.
Workshop participants from CRFM Member States in Suriname
Chief Fisheries Officers, Senior Fisheries Officers and private sector representatives from 17 CRFM Member States learned about the application of the value chain approach to the fisheries and aquaculture sector when they attended a weeklong workshop held in Suriname last week.
“The objective was really to introduce participants to the value chain approach in fisheries, and we did this in collaboration with development partners from Iceland and the Faculty of Food and Agriculture at the University of the West Indies (Dr. Sharon Hutchinson and Dr. Ardon Iton),” Haughton said.
Dadi Kristofersson and Thor Asgiersson , lecturers from UNU-FTP
Dadi Kristofersson, Ogmundur Knutsson and Thor Asgiersson, lecturers from United Nations University – Fisheries Training Program (UNU-FTP), based in Iceland, traveled to Suriname to help lead the training. They also took with them a range of products which Iceland makes from fish waste.
“Iceland has made tremendous advances in value addition in fishers and they are perhaps the world’s leaders,” the CRFM Executive Director said.
This success did not happen overnight—it arose out of a period of crisis, when the country was experiencing a decline in its fisheries after the 1960s. However, Haughton said, they were able to turn things around largely by applying the value chain approach to make better use of their resources—such as improving quality, making beauty products from fish guts and adopting a market-driven approach to fisheries. The Icelandic economy with a per capita GDP of about USD45,000, is driven largely by the fisheries sector.
“They are no longer going out to catch as much fish as they can, but they are trying to optimize the value, and satisfy the requirement of their markets” Haughton explained.
Applying the value chain approach begins with the simple things, starting with preparatory activities before the fishers go to sea, and then extending to harvesting, handling, processing, marketing and distribution.
“We can catch fish in such a way that we maximize value just by targeting ‘when, where, what size, etc.’ we catch based on market demand. Just by doing that you can improve value... In some cases, it’s just about maintaining the freshness and quality by improving the handling of the product,” the CRFM Executive Director explained.
Whereas Caribbean countries have plenty of fisheries resources, they also import a great deal, including items such as smoked salmon for the tourism industry. Countries like Suriname, the host country for the training, are exploring ways in which they can create viable local products to substitute for those imports. The fisheries experts who traveled to Suriname saw this firsthand, as they were offered smoked “bang-bang” (snapper)—a new local delicacy served right alongside the imported product.
Haughton explained why understanding the market demand is key for producers hoping to corner the market to maximize local gains.
“Think more about the consumer: What is it that the consumer really wants? What is it that the consumer will pay more money for? There would be a major change overall in the way fishers and processors conduct their operations if they were to focus more on the consumers,” he commented.
“The modern consumer, the housewives, are looking for specific products... They are looking for good nutrition, freshness, and easy-to-prepare meals. These are things that fishers and processers will need to be thinking about. And those who have thought through it, and who have structured their operations along these lines, are making great gains,” the CRFM Executive Director added.
He said that in the Caribbean region, fishers and fish processing facilities start with the catch: “Their starting point is to go and catch as much as they can and when the product is landed they try to figure out how to sell it but the value chain approach looks from the other end. It starts with the question: What is the market that I want to serve? Where is the best market? What form of product the market is demanding? Then you work back from the market to determine what fish you should target and you structure all of your activities to satisfy that market,” Haughton recommended.
The products pictured above include health supplements, beauty products, and leather
Some types of non-selective fishing results in a lot of waste in the fishing industry. Many operations, such as the shrimping in the southern Caribbean, will harvest large quantities of non-target species. Haughton explained that a lot of the non-target species or by-catch is discarded, since it is deemed to have low market value. However, using science, technology and good marketing these can be converted into useful products.
“I was in El Salvador recently and I was surprised to see that they were making cookies and meals for children from flour [derived] from fish that would normally be discarded,” Haughton revealed.
In other places, fish guts are used to make cosmetics and pharmaceuticals—very high end products—and increasingly, companies are using fish enzymes to make creams and lotions.
Haughton said that the CRFM and Member States need to do much to promote the value chain approach in fisheries and aquaculture. The CRFM intends to provide the institutional support, capacity building and awareness raising that is needed. In the months ahead, the CRFM will lead the development of more case studies to document success stories from which the region can learn. These reports would be made available to consumers as well as private sector stakeholders, who will be key in driving the process forward.
“They – the private sector—have to be key stakeholders and partners, and they have to be convinced that it makes sense,” Haughton said.
“There needs to be a free flow of information from consumers to harvesters, right through the chain, so people know what is happening and they can make good decisions. The need for free flow information is an important part of the transition towards the value chain approach in the region,” he added.
