Environmentalists, members of FishNet Alliance, and people in the Niger Delta region has called on relevant government agencies to investigate the actual cause of sudden death of fish being washed ashore across the Niger Delta coastline.
They specifically called on relevant regulatory agencies, including the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), and the National Environmental Standards and Regulatory Enforcement Agency (NESREA), to take action.
They are to ensure that the actual cause of dead fish in the region is identified, addressed, and the perpetrators brought to book, should it be from an unnatural cause.
This call was made in a field report, titled: Massive Death of Fish Across the Atlantic Coastline of the Niger Delta, made available to journalists by the FishNet Alliance, Nigeria, following findings obtained from field visit to affected communities, reports by other stakeholders, news publications, and statements by community persons.
According to the report, the news of dead fish washing ashore first broke on February 20th, when community people from Ogbulagha Kingdom in Burutu Local Government Area of Delta State, reported massive death of fish, floating and littering their shores.
“The incident has replicated itself in other fishing communities along the Atlantic coastline in the Niger Delta states of Ondo, Bayelsa, Rivers, and Akwa Ibom. The species of fish mostly affected is the Croaker fish popularly called, Broke-Marriage or Onah in local dialect,” the report stated.
The report further confirmed that some community persons are picking up the dead fish and taking them home for consumption and/or to process and sell to unsuspecting members of the public, adding that in some communities, there have been reported cases of dogs dying after consuming the dead fish.
“There are also fears that if not properly and timely investigated, this trend could continue and even spread to other communities giving the interconnectedness of rivers in the Niger Delta and other waterways in Nigeria. These communities need help as they are faced with hardship caused by the lockdown, to curb the spread of coronavirus and threats from pollution of their waters, which is their major source of livelihood.”
Furthermore, the report noted that though the immediate cause of the incident is yet to be known, but there are speculations that it is related to the activities of multinational oil and gas production companies operating in the region, and specifically to the discharge of toxic chemicals from oil company operations at Forcados oil export terminal.
They however urged governments at the affected areas to wake-up to their responsibilities in the protection of the environment and the service to the people, while calling on NOSDRA to ensure that the results of the tests are not unduly delayed.
Director of Health, Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), Nnimmo Bassey, expressed serious concerns, stating that when the coastlines become littered with dead fish, it is a clear indication that there is a serious public health threat.
He said: “The dead fish are smoking guns pointing at a serious crime. The coronavirus pandemic should not deter the relevant institutions from getting to the root of the matter. This matter should not be swept under the carpet because we are focusing attention on the pandemic.”
While the report acknowledged that NOSDRA and NIMASA have taken samples of the dead fish and water from the affected areas for analyses, the stakeholders demand a full and unbiased investigation into the issue and for perpetrators, if any, to face the full weight of the law.
They called on other stakeholders, especially environment and health NGOs to put pressure on the authorities to see this as a major disaster and ensure that the cause of the pollution is quickly detected and the public is duly alerted.
They also called for adequate sensitisation to raise the people’s awareness especially in environments experiencing this phenomenon, to ensure that the dead fish are not consumed or sold in view of possible health implications.