On April 14, 2023, stakeholders in the fishing, maritime and agricultural sector convened in Lagos to highlight the negative effects of Illegal, Unreported, Unregulated (IUU) fishing activities to the emerging blue economy of Nigeria. They also proffered actionable solutions for the Federal Government. The Maritime Business Roundtable Breakfast Meeting (MBRBM) on Fishing and Fisheries was organized by Zoe Maritime Resources Limited. At the meeting, President of Nigerian Trawler Owners Association (NITOA), Mrs. Benedette Okonkwo, noted that IUU fishing poses a direct threat to food security and socioeconomic stability in Nigeria and other parts of the world.
According to her, developing countries that depend on fisheries for food security and export suffer from the depletion of marine resources. She said it also reduces the chances of providing adequate measures for the sustenance of the ecosystem and the biodiversity of the marine environment. She urged the Federal Government to do more to grow the fishing industry in Nigeria. For instance, she stated that there is the need to establish a Fisheries Terminal in Lagos where about 95 percent of the industrial fishing operators are based.
Nigeria’s blue economy has deteriorated in the last few decades.
Part of Mrs. Okonkwo’s plea to the government is to resuscitate the Export Expansion Grant (EEG) Scheme to make it more robust, workable and transparent. She said NITOA has been involved in industrial fishing activities in Nigeria since 1986. This was also when some notable Nigerians initiated the idea of having a unified body to represent its members on issues of mutual interest with a combined fleet of over 250 vessels and over twenty fishing companies. These had drastically reduced to 150 vessels with about five presently struggling to survive.
The World Bank defines the blue economy as the “sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem.” In fact, a United Nations representative defined it as an economy that comprises a range of economic sectors and related policies that together determine whether the use of ocean resources is sustainable. One important challenge posed to the blue economy is understanding and better management of the many aspects of oceanic sustainability, ranging from sustainable fisheries to ecosystem health to preventing pollution.
Only 160 fishing trawlers are flagged in Nigeria.
Mrs. Okonkwo lamented that trawler operators are burdened with overzealous government agencies overseeing sea fishing. She said that it appeared detrimental to the growth of the industry as a veritable source of local fish supply and foreign exchange earnings for the country. She said the government needs to collaborate with NITOA to chart a common course so as to harmonize the processes and procedures to attract more local and foreign direct investments. She mentioned some other areas that the government must consider, which include: the high cost of statutory registration and renewals of trawlers particulars from the regulatory agencies; occasional pirate attacks at high sea leading to loss of lives and property as well as damage to vessels and machines; and that the relevant research institutes should redirect their focus towards stock assessment.
Also speaking at the meeting was the Secretary General of Women in Maritime of West and Central Africa (WIMoWCA), Mrs. Nneka Obiayor. She stated that only 160 fishing trawlers are registered and flagged in Nigeria, which is way below what Nigeria used to have several years ago. A fishing trawler is a commercial fishing vessel designed to operate fishing trawls. Trawling is simply a method of fishing that involves actively dragging or pulling a trawl (fishing net) through the water behind one or more trawlers. However, the agency now has a collaboration with department of fisheries at the Ministry of Agriculture, and before any fishing trawler is brought for registration, necessary documents must be obtained from the ministry. She also said it is mandatory now that any vessel with over 100 gross tonnages must have an IMO number, without which it cannot fly the Nigerian flag.
Constant local demand for fish outweighs its supply.
The Chairman, Zoe Maritime Resources Limited, Mrs. Oritsematosan Edodo-Emore, opined that Nigeria’s vast coastline and her Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) has immeasurable fish resources which ordinarily should transform her economy if properly harnessed. Records show that with a population of about 140 million, local demand for fish far outweighs the supply. This means that there is constant demand for fish and fish products which should keep the local fishing industry prospering. But the reality is different. There has been a steady decline in local catch and production of fish in Nigeria. IUU fishing has been listed as responsible for these negative effects. She argued that as Nigeria begins to develop her blue economy, the challenges of IUU fishing must be tackled head-on.