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Campaign to Boost Ornamental Fish Production

JAMAICA - The Jamaica Ornamental Fish Farmers Association (JOFFA) is aiming to carve out a share of the multi-million dollar trade in the global market by growing the industry

"We need to be able to compete and the only way to compete is to have good quality at a global price."
President of JOFFA, Norman Dawson

Speaking with JIS News, President of JOFFA, Norman Dawson said that currently, the main aim of the Association is to get all ornamental fish farmers to come together as a group, to produce competitively and to boost export.

Now a clearing house is to be established at the Association's Twickenham Park headquarters in St. Catherine, which will see ornamental fish being produced at a high quality, consistent level.

Mr. Dawson said the clearing house is a critical project, as it will not only enhance the quality and production of ornamental fish, but will also allow the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN), for the first time, to have information on all the fish that are bred in Jamaica, the types of fish that are sold locally and what are exported.

"That is the aim. That (clearing house) is our main purpose for this year," he said.

"All over the world they have what you call clearing houses. There are a lot of small players in the industry who can never, by themselves, work the economies of scale to sell the fish on a timely basis to turn over their profits.

"With the clearing house, what we will do is where a farmer will be stuck with some fish for an additional three months of feed. Once the quality is right, the price will be set, so that they know exactly what their income will be, based on their modus operandi of production. So, it is for them now to find that cheap and efficient way of production, so that they can benefit, because prices will be set, based on the world market," he said.

The President added that there are two sets of fish in the ornamental market, the exotic and what are known as 'run of the mill' fish.

'Run of the mill' fish, he said, sell more frequently than exotic fish, and therefore, breeders have to sell these at a cheaper price, while at the same time increasing the volume they breed, in order to keep their profits up.

Mr. Dawson stressed the importance of breeding good quality fish, even while selling at globally competitive prices.

"We need to be able to compete and the only way to compete is to have good quality at a global price. Tropical fish is within the first three of the pet industry in the world. It's a billion dollar industry. In three years, I hope that we can get zero point five per cent of that industry," he said.

The way to achieve this, the President points out, is to get the clearing house up and running. He says the facility will also feature quarantine activities and ledgers that display which breeder produces what types of fish, and in what quantities they are being sold.

"The macro plan is that nobody should keep their fish over a certain time. Certain fish in certain areas, depending on how you grow them, will grow slower, some will grow faster, to reach the particular standard that we want to keep. The key to this is quality fish, high standard, consistency, because if you are not consistent, you cannot survive in a global environment. Right now everybody is breeding the same thing, and that doesn't make any sense. It will be a timely process initially, but in the long run, with technology, we can make it that much easier," Mr. Dawson added.

JOFFA will also be seeking to establish a quality centre, which will also play an important role in documenting what a person may need to know about the types of ornamental fish bred in the country, and enable persons and organisations to access such information.

The President told JIS News that much emphasis has been placed on promoting ornamental fish farming in the inner city, but because of the dynamics of the inner city, "if you don't have somewhere for them to dispose of their finished product, it will just come to a brick wall, so what we have decided to do is, based on a lot of studies that have been done, and based on my own experience, we are going to establish the centre at Twickenham Park."

There, all the varieties of fish that are bred in Jamaica will be displayed. The association is currently seeking a grant to assist with this initiative.

"It seems like we are going to be successful. It's not a big grant, it's a token sum, but because of how the grant is formulated, that is the only thing that we could put it towards," he said.

Mr. Dawson says the idea is to create an all-inclusive facility, where persons can have access to the clearing house, the quality centre and the planned secretariat at the association's Twickenham Park offices.

"Because our office is at Twickenham Park and we want to have our secretariat there with all the information, so that if anybody comes to the office, they can sit down, read and leave, we thought it all inclusive to have the quality centre there as well. The quality centre will always have good quality fish on display," he said.

In the drive to attract more persons to the ornamental fish farming sector, JOFFA in association with the Ministry of Agriculture, hosted the country's first National Ornamental Fish Exposition at Jamaica College in Kingston from October 28 to 29 last year. The event saw some 7,000 persons attending, and was held under the theme: 'Treasures Beneath the Water: Highlighting Opportunities in the Pet Fish Industry'.

The exposition highlighted opportunities in the local pet fish industry, and international market, and included special fora and talks on several aspects of ornamental fish farming, ornamental fish and products, auctions, and a wide selection of exhibitors with pets.

Mr. Dawson said that the larger players in the sector were severely affected by Hurricane Ivan, followed by Hurricane Dean, and other adverse weather conditions, which crippled exports.

"We are on the comeback trail now, in a different format and I hope within the next 18 months to start exporting again, but this time, as a group. Now you see the relevance of the clearing house. The first thing is that we need to have good quality fish, so we just have to start producing. We are close to one of the largest markets in the world, which is the US. We just need to have production on a consistent basis," he stressed.

The major markets for tropical ornamental fish are the United States, Japan and the European Union. The United States is the largest importer, accounting for some 25 per cent of the trade.