Sea Pyrates Pose A Threat To Local Fish Production – NITOA | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Sea Pyrates Pose A Threat To Local Fish Production – NITOA

Posted: Jul 3, 2015 at 1:11 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Mr. Joseph Overo is the President of the Nigerian Trawler Owners Association (NITOA), a body of trawler owners fishing in the Nigerian territorial waters. In this interview with journalists that included Correspondent, OYENIRAN APATA, he speaks restrictions and impediments to fish production and other issues. Excerpts

What are the implications of restrictions on importation of fish into the country?



he restrictions on importation will definitely create vacuum or shortfall in fish demand in Nigeria because fish demand is quite high. According to the former minister, the total demand for fish in Nigeria is about 2.7million metric tons yearly. What we are producing as trawler owners is just 30.000 metric tons per annum. The total number of local fish production according to the ministry is about 800metric tons so the deficit from this report in fish production is about 1.9million. This, the ministry said would be met by imports.

Then, fish importers association on their own said the demand was more than this figure and if you remove this from what they are importing there will still be a short fall of about 1.25million tons of fish which the local production cannot meet. This is their argument.

NITOA recognises the fact that there will be a shortfall; we also recognised the fact that what we produced as trawler owners association cannot meet the demand. Our position is that restriction on importation should be a gradual process as we step up local production. Local production could be inform of boosting capacities in catfish production which is the popular fish production everybody is doing in Nigeria and production of tilapia. Unfortunately, the quantity of tilapia production locally is not documented anywhere yet, but we know that some people are into tilapia production in Nigeria.

What we are saying is that as importation is being cutback, local production should be encouraged because if  we in the trawling business can get some finances from government to bring in more trawlers we will produce more than what we are producing now.

This will in the end beef-up what the local production is currently contributing to fish demand and consumption in the country. Before today, we have about 250 trawlers fishing in Nigeria waters between 2000 and 2008 but now we only have 125 trawlers from the fisheries record and the fishing areas have being reduced because of piracy attacks. So, we don’t have the whole of the coast to fish because we are restricted to particular areas of the coastline. Restriction along coastline has resulted in the drop of local production because of limited fishing areas.

Therefore, there should be a gradual reduction on importation. The result had been rise in the prices of fish in the markets and has affected consumption a great deal. I know a carton of fish that used to sell for N8000 now sells for N13.000 because of the sudden reduction in the quantity of importation.

The other aspect I want to talk about personally is the choice of the species of fish we import. Importers have been restricted to pelagic or non pelagic fish; before now there are various species of fishes the importers bring into the country. Now importers can only bring in pussle mackerel, mackerel, heriks, blue whitens (kote, panla, Titus, sawa) those are the common ones but there are some individuals who don’t eat those species. The middle and high class people don’t eat iced fish rather they eat Crocker, white or yellow Crocker and barracudas among other that are allowed for importation.


Are these species you mentioned locally produced?

We harvest only crocker and not in commercial quantity. It is about five per cent which is a far cry to meet local demand by the categories of people that enjoys the species. That is why we are appealing to the government to allow certain per cent of those species to also come in to balance the choice of fish demand.

So, basically we are not against the restrictions but it should be done in such a way that it will not create shortfall, and will not create lead to high cost of fish in the market so as to satisfy the needs of the Nigerian consumers. That is our position.


Sea piracy had been an issue to your association. In what ways has their activities affected trawlers fishing activities?

Fortunately and unfortunately, there two categories of sea robbers; the international or high sea robbers who you can be classified as group of pirates that specialises in ocean robbery and there are local ones who we can classified as areas boys like the ones in Lagos that roam the sea in flying boats and are heavily armed.

This category of pirates targets the fishing vessels and they shoot into vessels to scare our personnel who are in the least armed. They forced our vessels to stop and come on board to do whatever they like. These are the local pirates that rob us on the sea. They are like the Niger Delta boys and they are in various groups from one fishing area to another. They are also in Delta, Calabar, Port Harcourt, and Rivers State as well as so many of others. There is also the Ilaje group in Lagos territory at the entrance into Lagos on the Benin River. They also attack the vessel.


If sea robbery is curbed, do you think NITOA’s members can meet up with local fish demand?

I have made three statements: don’t ban completely; reduce gradually; and put in place a process to increase local production. We must fight sea robbery because with sea robbery is still in existence and at the rate at which they are operating; there is no way production will increase. It must be tackled. We have had discussions with security agencies on this and they have promised to do something about it.

We are glad that the Nigerian navy received some vessels to curb activities of piracies and sea robbery. I believe this will increase sea surveillance and we are hoping it will be effective. But as we speak today the sea is very rough.

So, if that one is addressed, our fish production will increase and by implication we shall have a large fishing area that will encourage our members to acquire and bring in new vessels. This will increase our fleet and production.

We have restricted our operations to certain fishing areas while the other areas are lying fallow and you can be sure there is breeding activities going on in those areas so there must be bumper harvest if we are allowed to go there.  For instance in 2009 when we called off our vessels that normally go for about 40 to 45 days on sea, but after we called off the vessels and we were off shore for three weeks by the time the vessels went back, many of the vessels returned in just 35 days. This is indication there were reproduction at the time we stayed off. So, if restriction placed on some areas is removed definitely production will increase.


What species of fish do NITOA members harvest?

NITOA members harvest Crocker, cat fish, soul fish (Abo), barracudas, shining nails and those are the high end fishes patronised by the high class people in Nigeria. They are also iced because the trawler is a small factory like a cold room. When the fishes are harvested, they processed immediately on the high sea before they are brought to the terminal. They are not as frozen as the imported fish because the imported fishes would have been stored for about six to eight months before they are imported and taken to the market.