Illegal Fishing: How Nigeria Can Stop Losing $70 Million A Year
Nigerian maritime industry experts have highlighted what the country needs to do to end the $70 million annual loss from illegal fishing.
Nigeria is grappling with issues of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities largely perpetrated by foreign fishermen who exploit West African waters.
The country loses more than $70 million a year to illegal fishing, according to the House of Representatives estimate. This includes loss of license fees, revenue from taxation and value that may have been accruing from legitimate fishing to local vessels.
Apart from loss of revenue, illegal fishing has created massive economic hardship for Nigeria and other countries in the West and Central Africa region, as the resources that are expected to create jobs and wealth for citizens of these countries are illegally taken.
Olisa Agbakoba, senior partner and head of the arbitration and ADR practice group at Olisa Agbakoba Legal, said other sources put the cost of illegal exploration in Nigerian waters at between $600 million and $800 million. per year.
The variations in the figure, he said, not only show the difficulties of calculating the value, but also show the clandestine level of activity.
Agbakoba said vessels from China, the European Union and Belize were known to illegally exploit 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, shrimps, and sea cucumbers, among others.
Small-scale fishing activities are estimated to contribute 80 percent of locally produced fish and support the livelihoods of 24 million Nigerians.
To bridge the huge gap through which incomes and jobs are being lost in Nigeria, Agbakoba proposed that Nigeria should enact the Maritime Zones Bill to accommodate the huge aquatic resources estimated at N10 billion, which are currently operated by foreigners.
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Jude Okenwa, Marine Consultant, said that in order for the country to prevent foreign trawlers from engaging in illegal fishing activities in Nigerian waters, the Federal Government, through the Nigerian Administration and Security Agency Maritimes, must urge the National Assembly to review relevant maritime laws that have punitive clauses for offenders.
According to him, only punitive measures will prevent foreign poachers from illegally depleting Nigeria’s fish resources.
“The activities of these foreign poachers are also impoverishing our fishermen and rendering our young people jobless, thus increasing insecurity,” Okenwa said.
Another critical factor driving illegal fishing in the West African region, particularly in Nigerian waters, is that foreign poachers usually find a market for the stolen fish.
Margaret Orakwusi, shipowner and former president of the Nigerian Trawlers Owners Association, said, “Nigeria loses billions of naira daily to illegal fishing and illegal exploration of Nigerian waters by foreigners.
According to her, on a scale of 10-100%, Nigerian trawlers only catch 40% of what they should get, while 60% is lost to illegal fishermen.
“Poachers are irresponsibly stealing fish from Nigerian waters and also finding markets for these products worth billions of dollars a year,” Orakwusi said.
While expressing concern over how poachers are finding markets for the stolen fish without being detected, she noted that Nigerian fishermen are trying to follow international standards by having their payments made through their domiciliary accounts.
According to Orakwusi, the markets for the stolen fish are in Europe and Asia.
She suggested, however, that global financial institutions should be forced to be more careful in their dealings with such people, in line with money laundering law.
At the 2019 Global Maritime Security Conference held in Abuja, the countries of the Gulf of Guinea agreed to ensure that, just like “blood diamonds”, the international community put in place mechanisms to prohibit illegally explored resources from being sold in any market in the world.
According to these nations, the international community must put in place deliberate policies to ensure that there will be no market for stolen oil or illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
Experts said the action, if legally binding, would reduce the rate of crude oil theft and illegal fisheries poaching in the Gulf of Guinea.
But the decision of member states in the Gulf of Guinea region has yet to be properly documented as a legal framework.