The times are bad and local fishermen in Lagos are facing a tough time; no thanks to migrant fishermen.
By Ruth Akinwunmi-King
Migrant fishermen from countries across Africa fish on Lagos waters thus compounding the woes of local fishermen on the one hand and the Lagos State government on the other. The fishermen are faced with depleted resources while Lagos State loses taxes that would have accrued from local fishermen. It is estimated that the Lagos State has lost in excess of N1Billion arising from loss of income from taxes. The migrant fishermen fish catch fish from Lagos waters but sale it, and pay taxes in their countries of origin without paying taxes to Lagos State.
Lagos State with an estimated population of 22 million people have a fish demand of 374,000 metric tons but its local fish production could only muster 155,262 metric tons per annum.
Mr. Temi Turo, a member of the Lagos state Fishermen Society, said that they have written many letters to the state and federal government on the need to stop the illegal activities of foreigners that comes with pair trawlers and fish away fingerlings from the Lagos lagoon.
“Illegal activities happening on Lagos waters is not accepted anywhere around the world, in Gabon, Ghana, Morocco and other Africa countries, if they allow this to continue Lagos will lose all its fishes,” said Turo.
“Some fishermen have left the job, around 1990 half of the fishes comsumed in Lagos state were gotten from the Lagos Lagoon, this is affecting the economy of the state, we want it to stop and we are pushing for the domestication of the voluntary guideline to also help stop illegal migration and fishing.”
The President of Lagos State Fishermen, Chief AbdulRafiu Atobajeun explained that many fishermen have changed locations in a bid to get good catches due to the activities of migrant fishermen from neighboring countries. “We are not having a good time this season as many of our men have moved away from their base to other locations just in search of livelihood, we are faced with fish scarcity as the dredging by the Dangote Group has caused a lot of damage to the waters and coastal migrant fishermen, mostly from Benin and Togo come to cart away the fishes (fingerlings)”.
Chief Atobajeun claimed that Lagos water has the best fishes but the dregding at the Lekki Free Trade Zone has caused pollution and scarcity of fishes.
“Most of our men are threatened and tortured when they manage to reach the deep sea, some do not come back home, while others come back with injury on their bodies, we get good fishes in our community that houses more that forty fishing community”.
Chief Atobajeun added that the existing fishing laws are not properly implemented and disclosed that local fishermen are agitating for the domestication of the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries and resource management. The Chairman, Fishermen Association in Akodo area, Alhaji Ajaiyi Nosiru, said for over thirty-eight years of his experience as a fisherman in Lagos, fishing resources have not been this depleted in the state.
“This are hard times for us as local fishermen many of our small canoes are damaged and cannot go to the high sea, our fish nets cost over one hundred thousand naira to fix when its damaged,” said Alhaji Nosiru.
“The challenges we are faced with now is migration of local fishermen who leave their families for days and go to other communities and state to get fishes, this has led to shortage and extinction of some fish species in Lagos waters.”
The woman leader of the fishing community and a fish monger, Mrs. Jumoke Shittu said that they cannot afford a good meal for their family since the lockdown and their husbands are unable to go to sea. She said that the little catch they managed to make cannot even get to the main market due to bad roads.
Mrs. Shittu noted that some of the men who go to sea risk their lives to do so just to keep their families out of hunger thus, making the women the bread winners of the family.
“The suffering is much for us as women, we manage to get loan from cooperative to sustain our business and our husbands are always away for a long time, some never return back,” Shittu said. For her part, Mrs. Bunmi Kehinde said that their husbands presently harvest more of crayfish and crabs due to the non-availability of fishery resources at sea.
“The main challenge we have now is that we now harvest only crayfish and few fishes are caught by the men, we smoke them in a very unhealthy environment with our local ovens, nothing is working well here as the fishes have moved to better areas due to the big pipes and machines in the water,” Kehinde noted. A youth in the community, Mr. Samson John said that for more than two years fishing activities have been affected badly even resulting in the death of some fishermen. “The government should help assist the local fishermen with at least five major trawlers to go far into the high sea, most of their children are out of school as many cannot afford school fees and some are battling with malnutrition,” Samson added.
A fish conservation expert, Dr. Emmanuel Babatunde noted that the government need to pay more attention to conservation to help reduce migration of fishes and the fishermen who carry out fishing activities on Lagos Lagoos.
“The state fishing communities are gradually going into extinction as they are being chased away by urbanization and the upspring of the new Lagos plan”.
Dr. Babatunded stated that fish migrate by traveling long distance moving from place to place in search of food and for breeding once their habitat has been taken over.
“This movement also takes the local fishermen away from their fishing communties to make good catches and continue with their activities”.
The Chairperson of Ship Owners Forum, Barrister. Margaret Onyema-Orakwusi said that the activities of migrant fisherman on Nigerian waters are causing a lot of damage to fishing activities in Lagos.
She explained that there is need for regional cooperation to tackle the menace of illegal fishing, as it is unacceptable to have foreigners invade our waterways and poach fish.
“These poachers come into Nigeria waterways, steal fishes, in the name of fishing and sell them to the international community without following the rules and regulation of fishing activities in the world,” said Margaret.
She called on the European Union and the United Nations to come to the rescue of local fishermen in African by ensuring that the activities of the poachers are checked.
Meanwhile the Permanent Secretary, Lagos State Ministry of Agriculture, Dr. Shakirudeen Onasanya, said the ministry has implemented programmes and projects that would upscale fish production and harness the enormous economic opportunities available in the agricultural value chains in the state.
While admitting that there is still much to be done if the goal of making the state self-reliant in fish production is to be achieved, the Permanent Secretary called for collaborative efforts between the private sector and government in the development of Agricultural Value Chain bearing in mind that the task of food production for citizen of Lagos State is enormous.
The project was supported by REJOPRA, Network of Journalists for Responsible and Sustainable Fisheries in Africa.