Ending Illegal Fish Importation


Eromosele Abiodun reasons that Nigeria can save over N288billion spent on importation of fish annually, if the nation’s deep ocean resources are optimally developed

On 28 October 2016 in Hobart, Australia, the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources agreed to establish the first Antarctic and largest Marine Park in the world encompassing 1.55 million km2 (600,000 sq mi) in the Ross Sea.

Other large Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans in certain exclusive economic zones of Australia and overseas territories of France, the United Kingdom and the United States, with major (990,000 square kilometres (380,000 sq mi) or larger) new or expanded MPAs by these nations since 2012—such as Natural Park of the Coral Sea, Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, Coral Sea Commonwealth Marine Reserve and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands Marine Protected Area.

When counted with MPAs of all sizes from many other countries, as of August 2016 there are more than 13,650 MPAs, encompassing 2.07 per cent of the world’s oceans, with half of that area – encompassing 1.03 per cent of the world’s oceans –receiving complete “no-take” designation.

MPAs are protected areas of seas, oceans, estuaries or large lakes. MPAs restrict human activity for a conservation purpose, typically to protect natural or cultural resources. Such marine resources are protected by local, state, territorial, native, regional, national, or international authorities and differ substantially among and between nations. This variation includes different limitations on development, fishing practices, fishing seasons and catch limits, moorings and bans on removing or disrupting marine life.

In some situations (such as with the Phoenix Islands Protected Area), MPAs also provide revenue for countries, potentially equal to the income that they would have if they were to grant companies permissions to fish. In Nigeria, the absence of MPAs and regular oil spill has almost destroyed the means of livelihood of many in the Niger Delta.

Experts believe that if governments in western Africa could end illegal fishing by foreign commercial vessels and build up national fleets and processing industries, they could generate billions of dollars in extra wealth and create around 300,000 jobs.

Industry watchers stressed that the devastating, social, economic and human consequences of overfishing in western Africa’s coastal waters are well documented.
For instance, they noted that a report, Western Africa’s Missing Fish, by the Overseas Development Institute and Spanish investigative journalists’ PorCausa, lays bare the extent of lost opportunities across African countries.

The N288 billion Loss
Following ongoing efforts by the federal government to diversify the Nigeria’s economy, it has emerged that the country can save over N288 billion ($800 million) being spent on the importation of fishes annually, if the nation’s deep ocean resources are optimally developed and harnessed.

Director/Head, Fisheries Resources Department, Nigeria Institute for Oceanography and Marine Research, Dr. Parcy Ochuko Obatola, who stated this in a chat with journalists, said Nigeria is naturally endowed with a lot of marine resources, adding that these resources have been left untapped over the decades thereby leading to huge economic loss.
Research, she stated, has it that Nigeria consumes about two million metric tons of fishes every year but can only produce less than 800,000 metric tons domestically thereby necessitating the importation of about 1.2 million metric tons.
She disclosed that over 70 per cent of the fishes domestically supplied are produced by small scale fishermen whose activities litter the coast line.

According to Obatola, “right now when we look at the demand and supply of fishes in Nigeria, there is still a huge deficit. The demand is almost 3million metric tons per annum, the supply is about two million metric tons and there is still a deficit of over one million including those imported and those produced within this country. We are producing about 800,000 metric tons in Nigeria. So we can see the reason we actually need to carry out activities when it comes to blue economy.

“Most of the fisheries that are exploited in Nigeria are done at the inshore waters and have consequently put a lot of pressure on the resources and negatively impacted the ecosystem via indiscriminate pollution, water contamination and other forms of illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing otherwise known as IEUs. This has translated into a situation where there are lesser catches and smaller sizes of fishes.”

She therefore, called on the government and other stakeholders to help ensure that the activities of the fishermen are regulated and managed while the deep ocean resources are tapped to help reduce pressure on the inshore waters.
Obatola further explained that various surveys conducted by the institute have shown that some rare species of fishes and other marine resources are in the Nigerian territorial waters especially at the deep oceans revealing that practicable recommendations on how they can be exploited for the economic benefits of the nation have been forwarded to the federal government.

She stressed that Nigeria could be losing about N50 billion yearly to illegal fishing and other unregulated activities of intruders at the deep oceans.
“We have carried out surveys and found out that there are resources in the deeper waters that the fishing industry can exploit so that the inshore waters would have a respite, if the pressure on them is reduced. We have other resources out there that can be exploited. As I am talking to you right now, Nigeria as a nation is not exploiting our Tuna resources but that doesn’t mean that people are not exploiting it. People come from other places to exploit them on our territorial waters.

