Fisheries Division Knowledge
Benchmark events in the history of the Barbados fishing industry.
Compiled and written by Christopher Parker
This page is dedicated to the memory of Mr. Ralph Jones (1934-1998). Mr Jones served in many posts within the Fisheries Division, including acting (Chief) Fisheries Officer, from 1971 until his retirement in 1994. Mr. Jones always had a keen interest in researching the history of the Barbados Fishing industry and some of the information included in this document is from his research.
Photographs courtesy of the Audio Visual Aids Department, the Barbados Government Information Service and the Fisheries Division. These photographs may not be reproduced without prior permission of the owners.
1937: Rioting in Barbados by workers for higher wages and better living conditions forced the Government to closely examine the social conditions existing in the island. The Royal West India Commission under the chairmanship of Lord Moyne was set up and one of the suggestions arising from the Commission is that Barbados should become more self sufficient in food production. The Fishing Industry should be reviewed and means for its expansion sought and implemented.
1942: A detailed report on the fishing industry, compiled by Dr. H. H. Brown, was published in June. Dr. Brown made many suggestions for improving the Barbados fishing industry including the concepts of preserving and storing fish by freezing, improvement of landing facilities and the establishment of a Government Department devoted to the development of the fishing industry.
1942: In 1941 very rough seas damaged and destroyed several local fishing vessels. In keeping with the recommendations of both the Royal Commission and Brown to rehabilitate the fishing fleet, government dedicated $3,840 to a loan scheme for fishermen to replace or repair their fishing boats. Fishers were allowed to borrow money for repairing and purchasing boats and fishing gear through a Government fishing boat rehabilitation loan scheme set up through the Fisheries Division. Loans were made on 2 year basis with a 3% interest charge after the first year.
1942: Government imposed price controls on fresh fish under the Control of Prices (Defense) Amendment Order, 1942 No. 27 with effect from August 29th. The system of government imposed price controls on locally captured fish was completely abandoned in 1972.
1943: A Fishery Committee under the chairmanship of the Labour Officer was appointed to direct the development of the local fishing industry.
1944: The Fisheries Division was established within the Department of Agriculture and Science. Mr. Dudley Wiles was appointed as the island's first Fisheries Officer to head the Division. Mr. Wiles remained in charge of the Division until 1967. The Fisheries Division was first headquartered in Queen's Park, St. Michael.
1944: A Fisheries Advisory Committee under the chairmanship of the Director of Agriculture was appointed to take over the duties of the Fishery Committee.
1944: Dynamite was used to widen the channel through which fishing boats could access the landing site at Consett Bay, St. John and Meg's Channel (Crane, St. Philip).
1945: Dynamite was used to widen the channel through which fishing boats could access the landing site at Tent Bay, St. Joseph.
1945: Fishing was included for the first time in the Development Plan for Barbados. Specific plans included; the establishment of a fishing experimental station and purchase of a research vessel, improvements in the structural design of fishing vessels, modernisation of fishing techniques, improvements in boat access to fish landing sites, clarification of beach property rights, improvements in the marketing and distribution of fish.
1946: The first market devoted to the sale of fish was opened at Cheapside in Bridgetown.
1947: Another Government loan scheme was set up under the Fishing Industry Control Act, 1947. The scheme allowed fishermen to borrow money from Government to repair and refit their fishing boats. The loan scheme helped to bring several dormant fishing boats back into the active fishing fleet. The Act also stipulated that all fishing boats were to be registered with the Fisheries Division.
• Sail powered fishing vessels. Circa early 1950's. These sail boats ranged in size between 18' to 24' in overall length, 6' to 8' maximum width, and draught of 4' to 4'6".
• The boats could cover a distance of about 15 miles in a time of 3½ hours with favourable winds.
• They could carry a maximum of between 2000 to 4000 lbs of fish. Each boat was operated by a crew of 3 men.
• The sail boats were unstable and difficult to maneuver. Steering required the coordinated efforts of repositioning the main sail while shifting up to 200 lbs of iron ballast located in the bottom of the boat.
• Between 1944 to 1954 (inclusive) a total of 104 fishermen lost their lives at sea.
• The interior of a fishing sailboat showing the iron ballast used to help steer the vessel.
• In this example the ballast consists of two large iron cogs located between the two fishermen at the centre of the picture. Circa 1949.
1947: In January the practice of recording fish landing statistics at Barbadian markets began 1948: Dynamite was used to widen boat access channels at Stroud Bay, St. Lucy; Martins Bay, St. John and Skeetes Bay, St. Philip. Similar work was completed off Foul Bay, St. Philip by 1955.
1949: On October 28th, a tractor with a winch attachment was stationed at Tent Bay to haul up fishing boats. A fee of 6 pence (12¢) per haul-up, was charged.
