Inside Nigeria’s troubled fishing waters

Nigeria Fish - IllustrationDespite Nigeria’s rich aquatic flora and fauna, the country spends a whopping s N198billion annually to import fish. This is not due to the diminishing aquatic life but is a result of socioeconomic policies, insecurity in the waterways amongst other things, which have turned the once thriving fishery business into a no-go area for prospective investors. In this report, Charles Okonji examines the issues 

This is certainly not the best of times for players in the fishery sub-sector and the reason is not far to seek: the boom associated with the business is gone as local players are practically struggling to remain in the once thriving business.

An eye opener

Orianu Igbasanmi is a fish farmer from Ilaje in Ondo State, who in a manner of speaking was born into fishing business by virtue of his parents being fish farmers themselves. Like his father, Orianu has traversed nearly all the coastlines within the South West and South South, plying his trade.
Sharing his experience in the last 10 years, he says business has been anything but lucrative.

Expatiating, Orianu who used to have three fishing trawlers lamented that these have been out of use since due to lull in business, coupled with other problems, clearly beyond his control.

Orianu is not alone. Things are no longer what it used to be in the sector  which hitherto held a lot of promise.

The devil is in the details 

According to the data obtained from International Trade Statistics (ITS), the country’s annual fish import is on the increasingly alarming. ITS statistics shows that in 2018 alone, the country total import bill on fish hit N198.5 billion ($543.92 million). For this reason, smuggling activities in the sector and insecurity and sea piracy kept the Nigerian fish sector below expectation.

Dissecting issues in the sector

An expert in fisheries and aquaculture with
decades of experience in the Nigerian fishing and aquatic terrain, Remi Ahmed, the MD/CEO, Choice Fisheries Co. Ltd has blamed the woes of the sector on poor policy formulations and weak enforcement.
In an interview with The Nation, he said, “If you take look at Nigeria’s population today, it is over 200 million, which is very important to fish production and consumption. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended that an average person should eat 20 kilograms of fish annually. If we have to eat up to 20 kilograms of fish on the average, then we should be aiming at producing up to 4.4 million metric ton per annum, but at the moment, we are only producing 700,000 tons per annum.

“You could see the deficit. Just like I introduced on what we were producing on only one plant and that is CHI in 1996 up to the year 2001. But all of a sudden it went down the drain. This mishap was as a result of poor policy implementation and management pattern.”

Ahmed said 

We have been agitating for proper policy framework and implementation in the sector but to no avail. Though I have been striving to get involved with the constituted committee in several occasions when the policy are been drafted for aquaculture in this country. We have been canvassing for what we call road stock bank. What we mean by road stock banking is where you get a very veritable parent stock of fish. And when you produce with it, it will grow faster and bigger, it will be decisively free and everything will be alright. You convert the feeds very well.

When I was with CHI, the feed we were using was not imported; we produced it ourselves and majorly from our factory waste and this was because the plant was into production of chicken. A lot of broiler, drenched daily, produced daily as well as shrimps bill which we used to the produce for export. So from this a lot of waste is generated, which includes the chicken blood, intestine, the head and so on gets into our feeds.

The growth I can tell you is that in 16 weeks, we normally have 1.2kg by the year 2001 when the stakeholders were canvassing for the so called broods stock bank, which is not yet there. It is not easy for a practitioner to go into research of rearing broods stock because, a lot of inputs go into it, right from selection, taking good ones and discard the bad ones and so on. Like I used to tell people in those days, when we were producing fingerlings (baby fishes), the last badge we normally flush it into the gutter.

I challenge all the fish farmers in Nigeria today, nobody is doing that. These are the ones we know will not perform very well in terms of growth, and they the ones that will attract infections and diseases. For such stuck, all of them are been stocked and what we have for it is not encouraging. However, in the same period of 16weeks we normally have 1.2kg but at present, we can only boast of  getting up to 400gram.

This ugly trend has continued until most stakeholders started believing that made in Nigeria feed is not good enough, so we went into massive importation of made foreign fish meal. As you can see the cost of bringing it down to the country pushes.