Haughton urges development partners in the fisheries sector, as well as training and research institutions, fish processing facilities and government ministries responsible for fisheries and trade, to work together to understand the challenges, remove the constraints and impediments, and provide incentives for development of the value chain in the fisheries sector in the regon.
“We have a long way to go but we have identified some potential fisheries and potential resources where we could begin to apply this approach,” Haughton said.
Claudia Stella Beltrán Turriago, the economist who has been engaged by the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) to lead a new study to look at the impacts of rising cost factors of fishing operations, such as labor, fuel, fishing gear, repair and maintenance, and capital, completed the first leg of field work in Belize today.
While in Belize, she had a chance to conduct surveys with fishers from various communities around the country. The Belize Fisheries Department assited with surveys in more remote parts of the country, such as the far north and the far south. It is expected that the Belize survey will have canvassed fishers from as far noth as Chunox, Corozal, to as far south as Punta Gorda, Toledo.
After leaving Belize today, Claudia returns home for a few weeks before moving on to Suriname and Barbados for more fieldwork. Finally, she will move on to St. Kitts and Nevis and to St. Vincent and the Grenadies.
Remote surveys will also be conducted in Guyana, Grenada, Colombia and Trinidad and Tobago.
The consultant told the CRFM that her visit to Belize was "very successful."
After the study is completed, a policy brief will be prepared for action by Caribbean leaders. The brief will highlight the major findings and recommendations, including policy options and strategies to increase efficiency, productivity and sustainability of the fisheries and aquaculture sector, while reducing economic risks.
The beneficiary countries are the 17 states which are members of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism, as well as countries covered by a UN/FAO project on the Sustainable Management of Bycatch in Trawl Fishing in Latin America and the Caribbean (the REBYC-II LAC), funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF).
Rainforest Seafoods is a leading Caribbean producer and exporter based in Jamaica, with operations in Belize. It exports safe seafood to the EU. (Photo: Rainforest Seafoods)
Belize City, Friday, 27 May 2016 (CRFM)—Caribbean economies are poised to benefit from a region-wide initiative to expand seafood market share, through the implementation of food safety measures to enable countries to get a bigger piece of the global pie, worth an estimated US$130 billion annually. Caribbean countries, including the Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago, are now capitalizing on a coordinated approach to broaden the gateway to the growing market. CARIFORUM (CARICOM and the Dominican Republic) now exports about US$400 million worth of fish and seafood annually.
Belize and Jamaica are two Caribbean seafood exporters already tapping into markets controlled by the European Union (EU)—a tough market to access because of stringent standards which require that countries have systems in place to ensure that their exports are not only safe for consumption but also free from harmful pests and pathogens.
In the case of Belize, which has traditionally exported shrimp to the EU, it is moving to export conch to that market for the first time in 2016, according to Endhir Sosa, Senior Food Safety Inspector, Belize.
Sosa was among the eighteen professionals from CARIFORUM who recently received management training on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) in Iceland. The training was offered under the capacity-building component of an EU-sponsored project to implement SPS Measures under the 10th European Development Fund (EDF) regime. The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) are collaborating to implement the fisheries component of the project.
Sosa broke down the meaning of this very technical term, which could just as well be the acronym for ‘safe and profitable seafood’: “In a nutshell, it’s just a series of procedures, of guidelines, of requirements, that one needs to implement to basically prove that what they are producing is safe,” the food safety expert commented.
“Confidence is what is key! It is what everybody seeks when it comes to the purchase and consumption of food products,” he said, adding that, “SPS is one of those routes where you can establish that confidence in your product.”
BAHA monitors seafood processed for trade (Photo: BAHA)
Sosa notes that, “Once you have an established SPS system in place and it is vetted and it’s shown to be functional, that will open markets locally, regionally and internationally."
This has been the case for Belize: “When BAHA [the Belize Agricultural Health Authority] first started in 2000, you could count the number of countries we were exporting to on your hand. It wasn’t more than 5 to 7. Today, thanks to SPS, thanks to the confidence that our SPS program has put into our products, not only fish, the markets have increased almost three-fold. Now we have a little over 30 markets,” Sosa said.
Chairman of the Caribbean Fisheries Forum, Denzil Roberts, who is also the Chief Fisheries Officer in Guyana, notes that: “The fisheries sector within the CARIFORUM region continues to play an important role in rural development, food and nutrition security, income generation and foreign exchange earnings. However, it must be recognized that there is a paucity of skilled personnel within the region to further develop the sector in keeping with the emerging challenges.”
The intensive two-week training course recently held in Iceland served to help fill this knowledge gap in the Caribbean.
