Fish and seafood are important components of the diet of the Caribbean population. However, in the Caribbean region most of the traditional commercially important fish species and species groups are reported to be either fully developed or over-exploited. Despite efforts to increase production of fish and seafood, the region is still a major importer of the commonly consumed fish and seafood. These foods represent healthier options to consume with respect to protein content and other health benefits throughout the life course. The benefits of fish and seafood include reduction in cardiovascular diseases through the regulation of blood clotting and vessel constriction thus reducing the risk of heart disease and may prolong life after a heart attack. Fish and seafood consumption lowers blood triglycerides (fats); may improve heart function and reduce damage from heart disease; can lower blood pressure; and may improve symptoms of inflammatory diseases, arthritis and psoriasis. The omega-3 fatty acids may also reduce the incidence of depression and postpartum depression in pregnant women. Some fish and seafood may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and cognitive decline in the elderly. In babies it contributes to vision development and nerve growth in the retina. These benefits augur well for the drive to combat obesity and the related conditions of diabetes, hypertension, heart diseases and some forms of cancer (lifestyle diseases), which are reaching epidemic proportions in the region. Adolescents and young children are also at risk since childhood obesity is also on the rise with overweight and obesity ranging from 25%-30%. Changing the pattern of consumption from high cholesterol saturated fatty animal sources of protein to fish and seafood can contribute positively to a reduction in these lifestyle diseases.
For these shifts in consumption to occur, there needs to be:
· Increased availability and accessibility to fish and seafood
· Policies, systems and regulations to ensure sustainability and proper management of the resources (avoid overfishing)
· Greater support by governments for the strengthening of the Fisheries sector
· Public education with respect to the choice of fish and seafood to minimize the consumption of contaminated fish. Consumers should avoid large fish species that are high up in the food chain since those are more prone to toxin accumulation