Tameka Gordon, Business Reporter
A regional animal geneticist is urging Jamaica to invest in the production of a barely known fish called pangasius, saying a ready market awaits in the United States (US) and elsewhere.
The species is native to South East Asia, but Dr Leroy Santiago, who is an agricultural adviser to the Bahamian government, said at the annual capital markets conference in Kingston last week that Jamaica could further tap into the US$1.9-billion industry and bolster its competitiveness with the export of the fish.
Santiago later said the fish is better known regionally as ‘basa’ or ‘basso’.
The pangasius fish industry is currently dominated by Vietnam, which supplies about 90 per cent of the market, he said. Santiago, who is himself a fish farmer from Puerto Rico, indicated that his home country is already producing the fish, which like tilapia is categorised as a whitefish.
Modified swim bladder
The pangasius uses a modified swim bladder to obtain oxygen directly from the atmosphere so it does not depend on dissolved oxygen in water and is resistant to low water quality. It also utilises low-input diets, a fact the businessman and animal geneticist says makes it financially viable for small farmers who may not have access to large amounts of capital to start up.
“This is a US$1.9-billion product that Vietnam is already exporting to the world,” he said.
“In Puerto Rico, we get 50 tonnes per hectare of land, which we can’t get from tilapia, so this is good for the Caribbean overall.”
Reports out of Vietnam indicate that its pangasius exports hit US$1.8 billion in 2011.
In comparing tilapia and the pangasius – both “leading whitefish aquaculture products on world markets” – Santiago said the production yields of pangasius “far outweigh” that of tilapia, making it ideal for those “who want to make money”.
“It is one of the easiest fish to produce – after eight months this fish weighs 1.9 kilograms; this fish makes the best fillet, matures in eight months and has widespread consumer acceptance; this fish is money.
“As a farmer, if you want to get into making money, you need to be looking at producing this fish,” the aquaculture farmer advised.
Speaking with Sunday Business, Santiago said his firm, Caribe Fisheries Inc, based in Puerto Rico, would facilitate a four-day training programme for interested aquaculture farmers on the technology needed to produce pangasius. He is also willing to supply brood stock.
“They can come and see how we are going from hatchery to field to market, and this will give them an experience in the production. In terms of the legislation that govern bringing it into another country, we also have that in place so we can help them to get this programme into their country because people get uptight when we talk about introducing a new species,” said Santiago.
“The Caribbean is so close to the market, this is an opportunity we need to take advantage of.”
He said Vietnam does 400 tonnes of pangasius every 10 months, but because of the distance from its main market, it has to preserve the fish for export; and that Jamaica and the Caribbean can capitalise on that because of proximity to the US.
“You don’t need much money to start. What you probably need is much land since you can get close to 400,000 fish from one female,” said Santiago.
No imported fish feed is required, but fish farmers would also have to create the breeding environment conducive to spawning, noted Santiago, who said such costs could be pooled and shared by farmers.
“The fish eats grass,” said the animal geneticist.
“Once you get the fish started on a high-protein diet for 40 days, you then switch to grass and you feed that to them for the next eight months; so your cost wouldn’t be high because you can grow your own grass,” he said.
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