Barbados is planning to increase its revenue from tuna exports to US$7.5 million by 2027.
Representatives from the country’s fishing industry recently met with officials from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and other agencies, to curate a strategy that will significantly improve the volume and value of its tuna exports.
Once implemented, the Oceans Economy and Trade Strategy will seek to retool Barbadian fisherfolk to move up the value chain. By moving away from whole, unprocessed tuna, the fishers could fetch twice as much in global markets — like North America — for boxed tuna loins, according to UNCTAD.
“By processing the tuna before export, the local fishing industry could capture much more of the final price that consumers pay,” Pamela Coke-Hamilton, director of UNCTAD’s international trade division, emphasised.
“The result would be transformational for the island’s fishing industry,” she said, adding that helping exporters in developing countries transition from raw materials to processed goods is key to helping them reap more benefits from trade.
With this in mind, UNCTAD has joined forces with the UN Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea (DOALOS) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to identify and address the various areas of Barbados’ fishing industry which will need improvements to transition from unprocessed to processed tuna exports. These include fleet efficiency, quality controls and, most important, infrastructure.
Implementation of the Oceans Economy and Trade Strategy would also include an investment of about US$1.7 million into building the island’s first fish processing plant.
“By processing the tuna before export, the local fishing industry could capture much more of the final price that consumers pay.”— Pamela Coke-Hamilton, director of international trade, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development
“Though the strategy focuses primarily on exports, a new processing plant and improved sanitary measures would allow the tuna sector to better serve local hotels and restaurants and retain more value on the island,” UNCTAD stated.
To this end, the programme also aims to update national regulations related to fisheries in the Caribbean, such as the Barbados Fisheries Act, and by extension strengthen sanitary standards and traceability systems. Consequently, tuna exporters could apply for voluntary sustainability certifications, such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) label.
According to UNCTAD, the sustainability certification would improve Barbados fishermen’s access to fast-growing markets as the sale of seafood with the blue MSC label, for example, have grown 34 per cent over the past years — from 8.8 million tonnes in 2014 to 11.8 million tonnes in 2019.
Some 6 million tonnes of tuna are caught worldwide every year; the global market valued at US$11.6 billion in 2018. By 2024 the value could reach US$14.4 billion.
In contrast, Barbados earned a paltry US$303,000 from tuna exports in 2015.
The FAO believes the project will also reduce the country’s dependence on food imports, considering about 86 per cent of the fish consumed in Barbados is imported.
Barbados’ Ministry of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy is currently reviewing the proposal with a view to present a final version before the fifteenth UNCTAD ministerial conference, set to convene October 18–23 in Bridgetown. UNCTAD and DOALOS will support Barbados in the implementation of the strategy, providing technical assistance and capacity-building help as needed once it has been approved.