….says Chinese, Russians illegally fishing on territorial waters
By Gabriel Ewepu
ABUJA – THE Federal Government yesterday, expressed worry over shortfall in fish supply following high demand of the commodity recently.
The Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, made this known during a meeting with the national committee on Harmonised Standard Operating Procedures, HSOP, at the Ministry’s headquarters in Abuja.
Lokpobiri further stated that the nation’s fish demand stands at 3 million metric tonnes while production has been at about 1.1mmt, which has become a great concern and challenge 2mmt gap to meet fish demand and consumption.
He also described the HSOP document as brilliant and long overdue that would go a long way to find solution to the bedevilling problems faced by operators in the fisheries sub-sector if properly implemented and would save the nation from huge foreign exchange used importing fishery products.
The HSOP is a committee made up of several government agencies that was launched January 26, 2017, with the mandates to seek for cooperation, collaboration and coordination of activities on arrest, detention and prosecution of persons and vessels in the nation’s maritime environment.
He said: “Our fisheries requirement in this country is over 3 million metric tons, but what we produce now is just about 1.1 million metric tons. We still have a gap of about 2 million metric tons. Right now, we spend perhaps close to a billion to import fish.”
Meanwhile, the Minister decried the activities of illegal fishing companies invading the territorial waters of the country, and traced it to inadequate policing of the nation’s waters by the appropriate authorities.
“Our territorial waters are not policed to prevent illegal unregistered fishing. The Chinese, Russians and others are coming to Nigerian territorial waters and freely fishing. Everyday vessels come here, but everybody believes that, in Nigeria, you can bribe your way. So, they come with some dollars.
They bribe your officers who are on the high sea, and then they fish as much as they want and they go back.
“Illegal fishing also poses a lot of danger to our own local fishermen and women. We don’t have the capacity to police or provide security for them. It is the Nigerian Navy that should do that. But the Nigerian Navy has too many challenges and has not been able to police our very long coastal waterways.
“Part of the reports we got is that you hardly will see vessels that are arrested and brought to Nigeria on account of fishing illegally without permit on our territorial waters.
“In Liberia, on internationally agreed rates, vessels in their territorial waters that are arrested and detained because they don’t have requisite permit, will pay a minimum of $250,000. Nigeria certainly needs a lot more dollars now that petro-dollars are drying up”, he stated.
Speaking in the same chairman of the committee, Air Vice Marshal Ibrahim Shafi’i, noted that corruption was the major factor giving illegal fishing companies the impetus to continue their criminal activities on the nation’s territorial waters.
“There are so many illegal activities cutting across all the agencies that are represented in the HSOP. Often, you find lack of cooperation even between sister agencies. Several times, you find that people don’t collaborate, even where they are supposed to assist each other in carrying out their assignments.
“Generally, there is lack of coordination of activities. Almost everybody is on his own, prompting the federal government to set up a body that would coordinate to produce document that everybody will be aware of, and involving all the agencies that have anything to do, either with arresting, or detaining or prosecuting persons that carry out illegal activities in our environment”, he stated.