• Creeper tractor hauling up fishing boats at Tent Bay, St. Joseph. Circa mid-1950's.
1949: In July, a Fisheries Experimental Station was opened at the Reef, (later Reef Road), St. Michael. The office of the Fisheries Officer was moved from Queens Park to this location.
1949: Open-side sheds including rudimentary facilities for fish processing including a concrete slab for cutting fish are opened at four popular rural landings sites: Consett Bay, St. John; Skeetes Bay, St. Philip; Martins Bay, St. John and Reids Bay, St. James.
• The old fish shed at Consett Bay, St. John.
• Fish sheds such as this, which included the most basic amenities for fish processing, namely a concrete slab for cutting and boning the fish and a sink supplied with running water, were to be constructed at the more popular rural fish landing sites.
• By 1949 fish sheds had been constructed at Consett Bay, Martins Bay, Reids Bay and Skeetes Bay.
1949: In February, Colonial Fisheries Adviser, Dr. C.F. Hickling visited the island, and recommended among other things, the introduction of life saving devices in fishing boats and the removal of Custom's duties on fishing gear.
1949: The first motor propelled fishing vessel in the form of the "Investigator", owned by the Fisheries Division, was introduced to the Barbadian fishing fleet. The dimensions of the vessel were 43' 6" overall length, 13' 2" beam and 6' 8" draft. It was powered by a 53 H.P. Caterpillar® diesel marine engine. The vessel was officially launched on 21st October, 1949 and its inaugural trip took place on December 12th, 1949.
• Boat builders in front of the research vessel "Investigator".
1950: On June 6th, the island's second purpose-built fish market was opened at Oistins, Christ Church.
• The old Oistin's fish market. Circa mid 1970's.
1951: The Fisheries Division introduced gill nets for capturing flying fish to Barbadian fishermen. The first gill nets were 17/8" stretched mesh and made of 12/32 ply cotton dyed blue or treated with green Cuprinol®. Initially, many were knitted by hand and cost around $15 for a small one. By 1953 the entire flying fish fleet was equipped with gill nets. Prior to the introduction of gill nets, flying fish were captured with small hooks (no.12-14, English numbers) on cotton or nylon lines and if close enough to the boat, with dip nets made of no. O Clarke's® crochet thread, knitted at 1¼" stretched mesh attached to a egg shaped bamboo, or cane frame usually measuring around 3' 6" to 4' by 2' 6" wide.
• Sea trials of gill nets to capture flying fish conducted from the "Investigator". Circa early 1950's.
• Dip net traditionally used to capture flying fish. Circa early 1950's. Modern vessels still use dip nets to scoop out flying fish when they come close enough to the boat
1951: Rough seas during the night of December 2-3 damaged a total of 83 fishing boats of which 36 were totally destroyed. The Fisheries Division took the opportunity to introduce a safer design of fishing vessel to the fleet. The design selected was that of a sail boat designer, Mr. Robert A. Calvert. The dimensions of the hull of the Calvert boat were 22' overall, with a 7' 8" beam and a draft of 4' 3". The keel weighed approximately 1100 lbs and was constructed of scrap iron and concrete which removed the need for additional ballast. By February 1953, a total of 29 of these vessels were built at a cost of approximately $1680 each. The boats were slow and not popular with the fishermen.
• Calvert type boats under construction in the yard of the Fisheries Division at Reef Road. Circa 1952.
1952: The Fishing Industry Act was enacted in Barbados. The Act replaced the Fishing Industry Control Act, 1947. Fishers wishing to replace or build fishing vessels were offered loans that were interest free for the 1st year and subject to 3% interest from the 2nd year onwards. By 1951 thanks to the various Government loan schemes, the fishing fleet size had increased by about 196 boats.
1952: The island's fifth fish landing shed is opened at Paynes Bay, St. James.
1954: In January, the long awaited northern fish market at Speightstown was opened. This market has the distinction of remining in operation in its original building for the longest of all the three original purpose-built Barbadian fish markets. It was finally replaced with a new building in 2006.
• The Speightstown fish market. Circa late 1950's.
1954: The first loan under the Fishing Industry Act was made for the mechanization of a fishing vessel. Up to this point mechanization of the fleet had been a slow process, for example in 1954 there were 18 motorised fishing boats (12 with inboard engines and 6 with outboard engines) compared with 5 in 1951.
1954: The three fish markets in existence at the time, Cheapside (in Bridgetown) measuring 116' by 26', Oistins and Speightstown both measuring 36' by 20', were handed over to the Markets Division for management. The fish sheds (each measuring 16' by 12") were left under the care of the Fisheries Division. This division of the management responsibilities of local fish landing facilities is still in effect.
1955: Two more fish landings sheds at Half Moon Fort, St. Lucy and Pile Bay, St. Michael.
