In the last week or two, a petition has been floating around WhatsApp/email advocating a ban on ParrotFish. For those of us who are paying attention it’s the next step amidst the mounting commentary to come out about said subject. It would seem that every few months some business or individual gets shamed for the sale or consumption of Parrotfish. So for the most part, I figure many of us are aware that we shouldn’t be eating Parrot fish! We know they do something good for the environment or sand or somethinganother. But many are NOT most and even for the many, I’m not sure that we even understand exactly what the problem is! Jokingly I asked my all things environmentally friendly guru advisor friend Simmi how I hadn’t gotten the petition request from her to which she responded that she doesn’t agree that Jamaica should have a blanket ban on Parrotfish. Shhhhhhhhhhhhut the front door! Now I figured if Simmi feels that way then clearly I need to educate myself more before I blindly follow her into a stoning pit! Herein lies my attempt in very layman terms to do so for anyone else interested!
What do these fish do anyways aside from being tasty?
Considered as herbivores (there are some minor technicalities) Parrotfish eat the algae from our Coral Reefs. Now whilst some algae is good, too much is a bad thing and that’s our reality in Jamaica. Too much algae on the coral reefs will smother the corals to death. It’s critical to protect our coral reefs because they buffer our coasts protecting them from waves, storms, and floods (among other things). As a side note (and an added bonus) after all this algae eating, Parrotfish poop out fine white sand! So the argument goes that if you want to protect Jamaica’s beauty then we must protect our reef and to protect our reef we must protect Parrotfish!
Why wouldn’t we be running to sign the petition right away!
Well, technically you should probably go and sign the petition cause at the very least its bringing awareness to an issue (hopefully just like this blog post) that needs a massive amount of exposure. However, the one rule for ALL to not consume Parrot fish is completely and utterly unenforceable and so could backfire in the long run. There are dozens of rules or laws right now both fisheries and otherwise in our land that are taken as complete jokes as evidenced if you ever step foot on a fishing beach or into a courthouse, and that’s even just for the cases being heard. Why bother to add one more that won’t be enforced!
Additionally, many of our local fishermen fish, not only to make a small amount of money but more so as it is their very livelihood and source of food for them and their families. In fact FAO found Jamaica to be the highest consumer of fish in the Caribbean. Banning the fish that they have even just to eat leaves us with a humanitarian (and possibly criminal) problem.
The ‘Wicked’ Problem.
When Sim started describing it as a ‘Wicked’ problem I just thought she was having a flair for drama. I’ve come to realize that this is actually terminology used to describe (as per google) a social or cultural problem that is difficult or impossible to solve for as many as four reasons: incomplete or contradictory knowledge, the number of people and opinions involved, the large economic burden, and the interconnected nature of these problems with other problems. The Wicked problem being that saving the Parrotfish (which we should still strive to do) is only one aspect to solving the problem. My understanding is that Jamaican water quality would be the main issue that causes so many algae to grow in the first place. This is due to bad waste management, bad farming practices etc. Essentially fixing the Parrotfish issue would be like sweeping away water gushing out of a burst pipe! (Rather than calling NWC and have them fix the pipe). At least where it comes to the saving of the Coral Reef is concerned.
So then what should we be doing?
In my conversation with Simmi she most adamantly agrees that something needs to be done, and suggests a multi-pronged approach. So, an immediate ban on large entities such as hotels, restaurants, and supermarkets from selling and serving Parrotfish. For the artisanal fisherman, we could give them a time limit before outright banning completely. That way they would be able to survive in the short term but also be able to hopefully plan better for the future. Meanwhile we put more effort into the existing fish sanctuaries to boost fish stocks and allow for there to be other fish for fishermen. Perhaps above all though is that education is key. If more of us understand and are aware exactly why we shouldn’t be catching/selling/consuming Parrotfish then I would imagine more of us would actually comply. As Heather so eloquently put it “We should all do the best we can till we know better, then we must do better!” And if more of us do better to protect our beautiful country then demand for Parrot Fish will drop right along with supply. And isn’t that what we’re trying to achieve anyways?
*The opinions above are solely those of my own (and maybe Simmi lol) and although i suspect i am of reasonable intelligence i could also have been dropped on the head as a baby. Point being is that these are not necessarily the opinions of anyone else mentioned in the article.