Susan Singh-Renton, the CRFM’s Deputy Executive Director, notes that, “The CRFM/UNU-FTP SPS Management Course has been very successful in achieving its objective of exposing CARIFORUM Fisheries and Agricultural Health and Food Safety experts to the key lessons and best practices of the Icelandic fishing industry in producing safe and wholesome fishery products of an international standard.”
Thor Asgeirsson, Deputy Programme Director at UNU-FTP, talks with CARIFORUM SPS professionals in wrap-up session (Photo: CRFM)
She added that, “At the close of the course, participants reflected on and also documented how they would apply what they had learned to improve fisheries SPS management in their home countries.”
Jeannette Mateo, Director of Fisheries Resources at the Dominican Council for Fisheries and Aquaculture (CODOPESCA) in the Dominican Republic, suggested that nationals in her country, such as biologists, inspectors, fisheries officers and consumer protection agents, should be trained in basic concepts of SPS.
For his part, Roberts hopes that the trainees will immediately begin to impart what they have learned to others in their national networks. Roberts furthermore hopes that trainees will implement internationally recognized safety standards for seafood, thereby safeguarding the health of the local population while ensuring market access to meet global market demands.
Singh-Renton said that the CRFM will also strive to do its part to provide follow-up regional support for improved SPS management for the region's fishing industries, including facilitating continued networking among the course participants.
One of the more frequent but often overlooked problems within the Caribbean is food fraud and mislabeling,” notes Dr. Wintorph Marsden, Senior Veterinary Officer in Jamaica’s Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries.
Marsden said that Jamaica is considered a major transshipment hub for fish and fishery products to the wider Caribbean region, and so the burden is on Jamaica, as a first point of entry, to implement a system of verification of products entering its food chain.
To combat food fraud, it is an absolute necessity to introduce traceability, said Marsden. This can now be done electronically, with modern systems of recording, such as the use barcodes, radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags and other tracking media within the production chain.
In the Dominican Republic, Mateo’s job is to review all the supporting documentation for seafood imports and exports. She has observed, though, that, “Some of these documents might have statements to make the consumers believe that they are getting a high-quality product while they are actually getting products with less quality and deliberate mislabeling.”
An example, she said, is fish from the genus Pangasius, a catfish primarily sourced from the Asian market, which is being sold cheaply in the region and marketed at times as “grouper”—not only at supermarkets but also at some restaurants.
Vietnam catfish often passed off as grouper in the Caribbean (Photo: VASEP)
“While in Iceland, I learned that deliberate mislabeling of food, the substitution of products with cheaper alternatives, and false statements about the origin of foods, are all food fraud,” Mateo said.
“This is relevant to the Dominican Republic and the Caribbean, where imported fish are in some cases marketed at lower prices than the local ones, not only due to the lower production cost of fish products such as tilapia and Pangasius (catfish – sold as ‘basa’ or ‘swai’) in comparison with those produced in the country, but also because of unfair practices in trade,” Mateo said.
She said that as a result of the Iceland training, the Dominican Republic is now in the final stage of building an improved national SPS system for fishery and aquaculture products which was initiated with the support of the government of Chile.
Buyers opt for local snapper or imported seafood from the same freezer at a Belize supermarket (Photo: CRFM)
Whereas the move to implement SPS measures was originally focused on export trade, regional experts also indicate that they are vital to food safety and health even within our region.
“The Caribbean is known to be a huge importer of food products,” Sosa noted. “We have to look after our population, we have to look after the health of our people, we have to look after the health of our environment and our agricultural products; and thus SPS—although at this point it is mostly the industrialized countries that are pushing it, that are requiring it—should be really and truly across the board.”
Science-based risk assessment and risk analysis of imports are also key in protecting vital agriculture and fisheries industries.
“We have been mandated with the task of being the gatekeepers when it comes to food safety and agricultural health and we take that responsibility very seriously. Sometimes the public will get angry with us, because they truly don’t understand why we are doing this. ‘Why can’t I bring this across the border?’ But the realization is that if a disease [is introduced], it could potentially destroy an entire industry—whether it be, for example, bringing across poultry with avian influenza, or bringing in diseased shrimp—it could wipe out an entire multi-million-dollar industry,” Sosa warned.
Southern Fishermen's Cooperative in Grenada adds value to fish to produce smoked bacon for export to regional and international markets (Photo: CRFM)
Sosa noted that SPS measures were initially geared towards industrial markets but now they are encouraging small producers to position themselves for export by implementing SPS Measures.
“They might not have the finance to construct an elaborate facility, but we can start with the basics,” said Sosa, pointing to “good manufacturing practices and the sanitation standard operating procedures,” which, he said, would build confidence in products from even small producers.
More importantly, he said, implementing SPS measures is the first step that producers will need to make to even think about trading on the world market.
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