For those who are unsure, a parrotfish is a marine fish with a parrot-like beak, usually brightly-coloured.
There are about 80 different species of parrot fish – 30 of them found in Caribbean waters. Parrot fish is said to be one of the most commonly caught and eaten species in Jamaica. They are responsible for cleaning smothering algae from coral reefs, which would eventually die otherwise. When they eat the algae they also chip away at the skeleton of the coral reef with their beaks, ground it up, and in turn produce sand; this process makes them a major producer of sand in the tropics. An adult parrot fish can produce up to 800 pounds of sand in its entire lifetime, which can be over 15 years; this is a major factor in helping to maintain our beaches.
These important ecological roles are compromised by overfishing, and the fact that they are preyed upon by the invasive lion fish. Healthy coral reefs serve as a habitat for many fish and any threat to the reefs is a threat to the entire fish population. Additionally, healthy coral reefs protect from storm surges by breaking waves before they crash inland.
I have been snorkeling twice in the open sea, the first time was in the Bahamas last year while the other time was in Jamaica. Two noticeable differences between the underwater coral reefs seen here and in the Bahamas were that here, there were significantly less parrotfish and more algae. Parrotfish were among the first fish I noticed (with the exception of a passing barracuda) snorkeling off the coast of a Bahamian islet called Half Moon Cay, while I don’t remember seeing more than 3 in Jamaica. Spending 45 minutes floating within in a small circle at Half Moon Cay, I saw more parrotfish there than during my hour-long excursion off the coast of Negril swimming over two great coral reefs. To me, that was alarming enough.
Even more alarming is seeing fishermen and small cooks offering parrotfish (that aren’t of a size fit for a snack) as a meal. The only thing more upsetting to me are consumers who have heard the cry to #SaveTheParrotfish for the benefit of our environment but answer it with indifference under the sole argument of “it tastes too good to stop nyam [eat]”.
At this time of the year when many Jamaicans eat more fish, please don’t let parrot fish be your choice (consuming lionfish, however, is a good idea). You may be asking why would you choose to not eat it if it’s already caught, dead and can’t be thrown back into the sea…well, if the demand for it is not there then there would be less incentive for fisher folk to catch it. Notable businesses such a Sandals Resorts and Rainforest Seafoods have joined the effort by no longer buying nor offering parrot fish and launching campaigns to help raise awareness.
If you are one who believes you can’t do without eating/selling parrotfish, tell me, can you possibly do without our beaches, or other fishes? If you cry over the disappearing sands of the iconic Hellshire beach, or the worry that you won’t be able to easily visit a Jamaican beach in the near future due a growing number becoming privately-owned, think about not being able to visit a beach at all simply because they no longer exist.
The decreasing parrotfish population is something we need to be concerned about. What we all need to understand is that with a decline in parrotfish stocks our marine life, coral reef ecosystems, and our tourism product is threatened. This is something that will affect everyone living in this region if we don’t actively address itAdam Stewart