Whether for reasons of health or wealth, Barbadians have been turning to fish for some ease in these challenging economic times.

Fish fish – flying fish!’ – This popular refrain was  music to Barbadians’ ears a few months ago, as the popular local delicacy retailed for as low as $25 per 100 or approximately two dollars per kilogramme, over seven dollars less than the per kilogramme retail cost of  chicken.

As  Barbadians, like many of their regional counterparts, struggle to cope with  an increased cost of living driven by spiraling oil prices on the world market, some householders have been cutting back on popular meats such as steak, pork and lamb, and instead substituting fish, a cheaper protein source. Its relative ease and diversity in preparation makes it an obvious choice.

According to an official from Government’s Fisheries Division, the estimated total fish landed for 2007 stood at just under 2,400 metric tonnes, compared with the 2006 figure of 1,920.  Of the amount landed in 2007, flying fish was said to account for 54 percent by weight, and dolphin 29 percent.

“This year was a very good year for flying fish, while 2007 had been a good one for dolphin due to increased landings. The increase catches this year caused a well-publicised decrease in the cost of flying fish, which is still comparatively cheaper per kilogramme than say chicken.   However, the price is likely to increase due to rising vessel operating costs,” the official noted.

In speaking about the health benefits of fish, Home Economics and Integrated Science teacher at the Christ Church Foundation School, Karen Drakes, described it as the most complete protein.

“Fish is considered to be complete or a high biological value protein since it has all the essential amino acids that are necessary for our body. These cannot be made in the body so they have to be taken in daily,” she said.

Some distinction was, however, made between white fish and oily fish such as herring, mackerel and salmon, which contain Omega 3. Ms. Drakes pointed out that while in white fish the oils were concentrated in the liver and must be extracted, in fatty fish these essential oils were distributed through the flesh and therefore could be obtained directly.

The teacher of 14 years also addressed the issue of cholesterol, which is of concern to Barbadians, in light of increasing instances of chronic non-communicable diseases, including diabetes and hypertension. According to her, fatty or oily fish like those traditionally loved by Barbadians also contain long chain polyunsaturated fats which tend to lower our bad cholesterol (LDL).

“As you know, cholesterol is one of the risk factors in coronary heart disease, so that is why fish is very popular. But the one thing that I would want to add is that, all animal products have cholesterol and therefore, we shouldn’t eat fish indiscriminately,” Ms. Drakes warned.

She further noted that fatty fish also contained vitamins E, A and D, the latter two are considered to be anti-oxidants against free radicals, and Vitamin D a good means of aiding the absorption of calcium in the bones.

For busy persons, the plus is that fish, unlike meat, contains short connecting tissue and therefore can be cooked very quickly by baking, grilling, steaming or even frying, which admittedly is less healthy.

“Frying is very tasty, and I know that it is very popular, but as you know this method will increase the caloric value of the fish, so baking, steaming and grilling are better alternatives if you are watching your calories,” Ms. Drakes advised.

As to how often fish should be eaten to maintain a healthy diet, the Home Economics and Health Science specialist maintained that it was a matter of one’s choice.

“As I said, fish has its benefits, so if you can tolerate eating it every day, then it is a matter for you. There are different ways of preparing fish so that you can become excited and it is not monotonous as a daily choice,” she advanced.

The work done by her students, the 2008 winners of the Fisheries Division’s Annual Secondary School Fish Dish Competition, bears testimony to the fact that eating fish can be far from monotonous.

The students, who emerged victorious over four other schools in the April 23 competition, prepared winning dishes including: Julienne Smoked Bangamary Salad, A Stacked Fish Medley with a tangy fish sauce, Lentil Salt Fish Pie, Pineapple Fish Salad and a Plantain Fish Pockets Entrée.

Organiser of the competition, Fisheries Assistant, Angelia Graham, who lauded the students’ creativity, stressed that “fish was cheaper than most meats” and the competition was seen as a means of encouraging its consumption.

“If youngsters can see that fish can be prepared in a tasty way, it can encourage them to eat more fish,” she surmised.

Similarly, Ms. Drakes concluded:  “Chicken consumption has dropped over the years and therefore fish, because it is cheaper per pound, and because of what it can do, is being viewed as a viable alternative. Additionally, some people are advocating complementary health, and in this regard, persons tend to switch to fish, and so it has become even more popular in the Barbadian diet.”

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