The recent announcement of ban on fish importation by the Minister of Agriculture has drawn flaks from some quarters, especially experts, who say the ban is rather premature given that fish production levels in the country cannot currently meet consumption level. Since fish is one of the cheap sources of protein, they argue, banning it at this time may increase protein deficiency in people with lean pockets, who will be shut out of that food component from the diet on account of escalated cost. Some people, however, hold the view that the ban is a step in the right direction.
The Minister of Agriculture, Akinwunmi Adesina, made the pronouncement a few weeks ago during the launch of the Special Growth Enhancement Support (GES) Scheme, which is intended to boost local aquaculture production through the Aquaculture Value Chain initiative.
To ensure strict adherence to the directive, the Federal Government, in a letter dated October 29, 2013, to fish importers directed them to ensure that all Bills of Lading carried dates not later than October 2013 and the fish cargoes (consignments) arrived the Nigerian waters not later than December 31, 2013.
This development has sent price of fish to the rooftops.
As at last week, a carton of Titus fish now sells for N13,500, up from N10,500 while Kote now goes for N10,200 from N7,500. To justify the GES/AVC initiatives, the minister claimed the aquaculture value chain would produce 400,000 tonnes of fish, generate extrad 250,000 of table fish and 100,000 tonnes of value added fish. According to the FAO’s the state of world fisheries and acquaculture report 2012, Nigeria produced 200535 tonnes of aquaculture fish, representing 15.57 per cent of global production in 2010, and had an annual consumption requirement of 1.2million metric tones based on a population figure of 100 million and per capital consumption of 12 kg per annum regarded as adequate for a normal healthy growth. These figures reveal that even if the ambitious objectives put forward by the minister are indeed achieved, there will still be a significant shortfall in fish availability for consumption, if importation were banned outright as is currently the case. Dealers who spoke disclosed that the price escalation was being driven by the anticipated ban effective December 31, 2013, by the federal government over the next four years.
In his view, a fish expert and lecturer, Dr. Ike Ayalogu, said admitted that the ban is an ultimate measure in the long run but it may be premature to do so now.
He said: “One of the major reasons is that our waters have been devasted by oil pollution. As a result of over fishing when our local fishermen go on water they can’t even see fish of big and bigger size to catch.” “Let me tell give you an example – the Arugungu fishing festival. Because fishing is restricted in that water, every year, they must catch fish of big sizes. This is because they have ensured that in the intervening year before the festival, nobody fishes in that river. Can’t that be done? Now we are not producing enough because of these reasons and we want to ban fish that people buy for N150 to N250 each to eat. I think it is bad policy and Nigerians will kick against it.”
He further posited that beyond conservation, private operators in the industry need a friendly environment to operate.