By Godwin Oritse
The nation’s harsh operating environment has impacted heavily on the fishing sector of the maritime industry with about 120 fishing vessels taken to lay bays, a mortuary for ships.
Investigation by Vanguard MaritimeReports also show large number of fishery businesses have closed shops, with operators saying that cost of trawling grew over the years such that some fish trawling companies could no longer survive.
Industry leaders disclosed that about 15 years ago, members of the Nigerian Trawlers Owners Association, NITOA, had a total of 350 vessels managed by 45 trawling companies. But the number has reduced to about 230vessels (52% down) as at this year with only ten trawling firms operating indicating almost 37 percent decline.
Consequently, currently about 4,000 direct jobs and 500,000 indirect jobs in the industry value chain are threatened.
Also threatened is the investments in infrastructure and equipment valued at about N155 billion.
These adversities have now been compounded by loss of crewmen, equipment and materials to pirate attacks.
President of NITOA, Mr. Amire Akinbola, a former Director of Fisheries in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, toldVanguard Maritime Report that the adverse development was because the sub-sector has long been neglected.
Earlier this month in Calabar, Cross Rivers State, Akinbola said that the sub-sector has helped to create small and medium scale industries, especially in the areas of vessel repairs, packaging, and net manufacturing.
According to him, the sector was also adjudged as the fourth highest foreign exchange earner in the non-oil export category by the Nigerian Export Promotion Council, NEPC.
But he also stated: “Though the industrial fishing sub-sector in Nigeria is capable of supplying 35 percent of local fish demand from resources available, it is currently only able to meet just 10 percent of the demand due to various challenges that have frustrated the development of the sub-sector.
“Are you telling me that Honeywell does not have money to maintain vessels? Honeywell used to own Honeywell Fisheries just across the water followed by Taraba fishing owned by General Theophilus Danjuma. Both have folded up.
“About ten years ago, there were about 45 fishing companies which have reduced to about ten today for these reasons.
“In 2007 to early 2008, all the fish trawling companies in this country withdrew their vessels from operation simply because of the high incidence of piracy.
“Across the country, we have people connected within the value chain to the fish trawling business; they are not less than half a million, (500,000),” he added.
He explained that the cost of diesel to run both the vessels and other machinery has gone up astronomically and this development has negatively impacted on the fisheries sub-sector.
Akinbola also told Vanguard Maritime Report that the proposed fishing terminal slated to be built at phase 11 of the Kirikiri Lighter Terminal has run into a hitch as other people are using the place.
He added that until the place is vacated, the move to create a fishing terminal will continue to be a dream.
In addition to these adversities Akinbola also warned against over-exploitation of the nation’s aquatic resources such that the country may experience depleted marine resources.
“The products that are being harvested are only renewable and as such should be sustainably and rationally managed if not at a point you get to over exploitation to the extent you now have depleted resources.”
Speaking against the backdrop of alleged invasion of Nigeria’s territorial waters by illegal foreign fishing trawlers Akinbola stated: “There has to be a rational management of the aquatic resource for sustainability, otherwise somebody will just come and harvest everything in two-three years and there will nothing left.”
On other difficulties facing the sub-sector he stated: “Issues of piracy, issues of armed sea robbery, and the high cost of diesel were other major headaches that the Nigerian fish trawling firms could not cope with.
“Once upon a time one litre of diesel was 11kobo and a tanker vessel was about N4,000. So the high cost of diesel drove a lot of people away.”
A fishery consultant, Mrs. Abiodun Oritsejemine Cheke, also told Vanguard Maritime Report that the fish trawling business is currently comatose adding that it is one industry that needs to be subsidized.
She disclosed that the sub-sector contributes 4.5 percent to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product, GDP, lamenting that there is no laboratory for aquaculture in Nigerian.
Cheke noted that there is a lot for government to do in terms of funding so as to ensure that fishing products from Nigeria are allowed in the international market.
She also disclosed that there are no specialists at the Federal Department of Fisheries.
Cheke said that another major challenge that the industry is facing is the issue of foreign fish trawlers sneaking into Nigerian waters at night and moving out in the early hours of the morning.
“As at today we do not have any fishery economist, we do not have any Agricultural economist at the Federal Department of Fisheries.
“If Nigeria wants to drive its export in agriculture, the staff and entrepreneurs must go out to know what is done in other climes.
“We also have the invasion of foreign fishing vessels from Europe especially in the Bonny area to fish our shrimps and lobsters during the night and they now sneak away in the early hours of the morning.
“Some of these trawlers claim to be from the Economic Community of West Africa, ECOWAS and I know we do not have such agreement with any country to come and fish in our waters.
In agriculture, fisheries contribute the highest in terms of value, for the export sector; it has been contributing $50million annually as revenue.
“The government has to weigh in to save the industry from total collapse if they are serious about diversifying the economy.
“If care is not taken all the people currently employed by the fishing sector, more than 500,000 people may be made redundant.”
Responding to the challenges affecting the fisheries sub-sector, Mr. Istafanous Pwaspo, a Deputy Director at the Fisheries Department at the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, said that the federal government is very much aware of the challenges in that sector adding that what needs to be done to resolve the issues were already being done.
Pwaspo told Vanguard Maritime Report that there is a collaboration between the Department, fish trawler operators and the Nigerian Navy to provide security for them.
“We are working with the relevant agencies that will assist us in resolving some of the problems we are facing in this sector.
“Government is addressing these challenges in every sub-sector of the industrial sector and every year government makes plans to address these challenges.
“The government is also tackling the issue of foreign vessels that come to fish in our waters as we collaborate with both the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, and the Interpol to tackle this invasion.
Reacting to the development, a former ship Captain, Mr. Thomas Kemewerigha, said that the fishing trawling sub-sector is gone due to neglect by the government.
The government, according to Kemewerigha, have failed the sector and that is why the sector itself has failed.
He stated: “This sector is the only sector that is regulated by two Ministries, the Ministries of Transport by way of the personnel on board and Agriculture by way of harvest and catches of marine resources.
“The increase of fishing license fees is also another issue being faced by the operators in this sector.
“If only the authorities will listen and do what is needed to be done and save the sector from total collapse.”
Captain Fola Ojutalayo, a lecturer at the School of Fisheries and Oceanography in Lagos, suggested that the government can put the fishery sub-sector back on track if it has the political will to do so.
Ojutalayo suggested that the government should set up a special force that secure the water and keep the trawlers in business.