1955: Hurricane Janet destroyed many local fishing vessels. Government seized the opportunity to further promote the mechanization of the fishing fleet by offering loans to fishermen to convert their damaged boats from sail to motor propulsion. Lumber for boat building and repairs was obtained from the many trees felled by the hurricane. The basic characteristic design of the Barbadian "day boat" or day launch, so named because fishing trips on these boats were generally completed within the same day, was adopted.
After "Janet" motorisation of the fishing fleet took place at a rapid rate. In1958 there were 430 motor powered boats compared with 18 in 1954. By 1962, there were no active fishing sail boats left in the local fleet.
• A typical motorised day launch of the late 1960's.
• The local motorised day launches of around this time typically ranged from 22' to 30' in overall length with beam lengths of between 7' 6" to 11' and draughts of approximately 3' to 3' 9". The frames were constructed of mahogany or white cedar with skinning of pitch pine and spruce. The keels were of pitch pine or greenheart. The engines were at the centre of the boats protected by a cabin house of approximately 7' to 8' in length.
• At this time many of the boats were also able to carry a sail. These engines were 10HP to 36 HP marine diesel, manufactured by Petter® or Lister®. The boats could maintain speeds of between 7 to 9 knots.
1955: Sea trials of nylon gill nets in the capture of flying fish were conducted from the Investigator.
1957: Another fish landing shed is opened at Holetown, St. James. This shed was closed in 1969. By this time jetties had been installed at Speigtstown, St. Peter and Consett Bay, St. John.
1959: The Federal Fisheries Adviser, Dr. Ernest Hess visited Barbados over the period March 8-16. Dr. Hess expressed surprise that up to that time, no attempts had been made to organize fishermen into cooperative groups. He thought that organizing fishermen into such groups would assist them in getting fair prices at market for their fish.
1963: In June, fish cold storage facilities were set up at the Barbados Marketing Cooperation. The facilities stored a maximum capacity of 200 tons of fish at a temperature of 0° Fahrenheit. The rigid working hours of the BMC staff did not agree with the times that most fish were landed, undermining the potential usefulness of the facility to fishermen.
1965: UNDP/FAO embarks on an Exploratory Research Fishery Project in the region that finally ends in 1973. A number of fishing techniques are tested including deep set traps primarily for snappers and bottom as well as surface longline fishing. Much of the technology used is not embraced by local fishers at the time. Low catch rates of large pelagics on the surface longlines leads to the conclusion that longline fishing would not economically viable for the region.
1971: The responsibilities of making loans to the local fishing industry fell within the portfolio of the newly formed, government run, Barbados Development Bank (BDB). The BDB made its first loan to the Fisheries sector in 1971. The BDB ceased operations on December 31st, 1995.
1973: International Seafoods Limited commences operations in Barbados. The company starts with a fleet of eight 75' trawlers targetting shrimp and groundfish.
1977: The Government requested external assistance for a detailed study and the formulation of a Development Plan for the Fishing Industry of Barbados.
1978: The Fisheries Advisory Committee was revived for a short period.
1978: The newly formed, government run, Insurance Corporation of Barbados (ICB) offered fishermen insurance rates for their fishing boats at lower rates than those offered by private companies.
1979: A proposal for the development of a modern and better equipped fish landing complex at Oistins was received by Government.
1979: International Seafoods Limited closes after attaining a fleet of 21 trawlers
1981: The first Glass Reinforced Plastic (GRP or fibreglass) iceboat was introduced to the fishing fleet.
1981: On August 1st, the passage of hurricane Allen destroyed 28 fishing vessels (including 5 moses) and damaged another 92.
• Boats damaged while at anchor in the adjacent Careenage during hurricane Allen temporarily stored in Trafalgar Square (now National Heroes Square), Bridgetown. 1981.
1981: The FAO/IC proposal for the development of the fishing industry was revived.
1981: Legislation establishing the island's first marine reserve is enacted. The reserve, which in time became known as the Folkestone Marine Reserve, stretches a distance of 2.2 km along the west coast of the island from around the Sandy Lane Hotel to the Coral Reef Club. The reserve was designed without consultation with fishers who suddenly find themselves barred from fishing within its range. In 1998 government funded a study to review the design of the Reserve. The study included a strong stakeholder consulation component.
1982: The first modern fish processing company in Barbados, Barbados Fish Processing Ltd was opened.
1983: The Oistins Fisheries Complex was opened. The improved facility included an increased area for the sanitary processing and sale of fish, a jetty for offloading catches from boats and ice making facilities to supply ice to fishing vessels.
• A section of the fish marketing hall of the modern Oistins Fishing Complex. Circa 1983.
1983: US longliners start fishing for swordfish and large pelagics in the waters of the Eastern Caribbean.
