A Fisheries Consultant for Norwegian Seafood Council, Abiodun Cheke has said that Nigeria loses an estimated $20 million annually to illegal fishing by foreigners. An estimated 50 lives are also said to be lost annually through the sinking of fishermen’s boats and outright shootings by sea pirates.
In a chat with SHIPS & PORTS DAILY last week, Ms Cheke said, “There are loss of lives, maybe on the average we lose about 50 people in a year; that is the documented figure and it was also given by the villagers. In terms of value of the shrimps and prawns, I would say we are losing up to $20million a year. The foreign vessels fishing illegally on our waters are predominantly Chinese.”
The Fisheries Consultant highlighted some of the crimes perpetrated on the waterways and lamented that the war against illegal fishing might not be won without adequate patrol vessels.
She said, “There is a lot of transshipment of product at sea and the problem of people coming in illegally on a fishing boat into the country without immigration knowledge and smuggling through fishing boats.
“Nigeria has no patrol vessels to check this crime. We have informed the Navy to assist but you know Naval boats are so heavy that they cannot match the speed of the foreign fishing trawlers. A lot of these things occur in Bonny areas, Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
“We cannot say how often it happens but we know that it takes place mostly at midnight from the report of villagers in seaside communities in Rivers State.”
However, the Acting Command Information Officer, Eastern Naval Command, Calabar, Lieutenant Godwin Sampson said, “Navy is doing a lot to make sure all the illegalities on our waterways are curtailed or completely curbed.”
In reaction to the illegal migration of foreigners through the waterways, a top officer in the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) said that there were a lot of issues concerning the maritime domain.
“The only area where Immigration is concerned is the status of the person as regards their presence in Nigeria. It is when they run afoul of our laws that we can now pick them up on that. As to legality or illegality, it is only when you found them not having the required status that is when you now bring them to the office and check their document. Only then can we determine if what they are doing is legal or illegal,” the officer who did not want his identity disclosed because he had not been authorised to speak on the issue, said.
The Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri in a news report last year raised the alarm over the presence of Chinese, Russian and other foreign vessels in Nigerian waters, fishing with impunity.
He said, “Our territorial waters are not being policed to prevent illegal unregistered fishing. Part of the reports we have received is that these vessels are hardly arrested and brought to Nigeria on account of fishing illegally without permit on our territorial waters.
“These foreigners bribe your officers who are on the high sea with dollars, and then they fish as much as they want and they go back.”
The Chairman, Association of Indigenous Seafood, Lamina Rasheed, in a recent report, said, “The government loses about N9bn revenues to illegal fishing. We are still trying to create awareness to let the government know that the crime still persists.
“Until they arrest somebody and apply the penalties, the perpetrators will not stop. The government said they will set up a monitoring committee but up till now, we have not seen any committee.
“As long as the committee is not in place, we will not make any meaningful progress in the seafood business. Local production of fish is currently still very minimal.”