Aquaculture for all

Nigeria's Dependence on Fish Imports

Economics +1 more

NIGERIA - Despite an abundant endowment of human and natural resources, Nigeria depends largely on importation to meet its fish consumption needs.

Nigeria is a maritime state of about 140 million people, with a coastline measuring approximately 853 kilometres. Of the 36 states of the federation, nine are located on the coast where the waves of the Atlantic Ocean lap against the land.

With this scenario, the natural expectation is that Nigeria should not only be self-sufficient in fish production but should also be an exporter of aquatic foods. Sadly, however, Nigeria imports between 700,000 and 900, 000 metric tons of fish annually to partially meet a shortfall of 1,800,000 metric tons.

Fish is a good source of animal protein, which is essential for healthy human growth. In fact, to many Nigerians on the coastal areas, creeks and rivers, fish is their only source of protein. The shortfall has resulted in a low annual per capita consumption rate of 7.5 kg as against the 13 kg recommended by the Food and Agriculture Organisation.

In 1997 alone, for instance, Nigeria’s fish demand stood at 1.27 metric tons, and the country had to cough up about $200 million to finance importation of frozen fish. At this time of plummeting oil prices in the international market, spending such a huge amount on fish importation has left a hole in the country’s finances. It has also helped to create jobs for foreigners when there is a serious unemployment crisis in the country.

The situation has not always been like this, says Punch. Nigerians once used to supply all their fish needs without resort to importation. At the coastal regions and riverside dwellings, people used to engage in fishing as a major source of family income. The discovery of oil on commercial quantity however changed all that. Youths in the Niger Delta region took to oil-related activities in preference to fishing. Fishing suffered as part of the general neglect of agriculture in the country.

Even the few artisans left in the trade have only embraced modern methods of fishing reluctantly. At a time when commercial fishing is done with trawlers and motorised boats, some Nigerians still rely on nets and canoes for their trade. The vacuum created has been filled by foreigners who take advantage of the situation to plunder our waters illegally and sell their catches back to Nigerians at exorbitant cost.

Activities of pirates have posed the biggest challenge to fishing. They carry out attacks on trawlers and strip local fishermen of all their belongings. From four reported cases in 2003, attacks on fishing trawlers in the coastal areas of Nigeria reached 107 in 2007. In January last year alone, 50 cases were reported, resulting in 10 deaths. Incessant attacks on fishing crews caused the Nigerian Trawler Owners Association to call its fleet of over 200 trawlers and 20, 000 workers back to the shore, leading to a shortfall in fish supply.

The Nigerian Navy, combining the task of containing militants and oil bunkerers in the Niger Delta with that of checking the pirates, seems to have been overwhelmed. Gradually, fishing companies have been withdrawing their trawlers, further threatening the nation’s self-sufficiency in fish production.

The government has to provide adequate security in the coastal areas to make them safer for fishing activities. This will mean a better-equipped navy to be able to carry out water and aerial survey of the area. Efforts must also be intensified to encourage aquaculture, which has a capacity to reduce the deficit and save the country some foreign exchange. Loans at subsidised rates should also be provided to fishermen to enable them get the necessary modern equipment to be able to compete. Fishing is one of the alternatives the government should be targeting as it attempts to solve the problem of youth restiveness in the Niger Delta.

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