The southern part of Nigeria is situated in the
Atlantic Ocean. Nigeria is largely divided by two major rivers: Rivers Niger and Benue. There are so many rivers and creeks in Nigeria which also boost fish production. Fish is a major source of protein to the body of man. Many years ago the predominant peasant fishermen engaged in serious fishing activities to make fishes available to the people. And in Rivers State, fishermen were known to be active having selected fishing settlements for the fishing business.
The fishermen who used canoes and fishing nets were comfortable in the activity as the business was lucrative. About three decades ago there was no much emphasis on deep sea fishing as the activity was taking place in creeks and rivers. It is worthy to note that the fishermen in those days did not use engine boats to do fishing as it is practiced today. They engaged in the business using canoes and paddles. The tedious fishing activities coupled with polluted water in the river have made fishing business discouraging to the youths.
In the 80s and 90s, Oyorokoto, a fishing settlement in Andoni Local Government Area, was known to be the busiest fishing settlement in West Africa. People from far and near, especially the Ibo traders, patronized the fishermen. There was access to fish across the nation. They were used to prepare so many delicacies. Many years ago when ice-fish was introduced into Nigerian market, there was panic. Many Nigerians saw ice fish as a taboo then.
While there was decline in fish production, ice fish was seriously penetrating the market. The crude implement used in fishing business had made some fishermen to abandon the occupation as they cannot afford trawlers, and modern and sophisticated fishing equipment. The local fisherman found it difficult to purchase trawlers as it is expensive beyond their reach. The level of decline in local fish production is heartbreaking as there is no sustainability. Fishing business which should be coordinated by the Ministry of Agriculture has not received substantial support from the government at various levels in the country. Indeed, there is no improvement and sustainability of the sector. Today, Nigerians eat more ice fish as never before.
It is pertinent to note that since the introduction of stockfish to Nigerian market there has never been a decline. Stockfish which is imported from Norway has never become scarce in Nigeria. Today, in every important meal stockfish is not lacking, while Geisha and Sardine have not ceased from being imported. This is because fishing activities have declined in Nigeria.
Undoubtedly, oil exploration and exploitation activities have caused grave damage to the rivers as fishes are no longer produced maximally due to polluted water. The environmental damage has made the ecosystem un-conducive to fishes to survive especially when there is a serious oil spillage in the river. As a result of pollution in the rivers, fishes have gone into deep waters. The fishermen are finding it difficult to engage in deep fishing with canoes. The sustainability of the business is not all about rearing fingerlings. It goes beyond that to engaging in sophisticated fishing business. Hence, it is time to resuscitate fishing business in Nigeria. There are countless creeks and rivers in Nigeria yet fishing business is not gaining ground.
The Ministry of Agriculture as a matter of fact, should encourage fishermen while budgetary provision should be made for the improvement of the sector. Governments at various levels should support fishermen to improve and sustain the sector as it will give room to employment. The Atlantic Ocean is lying waste as there are not enough trawlers for fishing,especially by the people who inhabit the Niger Delta region.
In Japan, Norway, China and America etc., fishermen are known to be rich; but in Nigeria they are poor. In Norway, fishermen engage in deep sea fishing and export stockfish to every part of the world, especially Nigeria. The fishing sector is not flourishing as it ought to. The sector is definitely on the downward trend and something urgent should be done by the government to improve it.
Mechanized fishing is what is obtainable today globally and must be supported and improved upon by the federal, state and local governments. Nigerians need subsidy in fishing business for fishermen to acquire trawlers to improve the business. Nigerians need fishes to build their protein intake therefore fishing activities should be improved upon by the government. Truly, the time has come for that. The government should support fishermen with fishing equipment. This will help a long way in improving the occupation in Nigeria.
Ogwuonuonu writes from Port Harcourt.