Fishlovers are spoilt on a holiday to Jamaica. Whether you like your fish escoviche in style or rather steamed, stewed, roasted, barbequed or simply rolled and deep-fried into tasty frittered balls, the island’s rich fusion of cooking traditions from Spain, the UK, Africa, India and China makes the most of the island’s wild assets.
To nurture our reefs and keep fisheries healthy so that local communities and visitors to the island can enjoy local wild seafood long into the future, here’s our 6 tips to eating fish in Jamaica.
1. Each Fish Counts
Take your pick from wild Snapper, Mahi-Mahi, Grouper, Lion Fish, Snook or Mackerel. If you are offered another type of fish do bear in mind this type is highly likely to have been imported without a guarantee that it was caught sustainably or that it is an endangered fish like Jamaica’s vulnerable parrot fish.
2. Order Lion Fish and then Order Some More
Not only does Lion fish taste great, a buttery white fish that is firm in texture and whose flavour is somewhere between grouper and Mahi Mahi, but by ordering lion fish whilst on holiday in Jamaica you are helping the survival of the island’s coral reefs!
Lionfish are an invasive non-native carnivorous fish that entered our beautiful Caribbean Sea via a Florida aquarium that was severely damaged in 1992 in Hurricane Andrew. Without any predators and the ability to spawn 30,000 eggs every 4 days, these fish are devouring our grouper, snapper and parrot fish to name just a few.
3. Rainfall Brings Incredible Shrimp
There is nothing better than eating Jamaican wild native shrimp. Sweet and succulent, Jamaican shrimp aren’t always available at market but are abundant after a good rainfall. Jamaica has 5 types whose shells are pink, white, brown, and royal red and its 5th is recognisable by its rock-hard shell.
Put in an order the day before you intend dining at one of Jamaica’s small independent eateries and restaurant and unlike the chain all-inclusive restaurants you are guaranteed to eat sustainable local shrimp without a carbon footprint and no trace of antibiotics or chemical enhancers to improve appearance and shelf life.
4. Respect the Season
Local Jamaican spiny lobster is ‘officially’ off the menu between the 1st April and 30th June each year and it is illegal to catch them throughout this their breeding season. Throughout the year, it is illegal to catch or serve berried lobsters (those with eggs) or juvenile lobsters that are less than 3.5 inches, and, if you are served either we suggest sending it back to the chef and requesting a dish that is legal and protects Jamaica’s spiny lobsters longterm viability.
4. Pass on Parrot Fish
Please don’t eat parrot fish, if we reduce the demand to eat it this beautiful endangered fish, it can instead help us to protect the last of Jamaica’s coral and counter the beach erosion of Negril and Montego Bay.
Jamaica’s coral reefs spans 50% of our coastline and its well-being relies upon the beaky parrot fish whose unusually shaped mouth cleans the coral by grazing on the algae that grows on it. Without parrot fish our reefs would die, suffocated by the algae whilst Jamaica’s beaches would lose the 800 lbs of sand that they excrete over a lifetime.
6. Avoid a Summertime Dish of Predatory Fish
Avoid eating predator fish like barracuda or amber jack late summer as you could end up suffering the foodborne disease ciguatera whose symptoms can last from a couple of weeks to decades.
Predator fish feed on the smaller reef fish who consume an algal coral bloom that’s highly attractive to toxin-bearing dinoflagellates (plankton). The toxin doesn’t affect the fish only humans and cooking doesn’t remove the threat.
The Fish Served at Jamaica’s Favourite Organic Restaurant
The team behind the Mille Fleurs restaurant believe that wild sustainable harvesting is best done by artisanal fishermen who use less intense fishing methods. Their boat of choice is a 28 foot fiberglass canoe powered with a 40 horsepower outboard engine which limits the amount of fish they can catch before becoming tired and returning home. This is opposed to commercial fishing operations which use advanced technology aboard factory boats to clean out an area, collapse the fish stocks, then move further afield to other areas to do the same.
The restaurant’s delicious fish is sourced from sOrganic, a specialised small scale processor/distributor for local inshore seafood who supply artisan fishermen with the support needed to fish sustainably and profitably.
They work closely with Jamaica’s most enlightened fishermen to harvest responsibly and invest the proceeds of their catch in improving their business and lifestyle. These selected fishermen carry adequate ice to sea, where catches are then promptly cleaned, shrink packaged and frozen. Absolutely no enhancers are used (e.g. sodium tripolyphosphate), a practice which most large fish dealers engage in. The company helps widen the range of products fishermen target and consumers can experience by introducing seasonal and less familiar species which may not be commonly consumed in Jamaican culture but which are delicious in the hands of its knowledgeable chefs.
I’d like to think all visitors to Jamaica would read Barbara Walker’s excellent post. It is so commendable and good luck to Mille Fleurs and may you flourish for many years to come.