PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – First, the earthquake damaged this capital city’s ports and airport. Then, the U.S. military and international aid workers took them over.

The sequence of events has severely hampered fish culture and importing, so much so that fish, once plentiful in markets here, have become a rare commodity, said Michel Chancy, the undersecretary for food at the Ministry of Agriculture.

Local fishermen used to cultivate about a quarter of fish consumed here, Chancy said, adding that the exact figure was not available because the ministry’s offices have been destroyed. But, he said, some of that business will be made up with export, primarily from the private sector.

“One of President Rene Preval’s main goal has been agricultural self-sustainability,” Chancy said. “Unfortunately, we’ve had a series of natural disasters that have set us back.”

To catch up, the ministry is scheduling a meeting with various food cooperatives, including fishermen, to assess the damage, Chancy said.

Then, it will present a plan to the international community to help the country restore food production and distribution, particularly in the west and southwest regions of the country.

Meanwhile, the government has sped up food imports from the Dominican Republic, including fresh fish.

But Haiti’s agricultural problems have been in the making for quite some time. A period of political instability gave way after Jean-Claude Duvalier left in exile in 1986.

Part of that legacy has been a debilitation aftershock that’s left the agricultural industry. In continuing decline Farmers and fishermen left villages for the urban areas, greatly diminishing food production in Haiti.

There was a time not too long ago when fishermen lined up along the highway toward the northern provinces, hawking strings of large red snapper fish, the most popular fish in the Caribbean.

But in the last few years, their numbers have steadily declined and now they’re all gone. Gone with them is the once vibrant and fishing industry that has decimated fishing villages along the Coast of Arcadins.

Haitians for the most part, consume imported fish, largely from neighboring Dominican Republic or other Caribbean countries.

How did the country get to this point? Dr. Valentin Abe, an aquaculture specialist who works with fishermen in Lake Azuei—Haiti’s largest lake, said the fish population has fallen in the last 10 years but there have been no studies to determine the precise causes. One theory is that silting from sand quarries disturbed the lakes’ ecology and its fish population.

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