Frozen seafood is Nigeria’s most affordable source of animal protein and with the growing population estimated to over 200 million, consumption is increasing. Atlantic mackerel, horse mackerel, herring, and croakers are the main species consumed. Domestic catches and aquaculture production (i.e., mainly catfish and tilapia) however, remain underdeveloped due to high input costs.
Nigeria has a potential market for approximately 2.5 million metric tonnes of fish valued at $3 billion according to the International Trade Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce. Under-developed domestic catches, the ban on catfish and tilapia, restriction and coronavirus pandemic has however contributed to reliance on large volumes of imports to meet local demand.
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr. Sabo Nanono, last year at the 35th Annual Conference of the Fisheries Society of Nigeria (FISON) in Abuja stated that the demand for fish in Nigeria is at 3.6 million tonnes annually meanwhile the country is producing 1.1 million metric tonnes, leaving a deficit of about 2.5 million metric tonnes to be supplemented by importation.
Although several measures have been taken over the years to increase domestic fish production and end fish importation into Nigeria. Some are the Import quota policy on fish; Duty cut on imports of dried stock fish from 20 per cent to 10 per cent for Norway; Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) listing fish and other seafood among items not valid for forex from the official interbank market.
Despite all these steps taken, the country faced a major setback in March 2018 when USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service suspended the export of silurformes and fish products from Nigeria. Nigeria’s Federal Fisheries Department failed to fully address information requested in the self-reporting tool (SRT) prior to the due date. Consequently, Nigerian catfish farmers and processors lost the huge market opportunity for mostly smoked, packaged catfish they export to the United States.
Speaking to MMS Plus, a former Chairman of Nigeria Fishing Trawler Owners Association (NIFTOA), Barr. (Mrs.) Margaret Orakwusi, stated that the ban is a wakeup call for fishers and the Nigerian government to do the right thing.
According to her, the standards for fish exportation are high and exporters must conform with the regulation of their countries and the destination country they’re exporting to.
“For those of us involved in industrial fishing, we analyze our water before we fish. Those that export also do that, they have an export number, so people should not just wake up one day and say they’re exporting, they have to follow procedure.
“Over there you must go through processes, approval, before you are qualified to bring in goods and if you don’t comply they ban you. Some countries care for what their people eat unlike in Nigeria that seems to be a dumping ground for everything. It is high time we know the content of what we give our people as well as the standards to export.”