Poor regulation on quality

Again, due to absence of proper quality inspections and regulations; the producers of these imported feed send to us substandard quality, hence, majority of these imported feeds are not what the manufacturers are claiming. Most of them claim that feed conversion ratio of 1:0 and when you carry out trial test on them you will discover that majority of them will fail the confirmatory test, and some of them are very comfortable in this feed conversion ratio of 1:3 which is to say, if you give 1.3kg then you can only realise 1kg of flesh. Whereas, when I was doing it at CHI, we achieved 980 gram, I normally have 1kg flesh. I proved it in France and it was seen as a black man doing miracle. So, all these imported feeds kept coming into the country, but businessmen kept importing and kept making business out of it.  They don’t care whether the feed is capable of growing fish or not. I remember the top breedist plant in Lagos has gone underground. What killed this plant is imported feeds. If you see these feeds, it looks like tablet you can swallow, it is very neat.

The nutritional content of these imported feed is not suitable for catfish and some other species. It will always lead to low productivity and loss of funds at the long run.

Bridging the huge supply gap

It can only be bridged if our national  fishing routes are adequately protected, and the trawlers well secured. It is also very important to note that longstanding fish farmers should be drafted into the boards that formulate regulatory policies for the sector for a positive growth.

For instance, I started the modern aquaculture and fishery in this country when I was working for CHI, the makers of Caprison and Chivita. In the plant owned by CHI, we were producing 400 tons per annum and all of a sudden the whole thing went down and we were struggling to get half of that produced.

When you talk of the aquaculture level or production in the fishery industry in this country today, we don’t have good data system, but like what the Minister have been quoting that we are producing 0.7billion metric ton per annum.

You can recall that Ben Harley, a fish producing company formerly at Ijora, crashed out of business as a result of bad fish meal that was imported and the company went into debt. Though, it was doing very well before the advent of massive importation of substandard foreign fish feed.

Notwithstanding trade restrictions on the sector, fish import from Japan increased to $48.6 million, indicating 97.8 percent upward movement. Similarly, Nigeria import bill from Norway in 2018 stood at $12.78 million.

With data provided by the ITS it was discovered that the nation’s total global fish imports hit N198.5 billion ($543.92 million) in 2018.

It was gathered that Pacific mackerel from Japan, which was $500 per tonne, has forced prices of Norwegian fish down by 67 percent from $1,500per tonne.

Fish import 

The document reports that Japan’s fish exports to Nigeria rose from $1.04 million or 2.14 percent in 2016 to $48.62 million (97.8 per cent) in 2018.

The total global supplies of pelagic fish to the country are expected to reach between 20 million and 21 million metric tonnes in 2019.

Statistics by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) revealed that three of the vessels had berthed with 3,509.3 tonnes at Rivers Port in Port Harcourt, while seven were at Lagos Port Complex with 27,316 tonnes.

At the Port Harcourt Port Complex are MV Delta Reefer with 1,191.71 tonnes, MV Libra, 747.751 and Super Maritime, 1,569.84 tonnes. Also, at the Apapa Bulk Terminal Limited (ABTL), Lagos Port are Nova Zeelandia with 3,900 tonnes and Green Klipper, 3,000 tonnes. Other vessels laden with 10, 409 tonnes at ENL Consortium terminal at Lagos Port are MV Runaway Bay with 5,631 tonnes; Frio Las Palmas, 4,130 tonnes; Baltic Forward, 5,355 tonnes; Sierra Laurel, 4,000 tonnes and Orange Spirit, 1,300 tonnes.

However the Federal Department of Fisheries (FDF) stated that the total demand for fish in the country was over 3.6 million tonnes, while domestic production was 1.027 million tonnes, stating that Nigeria’s fish deficit was 2.233 million tonnesper annum.

According to FBNQuest Capital, not much is earned from the aquatic sector of the nation’s economy. Aquaculture has continued an integral part of Nigeria’s agriculture sector, with annual fish demand estimated at 3.3 million metric tons (mmt).

The FBNQuest Capital explained that the present fish consumption level of the country (1.2mmt), which led to increased import bill necessitated government intervention.

The report states; “The sector continues to suffer from poor access to credit and based on the credit extension data for Q2 2018 as agriculture received just 3.5 percent of total credit allocation. The nation’s accounts for Q2 2018, fisheries contracted by -1.3 percent y/y, compared with a growth of 4.2 percent recorded in the previous quarter, accounting for 2.1 percent of total agricultural GDP in Q2.

“Nigeria’s per capita fish consumption is 13kg, significantly lower than the global average of 21kg.

“In addition, it said industrial (trawling) fish farming accounted for only 7 percent of the total, indicating that commercial fisheries segment is still largely untapped.

“The harsh business environment has slowed fishing activity; the cost of trawling has more than doubled over the past few years due to high operational costs.”


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