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Safeguarding Fishing Occupation in Lagos Communities

Nigeria’s fishing activities are carried on many rivers, creeks, and lagoons, and in Lake Chad; trawlers operate along the coast. Vested with enough marine fisheries resources that could enhance increased fish production. In spite of having an Atlantic coastline of 853km (530 miles) the fish supply from domestic production is far below the fish demand of her citizens. Fish makes up around 40% of the country’s protein intake, with fish consumption at 13.3 kg/person/per year.

Multiple species are consumed in Nigeria, including crayfish, sardines (freshwater and saltwater), Bonga and mackerel, as well as cultured fish species, such as tilapia, carp and catfish. The West African nation is the fourth largest importer of fish following China, Japan and the United States. Nigeria’s top suppliers are the United States and Chile, but fish is also sourced from Europe, Asia, and a few African countries, including Mauritania, Algeria, and Mauritius. Foreign imports plug a 3.32 million metric tonne supply gap to a growing population projected to exceed 300 million by 2050.

The output of the fishing industry is very crucial to the Nigerian economy. Total fish production per year is close to 1 million metric tons (313,231 metric tons from aquaculture and 759,828 metric tons from fisheries). The majority of this fish is consumed domestically, while around 10% is exported. Around 94 million hectares is used for fishery production, according to the FAO.

Fishing, an industry employing 1,477,651 Nigerians, is a tradition now under threat from climate change and overfishing. The waters around are simply getting less and less productive. Pollution by oil spillage, urban and industrial waste, shipwrecks, coastal sand dredging for megastructure developments are just part of a grim puzzle keeping the fish away from local fishers.

Ago Egun Bariga, Lagos: nice catch! Ahmed Jallanzo / EPA

Industrial fishing takes place far offshore, in the high seas, and is primarily conducted using fish trawlers fishing net equipment that is actively dragged through water using one or more trawlers attached to a fishing vessel. Awkward fishing techniques, including bottom trawling, are considered among the major causes of physical destruction of marine coastal habitats at global scales. Evolving evidence suggests warming waters are pushing fish further from the West African coast, the fishing grounds of developing countries as Nigeria are today some of Asia and the European Union’s most targeted. Industrial fishing contributes very little to domestic fish production. Inadequate investment in the local fishing industry has compounded the problem.

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Commercial fisheries are immensely capital-intensive requiring the use of sophisticated fishing vessels and equipment, operating from fishing ports in the maritime states of Nigeria. For the inshore fishing, small to medium trawl vessels are used to exploit the demersal (found on or near the bottom) resources of the shallow waters of the continental shelf. Withal, the distant water fisheries is reserved exclusively for large-scale fishing vessels exploiting demersal and pelagic (living in surface water of the open sea) resources of deeper waters.

Some initial progress has been made in developing an industrial fisheries sector, but the fleet and infrastructure are ageing. The Nigerian coastline has become prominent as important contributors to national gross domestic products (GDPs). The Nigerian Bureau of Statistics Gross and Domestic Product (GDP) report indicate that, fishing under agriculture sector contracted by -2.07 per cent in Q3 2020 from 5.68 per cent in Q2 2020 and 1.68 per cent in Q3 2019. The attractiveness of the coastline is resulting in population concentrations on the coastline, with a rate of urbanization slightly higher than the interiors.

People crowd a street at the central business district in Nigeria’s commercial capital Lagos ahead of Christmas December 23, 2016.
Image: REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye

Lagos, a Nigerian coastline is dotted with many fishing villages of varying size, according to the number of fishing units (canoes) and the number of fishermen. For a long time, rural fishing communities in the city of Lagos, the most populous city in Africa, which lies on South Western Nigeria have been experiencing losses in their fishing businesses because they do not have the means to preserve their fishes, hence most of their catches goes bad by the turn of a new day. The artisanal fisheries sub-sector of the state’s fish supply chain presently contributes 80 per cent of local fish production, which accounts for 40 per cent of state’s total fish demand.

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Established in FAO’s assessment the following Lagos State fishing villages are important and should have a continuous catch and fishing effort monitoring such as Akodo-waya, Lekki, Akodo-waya, Epese and Yovoyan. There is a fairly large number of fishermen in the following brackishwater settlements in Lagos State: Badore, Agbowa Ikosi and Epe. The lagoon fishermen do not interact with those operating in the open sea, but they make modest catches in brackishwater areas. Hence, also these catches need continuous monitoring.

Both federal and state governments are encouraging the development of local fisheries, inland and at sea, by regulations, sponsoring research, stocking reservoirs, and offering training in improved fish culture and fishing gear. Still, despite the availability of regulations, noncompliance by fisher folks has not helped to optimize marine fisheries production. Demographic trends are interacting with climate change in coastal areas such as Lagos, generating a unique set of development challenges.

In addition to weekly kid-focused beach cleanups, the Kids’ Beach Garden project organizes cleanup exercises for adults and families every last week of the month. Image by Linus Unah for Mongabay.

The government of the state has set the goal of increasing its self-sufficiency in food production from 15 per cent to 25 per cent by 2030, to address food security amid climate change. The the fears of fishermen and other residents in the area is pollution: industrial, human and geophysical. Many fishing households in this environment can only just subsist, having lost their income generating capacity. Fishers earn US$3 a day, and half the country lives on less than US$1.90 a day the international measure of extreme poverty.

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In the Epe area of Lagos, fishermen and farmers are having to travel further to get fish. The Lekki lagoon, previously a fisherman’s paradise, is being slowly depleted by various megacity projects, the biggest of which is an oil refinery owned by Aliko Dangote. Dangote Oil Refining Company Limited, is a 650,000 barrels per day (BPD) integrated refinery project under construction. It is expected to be Africa’s biggest oil refinery and the world’s biggest single-train facility. Meanwhile, the management of the company has pledged to protect shorelines and fishing activities in Lagos coastal communities.

The coastal artisanal fishery is still able to absorb a little more effort and capacity to enable production meet up with the potential yield. The culture of marine fishes should be intensified. Marine waters should also be protected against destruction and pollution as a result of human activities. Environmental agencies need to be better equipped to enforce existing regulations, including ensuring that oil companies clean up their spillages to the level that is seen in developed countries.

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The government must invest in climate adaptation strategies that would empower coastal communities and better prepare them to cope with the impact of depleting fisheries. Available marine fisheries regulations should be enforced and violators of the regulations should be punished as stipulated in the regulations. The State needs to upgrade Lagos fishing hubs infrastructural facilities. The government should develop a blue print for investing in and developing offshore mariculture.

Promoting aquaculture is a promising policy path to reduce import dependence. Domestic capture fisheries remain a major source of fish, making it important to maintain productivity at sustainable levels through better management. It is however essential in the national interest that there should be a clear understanding of fishing capacity development of capital, labour and fish resources, both in the short and long term.

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