1987: During the mid-1980's, it was generally agreed that the local stock of the white sea urchin Tripneustes ventricosus (known locally as the sea egg) had collapsed. In an effort to allow the stock to recover and rehabilitate this traditionally important fishery, the government imposed a two fishing moratorium during the period September 1st, 1987 to August 31st, 1989. Despite some increase in stock abundance at the end of the ban, the stock crashed again after fishing was resumed forcing the government to impose another fishing moratorium for the period 1998-2001.
• Sea eggs being harvested and prepared for sale at Silver Sands, Christ Church. Circa early 1970's. 1989: The Bridgetown Fisheries Complex, the most modern and largest fish landing facility on the island was opened. The BFC includes a well protected fishing harbour with a number of jetties for the mooring of fishing vessels, large areas for the sanitary processing and sale of fish, freezing facilities for the temporary storage of fish and additional rooms specially designed for sanitary processing of fish.
• A section of the modern fishing harbour at the Bridgetown Fishing Complex (BFC).
1990: A comprehensive institutional strengthening project for the fishing industry of Barbados is undertaken by Crown Agents. many recommendations are made related to the further devolpment of many areas of both the harvest and post-harvest sector of the local fishing industry. A large component of the project includes exploratory fishing using some of the techiques that were tried in the 1965-1973 UNDP/FAO project. This includes the use of surface longline gear suitable for use on the islands ice-boats.
1990: Receipt of a large number of requests for loans to finace longliners prompts the Barbados Devolpment Bank to commission a feasibility study for development of this fishery. The study concludes that the fishery could be economically viable provided that vessels of between 40 to 50 ft LOA were used.
1990: The first locally registered "long liner" entered the Barbadian fishing fleet.
1993: The Fisheries Act (1993) was enacted. The Act incorporates most of the Fisheries related legislation. 1997: The fish shed at Reid's Bay, St. James was replaced by the modern Weston Fish market.
1997: The fishing industry financing portfolio was passed from the defunct BDB to CLR Ltd.
1997: A comprehensive Fisheries Management Plan which outlined suggested policies for the management of all major Barbadian Fisheries was published. The plan is subject for review every three years. A major thrust begins to establish and sustain fishing industry oragnisations (fisherfolk oragnsistaions) to faciliatate more co-management of the islands fisheries.
1998: In August, the Fisheries (Management) Regulations Act was put into force. Included are regulations for fishing gear, and specific fisheries such as the lobster, sea egg and turtle fisheries. The regulations follow the suggestions of the Barbados Fisheries Management plan. Government also imposes a three year ban on the harvesting of sea eggs due to and evident collapse of the stock.
1999: Fourteen fisherfolk oragisnations had been formed by the end of 1999. On the 26th March, an umbrella fisherfolk organsisation, The Barbados National Union of fisherfolk Organisations (BARNUFO) was established.
1999: A massive reef-fish kill caused by the bacterium Streptococcus iniae occurs at Barbados and a number of neighbouring islands including Trinidad and Tobago, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada.
2000: The Fisheries (Management) Regulations (1998) are ammended. 2000: The second Fisheries Management Plan is produced.
2000: Barbados becomes party to the UN Fish Stocks Agreement (22 September), the FAO Compliance Agreement (26 October) and the International Convention for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) (13 December).
2001: Purpose-built Fish Markets replacing the old fish sheds were opened at Consett Bay, St. John and Skeetes Bay, St. Philip.
2001: The seaegg stock shows a remarkable recovery in numbers and the fishery is reopened for 2 months.
2002: Purpose-built fish markets are opened at Paynes Bay, St. James and Tent Bay, St. Joseph.
2003: Decline in the seaegg stock causes concern and results in shortened fishing seasons in 2003 and 2004. Further concern for the status of the seaegg stock results in suspension of annual fishing seasons from 2005 to 2007.
2004: The third Fisheries Managment Plan is produced.
2006: A new fish market facility is opened at Speightstown, St. Peter to replace the old building that had existed on the same spot since 1954.
2015: The sea egg fishery was re-opened after being closed for over a decade, licenses were issued to permit harvesting
2018: The Fisheries Division was strategically positioned under the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy
2019: The Fisheries Advisory Committee was revived for a short period.
2020: Consultations on the new Barbados Fisheries Policy commenced in January before the COVID-19 pandemic.
2021: Updated Fisheries Management Regulations were approved by Cabinet
2022: The Fisheries Division was placed under the Ministry of the Environment and National Beautification, Green and Blue Economy
2023: The Sustainable Fisheries Management and Development Suite of Laws were approved by Cabinet on 18 March.
The information on this page was extracted from several sources including : McConney, P,A., 1987. "Small-Scale Fisheries Planning in Barbados: The Roles of Information Exchange and Participation. M.Sc. thesis, Dalhousie University, an unpublished document by Mr. Ralph Jones and several published and unpublished reports and other correspondence of Mr. Dudley Wiles and the Barbados Fisheries Division in general.
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