Experts in the Nigerian maritime industry have highlighted what the country needs to do to stop the annual loss of $70 million to illegal fishing.
Nigeria has been battling issues of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities largely perpetrated by foreign fishermen who are exploiting West African waters.
The country has been losing over $70 million yearly to illegal fishing, according to the estimation by the House of Representatives. This includes loss of licence fees, revenue from taxation, and the value that could have been accrued from legitimate fishing to local vessels.
Apart from revenue loss, the illegal fishery has created massive economic hardship for Nigeria and other nations in the West and Central Africa region as resources that ought to create jobs and wealth for the citizens in these countries are illegally taken away.
Olisa Agbakoba, senior partner and head of arbitration and ADR practice group in Olisa Agbakoba Legal, said there were other sources that estimated the cost of illegal exploration of Nigerian waters at between $600 million and $800 million yearly.
The variations in the figure, according to him, not only show the difficulties in calculating the value, but also show the clandestine level of the activity.
Agbakoba said vessels from China, the European Union, and Belize were notable for illegally exploiting Nigerian waters.
Nigeria’s coastal waters contain diverse species of fish, which contribute to the food and economic security of its people. They include lobsters, prawns, and sea cucumbers, among others.
It is estimated that small-scale fishing activities contribute 80 percent of locally produced fish and support the livelihoods of 24 million Nigerians.
To close the huge gap through which revenue and jobs are lost in Nigeria, Agbakoba proposed that Nigeria must enact the Maritime Zones Bill to take into account the huge aquatic resources estimated at N10 billion, which are currently exploited by foreigners.
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Jude Okenwa, a maritime consultant, said for the country to stop foreign trawlers from engaging in illegal fishing activities on Nigerian waters, the Federal Government, through the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, must engage the National Assembly to review relevant maritime laws that would have some punitive clauses for offenders.
According to him, only punitive measures will stop the foreign poachers from depleting Nigeria’s fishery resources illegally.
“The activities of these foreign fish poachers are also impoverishing our fishermen and rendering our youths jobless, thereby increasing insecurity,” Okenwa said.
Another critical factor that has been driving illegal fishing in the West African region, particularly Nigerian waters, is that foreign fish poachers usually find a market for the stolen fish.
Margaret Orakwusi, a shipowner and a former president of Nigerian Trawlers Owners Association, said, “Nigeria is losing billions of naira daily to illegal fishing and illegal exploration of Nigerian waters by foreigners.”
According to her, on a scale of 10 to 100 percent, fish trawlers in Nigeria only take 40 percent of what they should be getting while 60 percent is lost to illegal fishermen.
“Poachers irresponsibly steal the fish in Nigerian water, and also find markets for these products running into billions of dollars yearly,” Orakwusi said.
While expressing concern on how the poachers find markets for the stolen fish without being found out, she noted that Nigerian fishermen try to follow international standards by having their payments done through their domiciliary account.
According to Orakwusi, the markets for the stolen fishes are found in Europe and Asia.
She, however, suggested that the global financial institutions must be forced to be more prudent in dealing with such people in line with the law of money laundering.
At the 2019 Global Maritime Security Conference held in Abuja, countries in the Gulf of Guinea agreed to ensure that just like the ‘blood diamonds,’ international community put mechanisms in place to ban resources that were illegally explored from being sold in any market in the world.
According to these nations, the international community needs to put deliberate policies in place to ensure there would not be any market for stolen oil or illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishery.
Experts said this action, if legally binding, would reduce the rate of crude oil theft and illegal poaching of fisheries in the Gulf of Guinea.
But the decision of the member states in the Gulf of Guinea region is yet to be properly documented as a legal framework.