A number of recent press articles have reported on Nigeria’s plans to reduce its annual fish imports, and on the introduction of national strategies to guarantee the development of fishing and fish farming activities to supply the local market, boost local employment, income, and foreign exchange earnings. This initiative matches government policy to improve self-sufficiency notably in the country’s rice and sugar sectors.
In recent years, foreign companies, including from the EU, have been responsible for most fish imported into Nigeria (mainly small pelagics). Some of these companies have set up cold rooms in Nigeria, both selling fish supplies to local operators and acting as direct retailers to the public. Vessa Fisheries’ managing director commented that “some of these foreign companies would raise the prices of fish very high for local buyers, forced to buy from them as there was no alternative source of supply”, after which they would lower the prices using their own retail structures.
As a result, Nigerian sellers were forced to operate at a loss and unable to pay back foreign companies, as most supplies were provided on credit: “Often, the foreign companies end up taking over their cold rooms,” the company MD continued. This monopoly of foreign firms in supplying imports led to a situation where little attention was paid to the quality of the fish, and large quantities of rotten fish flooded Nigeria markets. To address the situation, the government established import quotas for foreign companies from late 2013, capping fish imports to 125,000 t for the first half of 2014.
To provide alternative sources of fish supply, Nigerian aquaculture and artisanal fisheries value chains are being established. Fish farmers have been provided with juvenile fish and subsidised fish feed, and the government is negotiating with investors for the establishment of large-scale tilapia farms in different parts of the country. Some EU companies and countries have also shown interest in supporting Nigeria’s efforts to develop aquaculture. In August, Nigeria signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Malta to develop “industrial fish parks”, with the objective of producing over 250,000 tonnes of farmed fish a year. “Several value chain industries and services will be set up around the facilities to create over a million direct and indirect [jobs]”, according to the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Fisheries. A Dutch-based company, Nutreco, also announced in June that it is to invest in the local production of fish feed for Nigeria as well as the wider West African region.
A boost has also been given to wild fisheries via a number of government initiatives announced in late July by Foluke Areola, acting director of the Ministry of Fisheries. Artisanal fishermen have been provided with nets and other inputs, and value-adding industries will be encouraged particularly for shrimps, for which the ministry is embarking on the Marine Stewardship Council registration. The country is also opening up its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) by encouraging companies to bring in Deep Sea Vessels into Nigeria, according to Ms Areola. In addition, in order to improve fisheries management capacities, a research vessel worth €10 million has been commissioned by the government from Poland for the Nigerian Institute of Oceanography and Marine Research (NIOMR).
Nigeria is one of the biggest fish markets in Africa, and it is indeed vital to put in place alternative sources of fish supply, particularly for local consumption, in order to mitigate the impacts of the partial ban on imports, through the establishment of limited quotas. In the longer term, and given that small pelagic fish supplied to Nigeria are partly coming from rich West African fishing grounds (in Mauritania and Senegal), it may be of interest to consider how to improve regional trade routes between these countries. In this context, regional bodies like ECOWAS have an important role to play, and their efforts towards improving regional fish marketing could be supported by EU development cooperation.