Fishery Resources, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri is the Minister of State for Agriculture. During the just concluded 10th Ministerial Conference of the Fisheries Committee of the West Central Gulf of Guinea in Abuja, he told Daily Trust on Sunday that Nigeria’s biggest problem was the smuggling activities along the border with Benin Republic.
You said Nigeria had concluded arrangements to buy two vessels to police it coastlines. How will that contribute to the development of fishery in the country?
Out of the six countries in the Gulf of Guinea, Nigeria has the largest and longest coastline – about 854km. Sometime last year, there was an approval by the Federal Government for us to buy two vessels to tackle illegal fishing activities within the Gulf of Guinea. Basically, you know the Fisheries Committee for the West Central Gulf of Guinea (FCWC) was set up 10 years ago, basically for tackling the problem.
The Gulf of Guinea has been the zone where people from all over the world come to invade our fishery resources. You know that fishery is a very good business. Today, nations get billions of dollars from fishery export. The vessels we are buying may not extend to Lake Chad because it is going to be basically to collaborate with other countries within the Gulf of Guinea to tackle the illegal, unregistered and unregulated fishery activities.
From our records, we have not even harvested two per cent of our fishery resources, and we don’t have the capacity to also monitor and protect our territory. I was in Liberia last year to attend the same meeting of the Fisheries Committee of the Gulf of Guinea. The vice president of Liberia said they had been able to prevent illegal fishing by 82 per cent in Liberia with a budget of less than $1billion. Nigeria has no choice than to do that. However, our coastlines are the longest, that is why we cannot do it alone; we have to collaborate with them. And the collaboration has actually worked so effectively that we are only losing to those who are coming to feast on our fishery resources.
When these vessels are purchased, would the problems in the Gulf of Guinea be tackled? What does Nigeria stand to gain?
You know we still have a deficit of 2.1 million metric tonnes of our national demand for fishery, which is 3.2 million. If these vessels are acquired, it would make our coastlines safe. Right now, the fleet of vessels fishing within our shorelines have also increased. We have been able to license many fishing companies since I came on board as the minister in charge of fisheries.
The number has increased from less than 100 to 155. That is because we have been able to move.
You don’t need to know me for you to get your licence signed. What I want is more vessels in the Nigerian waters to add more value to the fishing industries. Any investment we make now will make this area safer for these fishing vessels to go as far as they can to exploit our resources and keep reducing the deficit we have.
Half of the 1.1million metric tonnes we have today as our local production is from our industrial fishermen. And they won’t go into the fresh water or high sea. So the more vessels we have, the more we reduce our deficit, and the more foreign exchange we get.
Fish business is big. We haven’t even harvested up to 2per cent. That’s a huge lost. The reason why a lot of our fishing vessels are packed up is because of insecurity.
The last administration gave waivers to importers of fish; is this government doing the same?
We don’t give any waiver. But we have to regulate the level of importation of fishery resources into the country. To import 1million metric tonnes we need about a billion dollars. When we came on board, we realised that we needed to partner with customs so that we could find a sustainable way to keep reducing the import.
For you to enjoy more quantity of fishery resources we should also do a continuous investment in aqua culture. Some of these farms in Oyo State, South-South and some other parts of the country came as a result of the policy, which encourages backward integration.
The idea of giving people waivers is gone forever.
The last administration frowned at the importation of unwholesome frozen fishes into the country. Would you say that such activity has stopped?
Anyone who imports frozen fish without obtaining a licence is guilty and will pay a fine of $250.
We also know that the fish imported with our quarter come basically through the seaports, which is subjected to good quality control.
I mentioned in the conference that we are having issues with Benin Republic, where most of those frozen fish and poultry products they preserve with formalin are smuggled. I called on other member countries to see how we could tackle the issues.
But is important to point out that the fish that are allowed to be imported are not within our country. Fish like mackerel will be allowed to come in, but we are not going to allow anybody to bring catfish because we are the largest producers of catfish, perhaps in Africa.
We have a duty as government to bridge the gap of 2.1million metric tonnes. It is just too wide, and we can’t achieve that overnight. So what we do is that we give you quarter and encourage you to go and do fish farming also.
Are there plans to take a legal action against Benin Republic over smuggling activities?
There is a presidential committee headed by the vice president to see how we can resolve it through diplomatic ways. I’m a member of that committee.
I remember that sometime ago, former President Olusegun Obasanjo forcefully closed the border between Nigeria and Benin Republic. That action led to an agreement between both countries. We are following what is contained in that agreement by giving them notices of refraction from this unwholesome smuggling.
Even America has not been able to successfully eliminate smuggling. Even if we reduce smuggling by 20 per cent, you would see the corresponding impact on our economy.
You said Nigeria had a deficit of 2.1milllion metric tonnes. I discovered that recently, Nigerians went into the production of more fishery resources; how do we get the current data.
I just told you that sometimes is it good to break it down. That was why I gave an example of 10,000 metric tonnes , that is 328 containers. And you know that population growth is geometric.
There are global standards of calculating these figures, and I am not the one who calculated it. These data may not be accurate. It may be more, but what we are saying is that within the last two years, fish production has increased. We have added a lot more vessels to our fleets in Nigeria. We have also recorded tremendous increment in aquaculture investment. We will sustain the current policy of getting quarter in port, supported by technicians. So I believe you can probe further on the accuracy of the data. I can’t speak about that, I am only using the data available.
What should smallholder fish farmers in the country expect in 2018?
We have always supported fish farmers within the limit of budget. Whatever the government does is what is appropriated in the budget.
I believe that by 2018, fish farmers would get a normal support across the rural value chain. We will support them with input. We are also supplying them with equipment.
Few weeks ago, we distributed smoking kilns to some of our people who are into aquaculture. We believe there were a lot of post-harvest loses, particularly those within the rural areas. And there is no ready market, so we are distributing smoking kilns. We are going to be doing about 2,000 smoking kilns, and each of them can take about 500 to 1,000 fishes. We will give them to cooperatives. And it uses firewood, which is cheap for them to operate. We will support them with fingerlings and extension services.