The proposed ban on the importation of some species of frozen fish has continued to raise dust,MAUREEN AZUHwrites
The Federal Government and stakeholders in the fish sector are divided on the ban on fish importation, which is expected to take effect from this month.
The situation has been generating a lot of controversy, especially with the alleged proposed quota for importation of about five species including croakers, mackerel, herring and blue whiting.
Our correspondent learnt that the Federal Government had given a quota for the importation of these species of fish.
But according to a source, the said quota for the first six months of the year will not be enough to feed the country for just one month.
“The quota permitted only five species and the quantities given to importing companies are too small compared to the infrastructure they have.
“So, by the end of the February, there will likely be a scarcity as fish facilities will be empty and there will be loss of jobs directly and indirectly,” the source said.
The Federal Government had directed all fish importers, in a letter dated October 29, 2013, to ensure “all Bills of Lading must carry dates not later than October, 2013 and the fish cargoes (consignments) must arrive the Nigerian waters not later than December 31, 2013.”
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, had also, at the inauguration of the special Growth Enhancement Support programme in August, said the importation of fish was not a good business for the country, given its huge natural resources.
He added that the ban would promote local fish production through the aquaculture value chain, which had been included in the 2013 GES.
The restriction, he said, would boost aquaculture, which is expected to rise from its current 153,000 to 1,000,000 metric tonnes by 2020 at a continuous growth rate of about 26 per cent per annum.
Following the restrictions, catfish and tilapia, which are said to be produced locally, will no longer be allowed into the country.
The Director of Fisheries at the Ministry of Agriculture, Mrs. Foluke Areola, in a telephone interview with our correspondent, stated that the ministry was only regulating the industry so that the country would not be a dumping ground for large quantities of fish.
She said, “As a country, we have expended too much foreign exchange on fish importation and we need to grow the local industry. There is a lot of sharp practices that have led to that huge amount quoted every year as having been spent on the importation of fish. The minister, in his capacity, is regulating the industry, not banning the importation of fish into the country.
“We have developed fish farming in Africa and Nigeria is the best producer of cat fish and aquaculture development. We have so many other countries writing to us that they want to learn from Nigeria, the expertise that we have in the culture of fish.
“Nigeria has huge natural and human resources and large bodies of water; so, we have the potential to produce fish and we want to grow the local industry.”
Areola added that the move was to encourage more people to go into fish farming under the Growth Enhancement Scheme.
“The government has been giving out fish fingerlings and feeds to farmers across the country. And for the first time, the minister has started the registration of input into the artisanal sector, which produces 80 per cent of the fish that is produced locally.
“We are empowering our youths and women to go into production, there are so many programmes that are being put in place and we are diversifying from mono culture species of fish to other cultures,” she said.
An investigation by our correspondent also showed that the ministry, to this effect, has been making efforts to discourage fish exports from other countries.
A letter written to the Embassy of Argentina by the ministry and dated November 28, 2013, was obtained by our correspondent and it stated, “There had been evidence of serious financial misappropriation (capital flight, over invoicing) and other sharp practices in the importation of fish and fish products into the country. These have necessitated the need to regulate the process of imports into Nigeria, which involves a total overhaul of the process.”
Although the effect of the regulation has not started biting hard, stakeholders in the sector are of the opinion that the regulatory move has an undertone and is not in the interest of the masses.
They say if the country currently has a total local fish production of 600,000 metric tonnes per annum, which is expected to rise to about 700,000 metric tonnes in 2015, while the importation is estimated at 700,000 metric tonnes, then Nigerians are being denied of basic daily consumption of protein.
Most of the people that spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the issue, said the country did not have enough fish to go round, adding that the issue of quota was political and would not work.
“You can’t politicise what concerns the people,” one of the stakeholders told our correspondent. “Meat is more expensive and contains less protein than fish, which is more available to the low-income earners.
“We are not discouraging fish farming but whatever is being produced locally is not enough to feed the nation and when we talk about quota, we are punishing people, this is not something that should be zoned. We have had quota issues in the past and it didn’t pay anyone and we can’t do that with fish.”
Another stakeholder toldThe PUNCHthat the best way to grow fish locally is to invest in local production and give it time to yield results and not to ban importation.
“There are so many things attacking fish farming in the country, such as oil spill. Most of the fish in our waters have migrated to other countries. Even people who fish are not catching enough. I think the Federal Government should give us time to mature in this farming before any ban,” he said.
Areola, however, said that the Federal Government was not involved in any quota arrangement but was rather allocating the importation right.
She alleged that people bring in more quantities of fish than they can sell off within a short period.
“People bring in over 200 tonnes of fish that they can’t sell in six months. Sometimes the oil in mackerel turns yellow and that can cause cancer. The minister wants the people to eat healthy food. We are talking about the unsuspecting public, nobody is strangulating anybody’s business,” she said.
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