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updated 10:11 AM CST, Dec 22, 2014

Cat FishThe federal government has been advised to adopt “a careful and phased implementation” of the prohibition of the importation of fish into the country rather than an outright ban as is currently being contemplated by the authorities. The Ministry of Agriculture had indicated last year that it would ban the importation of fish into the county.

In a piece he wrote and distributed to some media houses in Abuja yesterday, a retired banker and now a fish farmer and importer in Niger State, Malam Zakari Usman, declared as “noble” the objective of the federal government to “save foreign exchange and promote local farming,” warning that “an outright ban will have profound consequences on the people, who will be abruptly denied their sole source of protein.”

Usman opined that “a strategy of careful and phased implementation seems imperative, given that this product touches the basic essential aspects of the people’s sustenance and healthy living in the country.” He explained that “it is common knowledge that fish is the most economical and affordable source of protein for millions of Nigerian consumers.”

The Ministry of Agriculture, he recalled, recently allegedly painted a gloomy picture that Nigeria produces only 30 percent of the country’s requirements. “Nigeria requires 2.66 million tons of fish annually to satisfy the dietary needs of its citizens. The demand is growing with the population growth and increasing purchasing power. Out of this, only a paltry 700,000 tons are produced locally – this includes only 200,000 tons from aqua culture.

“Further, in case of locally farmed fish, the fish feed accounts for 70 per cent of the cost of production, which is imported, draining valuable foreign exchange,” he explained. Buttressing his argument for a phased import prohibition, the fish farmer referred to a March report in Oyo State where the state Director for Agriculture said the Agriculture Ministry hopes to increase table fish production by 250,000 tons per annum while production of value added fish and fisheries would be increased by 100,000 tons per annum.

“An outright ban of fish imports under the circumstances will have profound consequences on the people who will be denied their sole source of protein,” he affirmed. Usman agreed with federal government that it was important to limit and eventually ban importation of fish, but “it is pertinent to note that the imported fish is available to the people at hugely lower prices compared to consumers in other countries.”

“For instance, the imported frozen fish is available to the people at an average of N 150-250 per kilogram, whereas the locally farmed catfish sells for a whopping N500 per kilogram. The prices of meat and chicken are N 1,000 per kilogram and N 700 per kilogram respectively, making the imported fish the most affordable product. Given this low price for imported fish, Nigerians even from the lowest thresholds of income are still able to buy fish on a daily basis, meeting the protein needs of themselves and their children.

“The imported fish is cheap because in European and Pacific waters, there is an abundance of fish, given years of controlled fishing and best practices for a thriving fish population. “However, the stock of fish in Nigerian waters is negligible for trawling. Most of the shrimps and prawns caught locally are being exported to Europe given higher prices. “The huge overcapacity in Europe and the Pacific creates a great opportunity for countries like Nigeria, Cameroun, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Angola to secure cheap and good quality fish for their people.

The prices paid by people in these countries are much cheaper than those paid by their counterparts in Europe. For instance, the price of Herring (Shawa) is sold in Nigeria for N50 per piece. Whereas, the same fish is sold for N500 per piece in Europe retail markets.” Speaking on the consumption tastes of the people as another major consideration to be given due importance, Usman said given Nigeria’s geographical diversity people from different regions consume different species of fish. “For instance, people from the North (Kano, Kaduna, Jos etc) consume Herring (locally known as Shawa) predominantly, followed by Sardines and other mixed fish.

Whereas in the East, the consumption is more towards Horse Mackrel (Kote), Sardinella (Agbodu), Herring and Mackrel. In the West people from Lagos, Ibadan, Ilorin etc consume Herring, Blue Whiting (Panla),” he said.

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