In the 20 years that Jemma Harris has been a fish vendor, she has seen it all: from the brisk business at the Bridgetown Fish Market during peak season, to the struggle to secure sales during the off-season when flying fish and dolphin, two favourites among Bajans, are in short supply.
That’s also when the vendors are forced to import fish to make up for the shortage because, according to Harris, “as long as you got flying fish and dolphin in the market, it will be busy”.
Peak season is November to March, and when Barbados TODAY visited the market this week, Harris said she and her colleagues were “hanging on” until that time.
“At this moment things slow, but you got to hang in there. You scarcely see people coming in the market buying. Probably next month, November, things will pick up a little bit. Because when flying fish in de market it will get busy,” she said.
“Right now we got to buy frozen fish because the season finish, so you’re not going to get no fresh fish like that . . . You will get the jack fresh and pot fish fresh, but all the rest you got to source from fish processors.”
Like Harris, Curwen Brewster is also riding out the off-season.
“Only long liners [are] going out at this time. Flying fish and dolphin at that time will be scarce. We will only get them during November to March but you will not get them at this time of the year,” he said.
Harris and Brewster are two of the estimated 6,000 people working in the local fisheries sector.
The importance of the industry to Barbados’ health and economy was highlighted this week as part of a programme of activities marking the observance of World Food Day.
However, another veteran vendor, Andrea Joseph, is concerned that the rising cost of flying fish may also be keeping customers away, even when they are in abundance.
“Things ain’t like before. Once before you could come and get 100 flying fish for $25. Right now 100 flying fish is $150, so things really changed a lot,” she said, while cleaning a batch of the frozen fish.
“It’s actually about three or four years now we ain’t really had a good season. We get flying fish but not that amount, and then when it does come the fishermen sticking out for a price. Like last season, the least money flying fish sell for was $80 for 100.”
For Ryan Codrington, the winter tourist season will also help boost business.
“When the cruise liners come back then things will pick back up, because hotels want fish,” he said.
Marine Biologist Nikola Simpson has also noted a decline in catches over the past few years, especially in the flying fish population.
“Flying fish makes up over 60 per cent of the landings of total fish within Barbados, followed by dolphin or Mahi Mahi. Some of the reasons that flying fish catches have been lower, according to fishermen, might be to do with the influx of sargassum seaweed which has plagued our shores over the past few years,” she said.
“It wasn’t as bad this year but some fishermen say that it caused issues for fish, especially the flying fish,” she added.
Another issue for fishermen is gaining access to export markets, as well as a lack of traceability of products.
While some of the seafood in the Caribbean is exported to the United States, the European market has not been easy to penetrate due to sanitary and phytosanitary requirements for fish and seafood.
For the time being, however, fishermen and vendors continue to sell to the local market and are looking forward to next month.
They expect that by then they will have their regular supply of not only flying fish and dolphin, but other favourites like sword fish and marlin that will draw customers back to their stalls.