by Austin Stankus, Iris Monnereau and Daphne Ewing-Chow
The following is intended to provide clarity and correction to the article that appeared in Barbados TODAY on February 1st, entitled New use for discarded fish.
For a country that is dealing with the challenges of food security, it is difficult to hear that 30 to 70 per cent of all fish caught ends up unutilized.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations estimates that globally, fish and seafood have “the highest losses and wastes among the food products of animal origin.”
President of the Barbados National Union of Fisherfolk Organizations (BARNUFO) Vernel Nicholls says, “Waste refers to the parts of the fish that are thrown away after processing has been completed.”
The “Fish Waste Silage” pilot project, funded by the Embassy of Argentina and the FAO, which was launched last week, aims to convert the parts of the fish that typically go unutilized into safe and nutritious products for the consumption of livestock and aquaculture. This would have the added benefit of potentially increasing the over 6,000 jobs currently offered by the fishing industry as well as lead to creating employment for the agricultural sector.
As it is converted into high quality pig, chicken or aquaculture feed, we can stop seeing it as waste but rather as a product with value in itself. Given that most animal feed is imported in Barbados, this can contribute to decreasing the import bill of animal feeds.
Rather than increasing the fisheries catch, the idea is to increase the value of the fish value chain, by attributing value to a product which is currently unutilized— one of the underlying principles of a circular economy as promoted by the Kirk Humphrey, Minister of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy.
Use of fish waste could also contribute to climate change mitigation, as fish waste at the landfill releases methane, a greenhouse gas 25-30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Currently 25 per cent of the manmade global warming we’re experiencing is caused by methane emission. Reduced waste will thus lead to a reduced amount of methane in the atmosphere.
The initial information put out in the press, pertaining to the percentage of fish waste has caused some confusion in terms of the data used. The waste refers to the skin, bones, guts and gills; these are the parts of the fish on which the Fish Waste Silage project is to be focused as these are typically thrown away with no value attributed to them. Whether the fish heads also end up as waste depends on the fish species.
The exact numbers for Barbados will be established in the feasibility study. However, sampling at the fish market in Bridgetown shows that the highest loss can be attributed to the process of filleting Barbados’ national dish, the flying fish. Only 38 per cent of a whole flying fish actually makes its way onto the consumer’s plate. A very small portion of the 62 per cent waste is used to feed pets and turtles. For dolphin fish, only about 57 per cent of the original weight of the fish makes it to the consumer’s plate. Analyses of other fish species revealed a similar outcome— just under 52 per cent of amber fish and 33 per cent of ocean trigger fish were sold as fillets. However, not all of this fish waste is actually thrown away, as part of it is occasionally used by consumers.
According to market vendor Tyrone Harris, “Dolphin heads and bones make excellent soup.” If consumers were to hold on to the bones and head of their dolphin to make a fish broth, waste could decrease from 43 per cent to as little as 30 per cent. The feasibility study will further refine the data presented here.
Using fish waste for different purposes has been carried out in Barbados in the past and even though small-scale farmers have indicated positive results, the activity at a larger scale has not been explored. The conversion of fish waste to silage businesses has been very successful in both developing and developed countries. This project will build upon the information from such success stories as well as the lessons learned from the experiences in Barbados.
The Fish Waste Silage project poses no financial burden to Barbados. Argentinian experts, funded by the Embassy of Argentina, have been invited to Barbados to conduct training. The feasibility study, funded by the FAO and executed by a local non-profit entity in Barbados, Saint Kitts and Nevis and Saint Lucia, will examine the technical, financial, and market feasibility. Local stakeholders, including a community group, fish processing houses and feed manufactures have already agreed to contribute by providing their time and expertise.
Vernel Nicholls has expressed her enthusiasm “We [the fisher folk] welcome the feasibility study, so that we can understand the degree of waste and learn how we can use it as an added source of income.”
With the encouraging support of government, the non-profit and private sectors, as well as the Barbados fisherfolk community, the Fish Waste Silage project has a great deal of potential.
Austin Stankus is a Aquaponics and Biocomposting Specialist and Consultant at the Food and Agriculture Organization.
Iris Monnereau is the Project Coordinator for the CC4FISH project at the Food and Agriculture Organization.
Daphne Ewing-Chow is a freelance journalist and the Information and Outreach Manager at the Food and Agriculture Organization.