“Apart from that, we also have what is called harima-bondi. It is the kind of fish that can replace the imported sardine; in fact it was canned in this institute just to let the industry know what can be done. Tuna was also canned in this institute years back so that the industry can go further to exploit other resources out there,” she said.

Mesopelagic Resource
The expert explained that part of the resources present in the nation’s deeper waters is the mesopelagic resource, which is very useful for the production of fish meals, noting that the major problem that has hindered aquaculture from being what it should be in Nigeria is the input.

She disclosed that fish meals constitute about 70 per cent of the running cost of an aquacultural establishment.
“Feed is very pertinent because a crucial component of that feed is fish meal and as we say right now, fish meal is mainly imported to Nigeria. So, that’s another way of getting our money out via capital flight if we are able to substantiate it now that we know we have it. Our duty is to look at the quantum because another value chain that the fishing industry can go into is getting the mesopelagic resource and turning it to the fish meal that will now be incorporated into the fish feed that the aquaculture sector uses.

“We actually have a lot of resources but it is not about just having the resources. We need to work on how we maximize or exploit them so that it will be useful for us in the country and also the artisanal sector. There is enough that can be done and we are playing our own role,” she said.

Obatola also pointed out that part of the challenges confronting deep ocean fishery in Nigeria is the inability of Nigerians to outgrow the quick coin mentality where people expect expedient gains immediately they make investments, an attitude she said would not be applicable in the fishing sector because it is a long term investment that is capital intensive.
“I think that has always the major issue with the industry because it is not the kind of trawlers that you use in inshore waters that you use there. You need bigger vessels there and when you talk about bigger vessels, of course you are talking about bigger money,” she said.
While acknowledging that some efforts have been put in place by the government, Obatola believes that more can still be done in terms of capacity building to ensure the sustainable usage of the deep ocean resource for economic growth as the blue economy concept connotes.

FG to Stop Illegal Fishing
The nefarious activity may not continue in the long term as the federal government has expressed its readiness to combat illegal fishing and other related fisheries crimes in the Nigeria’s territorial waters.
The Minister of State for Agriculture, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri stated this during a meeting with members of the Committee on the Implementation of the Harmonised Operating Procedures on Arrest, Detention and Prosecution of Vessels and Persons in Nigeria’s maritime environment led by the Chairman, Air Vice Marshall Ibrahim Shafi’i.
The minister said the document, Harmonised Operating Procedures (HSOP), launched by President Muhammmed Buhari was part of the efforts in ensuring that the Nigeria’s maritime environment is rid of all illegality including illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing.

He described the HSOP as timely and important to the ministry, adding that, it would help to combat illegal fishing in the country if properly implemented by relevant enforcement agencies.
Lokpobiri said the fisheries sub-sector was plagued with many challenges ranging from illegal exploitation of the marine fisheries resources, “particularly by foreign vessels; low catches as a result of depleted resources due to obnoxious fishing practice by fishermen and illegal sale of fish at sea by trawlers operators among other things. He said the Committee through its mandates would reduce these problems and boost socio-economic development of the country.”

He informed the committee that as part of its efforts to curb the menace, the present administration had approved the purchase of two patrol vessels to enhance effectiveness of the Monitoring, Control and Surveillance Division of Fisheries Department in the ministry, “while an additional six patrol boats were constructed by the Nigeria Navy at the Naval Dockyard, Lagos for similar purpose.”

He commended and assured the committee that his ministry would continue to support its mandates.
“I want to say the initiative is laudable, the ministry will continue to give total support. The world is paying more attention to nutrition, people eat more fish, so our demand for fish will be high and we need to produce more fish. We will continue to make use of water resources for the benefit of the masses,” he stated.

Lokpobiri urged the Nigerian Navy and other relevant agencies to improve on collaboration with Fisheries Department of the Ministry to achieve desired objectives of various fisheries laws and regulations in the country.
Chairman of the Committee, Ibrahim Shafi’i said the committee was in the ministry to sensitise the ministry on the need to cooperate and identify with the mandates of the committee to bring illegal activities in the nation’s maritime environment to the barest minimum.

While presenting the HSOP to the minister, he said the committee, which comprises members from other agencies of government such as Nigeria Navy, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Nigeria Police among others, was set up by the federal government to coordinate the arrest and detaining of persons that carry out illegal activities in the country’s maritime environment.