By Godfrey Bivbere
Foreigners have been accused of deliberately collapsing the local fish trawling business and illegally taking over the business.
Some operators who spoke with Vanguard explained that the fish trawling business was huge and responsible for the employment of thousands of Nigerian youths as well as contributing to the economy of the nation in the early 80’s up till early 2000’s.
They observed that this trend changed when foreigners became interested in that sector of the economy and began to sponsor attacks on local fish trawlers operating in the country with the intention to hijack the business.
Local operators blame the attacks on pirates who take over their ships, steal valuable properties and harvest by the crew after weeks at sea.
A source in one of the fish trawling companies, who spoke on condition of anonymity told Vanguard that the attacks were carried out by paid mercenaries who made it difficult for local fish trawling companies to operate.
The source explained that in some cases, the attackers inflict serious injuries on the crew to discourage them from sailing. This, the source pointed out, resulted in many seafarers on board fish trawlers abandoning sailing career.
Reacting to the above, immediate past President of the Nigerian Trawler Owners Association, NITOA, Margaret Orakwusi, told Vanguard that she did not think that the attacks are orchestrated by foreigners because the attacks occurred sporadically to different operators both Nigerians and foreigners alike.
She, however, noted that the accusation cannot be entirely ruled out because a situation where strange vessels come into the nation’s territorial waters to poach fish illegally should serve as a pointer to the above claim.
According to her, “I do not think it is possible because it will be wrong to say that attacks are planned to see Nigerians out of the business because the attacks happened indiscriminately to both Nigerians and non- Nigerians alike. I think that it is a maritime security issue. That is how I see it.
“However, the fact that we have strange vessels that come in and poach in our waters gives room for suspicion and such vessels should be arrested. I will agree with you because there has been an increase in the number of vessels committing such crimes, it is against our laws to have people coming here to fish indiscriminately and steal our natural resources.”
On the effect of piracy on fish trawling business, the former President of NITOA said that continued pirate attacks have forced a lot of indigenous operators out of the business. She noted that the number of companies operating in the sector in 2005/06 was about 39 but the number has drastically reduced to nine by 2014.
According to her, “Fish trawling is a capital- intensive project and it also brings the much needed foreign exchange. There was a time the industry ranked second to the oil industry in foreign exchange earnings; I will like to see us go back to that period.
“In 2005/06, we had about 250 trawlers, by year 2014, we had 124. When we were really booming, we had about 35 companies operating in the sector but over the years, it has reduced to just nine.
“It’s just like the sea pirate attacks; most of the attacks are not being reported. Probably out of frustration by the owners of the vessels. You know when you continuously report and nothing is happening and the victims are not helped, nobody comes to their aid either financially or otherwise and you look at it and you say well, if you can keep up with the whole situation, you remain in the business or you just get out.
“That is why the number of trawlers has drastically reduced and they are still reducing but then, that is why some of us are happy about what is happening to the price of oil, there must be diversification.
“The fishing industry is not just one industry that feeds our people with quality and rich protein products but it is an industry that can offer employment to a lot of people.
It is an industry that can also assist in the growth of auxiliary industries that we use their services,” she concluded.
Recently, some vessels belonging to Mid Atlantic Nigeria Ltd were arrested for illegal fishing activities. The arrest was carried out by Nigerian Navy under the supervision of the Federal Department of Fisheries, FDF, in Lagos.
Speaking during the inspection of the arrested vessels, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, warned illegal fishing trawlers operating on Nigeria’s waters to stop their activities.
The seizure of the vessels, belonging to Mid Atlantic Nigeria Ltd., was ordered by the Minister at Brawa Ports because the company had not renewed its licence to fish in 2014.
“Every vessel in the Nigerian waters must carry along its valid licence to fish in the sea.
“It is such companies as Mid Atlantic that drive away our fishermen from our waters and create unemployment.
“You must comply with the law because the days of illegal business in our waters are over,” Adesina said