Nigeria’s internal fish production is not enough to meet its annual demand of 2.7 million tons, with a current deficit of 1.9 million metric tons reported.
Aquaculture is an environment in which Nigeria is heavily dependent on imports due to a variety of factors, including security in the north-east, access to food, piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, lack of government input, among others.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has found that more than 13 million Nigerian children are affected by chronic malnutrition, according to The Guardian, 59 million Nigerians are malnourished and about 45 percent of deaths among children under the age of 5 are related to malnutrition.
Confidence Owamninaemi, Analyst at SBM, revealed to Nairametrics the current state of Nigeria’s fish production and what needs to be done from a regulatory point of view to improve Nigeria’s protein diet through fishing.
What is the current state of Nigeria’s local fish production and demand for fish?
Nigeria’s current fish production stands at 0.8million metric tons with a deficit of 1.9 million metrics tons of fish, as local demand for the protein is 2.7 million tons annually. $1.2 billion worth of fish is being imported annually into the country, according to the CBN.
What has been the impact of increasing insecurity to local production to the North East?
Contrary to what many people think, the local fish economy is mostly from the North East and North West. When the Boko Haram insurgency began and the military high command banned fishing activities in the region and around Lake Chad, we didn’t really feel the impact because the situation in the North West was not out of control at the time.
What can be expected to supply with the environmental impact of fishing in the Niger Delta?
With the insecurity that has befallen both regions and the coastal areas suffering from oil spills, it’s really dark days ahead. Despite the resumption of fishing activities in the North East, the region is still jointly controlled by the Islamic State and the rogue elements from the Nigeria Army. Nigeria’s internal fish production is so little that with the rise of insecurity and environmental degradation in the Niger Delta, not much has been felt by the market. However, Nigeria will need alternative sources of protein if the insecurity persists in 2021.
What steps can be taken to boost fish production in the North East and drive prices down?
The Military needs to stop acting as a barrier to the fish farmers looking for permits to farm in the Lake Chad region, and they should up the fight to drive terrorists from the area to boost fishing activities in the area. On this issue, if they are serious, they’d get the military in these areas to stop destroying fish baskets on their way to the market, because they didn’t get ‘permit’ from soldiers. They’d also clear the Lake from ISWAP, which places a heavy tax duty on farmers, thus making fish prices to go up. Getting a food grant from the UN is one thing, putting your house in order to get the best of the grant and your local economy is another.
Are the security forces doing enough to assure the safety of stakeholders in fish production while they go about their businesses?
The insurgency persisted this long because of the absence of political will to see the war to its end. For 8 consecutive years, the defense ministry has had the largest share of national budgets and each time, towards the end of the year, the military and the insurgents settle for a stalemate. It tells you all you need to know. If the facilities are nonexistent, PMC’s and MERCS should be brought in. The question is, would they be allowed to finish the job?
Should the idea of regional fish production be explored as a way to boost supply?
With a deficit of 1.9 million metric tons, no region in Nigeria has the present facilities to lead production across the nation. Only two regions are not involved in significant fish production – north central and southeast. Despite 4 regions being involved, not one can claim a monopoly. I don’t know if it’s a good thing, but with recent events, your guess is as good as mine.
How do you propose Nigeria tackles the issue of piracy and increasing insecurity to maximize production capacity?
Nigeria needs to work on a joint coalition to deal with the piracy problem in the Gulf of Guinea. This brings us back to question of insecurity. I’d have advocated for economic cooperation in the Gulf of Guinea by countries bordering it to encourage large scale fishing activities, but piracy. To tackle the menace of piracy, the Deep Blue Project must be effectively launched. Not just rhetoric, launch it and let it be operational. Also, like the MNJTF, there should be an international coalition of the Gulf countries to tackle piracy collectively. Nigeria should adopt the “subsistence agriculture” method of fish farming and approach fish farming from a scale higher to mechanized fishing, with the use of modern technology to maximize impact.
An overview of the existing challenges in moving from small scale fishing to ocean fishing
One problem affecting Nigeria’s internal fish production is the fact Nigeria is not maximizing its access to the Atlantic Ocean. Data from some of the biggest seafood companies including MOWI ASA, with revenue of € 4.1 billion in 2019; Maruha Nichiro, over $8 billion 2019; Thai Union Group, $4.1 billion; Trident Seafoods, $2.6 billion in 2019; revealed one common thing – the location of the shipping/ fishing operations and aquaculture farms are mostly situated close to the oceans.
Nigeria’s access to this scale of fishing operations is largely affected by piracy. International Maritime Bureau (IMB) figures show a rise in piracy and armed robbery on the world’s seas in the first nine months of 2020, with a 40% increase in the number of kidnappings reported in the Gulf of Guinea.
In October, in its Global Piracy Reports, the IMB detailed 132 attacks since the start of 2020, up from 119 incidents in the same period last year. Of the 85 seafarers kidnapped from their vessels and held for ransom, 80 were taken in the Gulf of Guinea – in 14 attacks reported off Nigeria, Benin, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Ghana.
On 17 July 2020, eight pirates armed with machine guns boarded a product tanker underway around 196 nautical miles southwest of Bayelsa, Nigeria. They held all 19 crew members hostage, stole ship’s documents and valuable items, and escaped with 13 kidnapped crew members. The tanker was left drifting with limited and unqualified navigational and engine crew onboard. A nearby merchant vessel later helped the tanker to sail to a safe port. Regional Authorities were notified and the 13 kidnapped crewmembers were released safely one month later.
On December 20, Maersk was attacked off the West African coast. Bloomberg reported that the Maersk Cadiz was boarded by ‘criminals’ on Saturday at about 2:30pm Nigerian time while traveling from Tema in Ghana to Kribi in Cameroon. Nigerian naval ships have arrived to help the vessel, which can transport the equivalent of as many as 4,500 twenty-foot containers.
Despite a global decline in piracy in 2019, attacks have continued in the Gulf of Guinea this year, especially off Nigeria’s coast. These piracy activities have heavily impacted Nigeria’s abilities to maximize access to the ocean for seafood production and farming.
The Nigeria local fishing hubs have been heavily impacted by insecurity in the northeast and environmental degradation in the Niger Delta.
Also, Nigeria does not have a policy geared at taking advantage of Nigeria’s ocean waters for seafood fishing and aquatic farming like the global seafood companies do.
Hence, Nigeria will remain very dependent on fish imports for a long time if the issue of piracy at the Gulf of Guinea is not solved.