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Nigeria’s Fishing industry Still Works With Crude Equipment

When Inibe Alupe graduated from Niger Delta University in 2008, he looked forward to a job in an office after undergoing the one-year compulsory national youth service.

Over 12 years after, Mr Alupe still has no white-collar job. He has since returned to his native Ogbia in Bayelsa State, a riverine community, to do what knew how to do while growing up: fishing.

“I left school in 2008 and served Nigeria, but since then I have no reasonable source of income,” he told PREMIUM TIMES.

An increasing number of young educated Nigerians are taking up fish farming, mainly as a result of lack of white or blue-collar jobs, and their presence is an indicator of the sector’s potential to attract skilled manpower capable of driving growth in the industry.

So far, that is where the good news ends. For a country with vast inland water bodies and coastline measuring over 800 km, Nigeria’s fishing industry is significantly underperforming.

Nigeria’s household fish consumption stood at 13.3 kg/capita/year, significantly lower than the world’s average of 20.3 kg/capita/year, according to the United Nation’s food agency, FAO.

Beyond the problem of poverty that stops many from affording needed sea food, the country suffers a major fish supply-demand gap problem.

A 2016 National Bureau of Statistics report estimated Nigeria’s annual fish demand at 3.32 million metric tonnes, with local production at 1.12 million metric tonnes. That year, Nigeria spent N125 billion (US$625 million) on fish imports.

When Inibe Alupe graduated from Niger Delta University in 2008, he looked forward to a job in an office after undergoing the one-year compulsory national youth service.

Over 12 years after, Mr Alupe still has no white-collar job. He has since returned to his native Ogbia in Bayelsa State, a riverine community, to do what knew how to do while growing up: fishing.

“I left school in 2008 and served Nigeria, but since then I have no reasonable source of income,” he told PREMIUM TIMES.

An increasing number of young educated Nigerians are taking up fish farming, mainly as a result of lack of white or blue-collar jobs, and their presence is an indicator of the sector’s potential to attract skilled manpower capable of driving growth in the industry.

So far, that is where the good news ends. For a country with vast inland water bodies and coastline measuring over 800 km, Nigeria’s fishing industry is significantly underperforming.

Nigeria’s household fish consumption stood at 13.3 kg/capita/year, significantly lower than the world’s average of 20.3 kg/capita/year, according to the United Nation’s food agency, FAO.

Beyond the problem of poverty that stops many from affording needed sea food, the country suffers a major fish supply-demand gap problem.

A 2016 National Bureau of Statistics report estimated Nigeria’s annual fish demand at 3.32 million metric tonnes, with local production at 1.12 million metric tonnes. That year, Nigeria spent N125 billion (US$625 million) on fish imports.

About 80 per cent of locally produced fish come from small-scale operations, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO.

There are other factors like environmental pollution that destroys fish stocks and reduces the catch, and theft by foreign fishing syndicates.

“In this part of the country, there is a disconnect between the government and the governed,” said Nalaguo Alagoa, a former lecturer in the Department of Fisheries Science and Allied Aquacultures at the Rivers State University of Science and Technology.

“I am sorry to mention countries but there are a lot of what appear to be Japanese and Chinese vessels that come to fish in our waters. There are others too who fish in our waters, because the vessels don’t fly the Nigerian flag. They catch a lot of fish which they take to Lagos to be delivered as imported. We take them over as imports so we do not always import fish from outside most of the time, we are ‘importing’ our own fish from within our territory!” he said.

Old-fashioned, ineffective

Most of Nigeria’s fish production occurs in the coastal states in the south where people fish from natural water bodies — creeks, mangroves, lakes, ponds, rivers, and rivulets.

But the obsolete methods of these workers show the limitations that have affected growth in the sector.

In Bayelsa and Rivers State, for instance, most farmers still use nets, hooks and hand-powered canoes, and other tools considered outdated and ineffective. This leaves them struggling to increase the catch.

In Bayelsa and Rivers State, for instance, most farmers still use nets, hooks and hand-powered canoes, and other tools considered outdated and ineffective. This leaves them struggling to increase the catch.

To catch a fish worth N6,000, a fisherman using a net has to spend a night on the water, they said.

“Our nets are not strong enough to catch big fishes. When fishing, we go in pairs because we need one person to paddle the canoe and the other person to throw the net,” said Mr Alupe.

Sinebe Ogbara, another fisherman in Famgbe in Yenagoa LGA of Bayelsa State, said since members of their local fishermen association cannot afford modern fishing equipment, they go fishing in turns to allow each member a fair catch.

Another fisherman, Station Winfred, said most fishermen lack modern fishing skills and credit support, hence their operations are at the subsistence level.

Some operators manage to raise their operations through personal efforts, but still don’t receive government support.

Emmanuel Akarasei, 71, belongs to God’s Time Fish Farmers Cooperatives but said he has not benefited from the Bayelsa State Government support programmes even though the group is officially registered.

He bought his own speed boat engine in October 2020 when he could no longer cope with the stress of paddling a canoe. The engine cost N120, 000 and it took Mr Emmanuel two years to save up the money.

Akro Iniessien has been fishing for 69 years in Oloibiri, the oil-rich community where oil prospecting began in Nigeria. She single-handedly built her fishing business. She said she has never benefited from the Third National Fadama Development Project or the Bayelsa State Agricultural Development Programme.

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