Less than 20 miles from our shore, fish farmers in Culebra Island, with support from investors and their government, have produced nearly 10,000 cobia fish in two 3,000-cubic-meter galvanized steel-and-nut holding pens. This is done offshore, without the use of pumps and filters, in about 90 feet of water. These fish can be sold for $4 to $5 an pound. Cobia is a mild, firm, whitefish that can be eaten raw as sushi or smoked, baked, sauteed, broiled or fried. Cobia are known to gain up to 16 pounds in as little as one year! The popularity of cobia has risen to where you can find it on menus throughout top dining restaurants in South Florida.
Several profitable species are being targeted and some have created a market. An American expatriate, Chuck Hesse, is the founder of the Turks and Caicos conch farm. Every year, over 4 million conch larvae pass through this farm system. In approximately 2½ years, over 10,000 conch are harvested. In addition to the harvest, the conch farm hosts over 10,000 visitors a year. Ironically Hesse, a former nuclear submarine engineer, was on his way to the Virgin Islands in 1975 to study queen conch, but a tropical storm and a severe case of seasickness forced him to divert to the Turks and Caicos, where he settled.
At the Cayman Islands Turtle Farm, over 340,000 visitors, many of them off the cruise ships, pass through every year. Over 16,000 turtles are present at this farm where 60 percent of each year's hatchlings are raised for local consumption and 40 percent are released into the ocean. The balance here is that there has been success economically, culturally and environmentally.
I would like to express halos to Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd, Sen. Luther Renee and all other advocates for urging the administration to appoint members to the V.I. Commission on Aquaculture and Mariculture contained in Act. No. 6741. Whether these appointees will be filled is left to be seen. Mariculture is a Pan Caribbean industry in its nursery stage with an opportunity for big profits, for both the economy and the people. Take note from the Culebra Island fish farmers next door who have found their niche with the cobia species!
Gene Brin Jr.
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