Nigeria has a coastline of about 853km with Lagos, Ondo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, and Cross River as littoral states. 28 out of the 36 states in Nigeria are navigable by the connecting inland waters that stretches about 10,000km – encircling whole communities in some cases and in other cases, linking one community to another.
Coastal areas in Nigeria face various challenges, such as coastal erosion, flooding, overexploitation of fish and other aquatic resources, marine and coastal pollution, mangrove depletion, and nipa palm invasion. Across Africa, more than one-fourth (27 percent) of the population living within 5 km from the coast depend on artisanal fishing for job opportunities. In Nigeria, over 80% of domestic fish production is generated by artisanal fishers. A sector as important as this, which meets the animal protein needs of millions of Africans deserves to be recognized, and supported.
As the world marks World Fisheries Day, it should be a time for reflections on the key issues affecting fisheries particularly the artisanal and small-scale fisheries. A report published in 2021 showed how 10 countries — China, Japan, South Korea, Russia, the U.S.A., Thailand, Taiwan, Spain, Indonesia and Norway — spent over $15.3 billion on harmful fishing subsidies. The report also showed how fishing vessels not only exploited their seas but how they fished in high seas in other countries and engaged in overcapacity, overfishing, illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.
Another challenge faced by small-scale fishers is the issue of oil and gas pollution. Oil and gas exploration and exploitation as well as their associated infrastructure have proven to be one of the worst challenges in recent time. Also, the issue of sand-filling of traditional fishing grounds like the one being experienced by the Makoko people in Lagos State, Nigeria, affects fishing practices too.
This year’s theme, “Build Enabling Policy Environments for Small-scale Artisanal Fisheries,” should evoke a sense of responsibility, accountability, equity, fairness, justice, and inclusivity. Artisanal fishers must be consulted and included in the preparation of policies for aquatic environments – they hold a lot of knowledge that can shape such policies into pro-people and pro-environment policies.
The Executive Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) Nnimmo Bassey, while lamenting the impacts of the oil Well fire that has been burning for over three years now, said that it is shocking that the government and oil and gas companies would allow the Ororo-1 well inferno to continue for over three years off the coast of Awoye in Ondo State without making any attempt to stop it.
Bassey raised pertinent questions following the continuous burning of the Ororo Well, “Huge amounts of hydrocarbons and climate-harming greenhouse gases are being released into the environment. Why is the government quiet? Who will clean up, remediate, and restore the already destroyed environment? For a government that professes emphasis on the so-called blue economy, this atrocious negligence suggests that government is ready to sacrifice our environment and the communities that depend off natural resources. This World Fisheries Day offers a good opportunity for the government to have a change of heart and do the needful.”
Bassey also emphasized that the government must learn to work with coastal communities for better environmental management.
Stephen Oduware, the Coordinator of FishNet Alliance, noted that communities like Kono in Ogoniland, who have used local and cultural means to preserve a mangrove areas, need to be recognized, promoted, and supported. He said that policymakers must bring artisanal fishers to the policy table to make contributions that will further strengthen maritime policies.
FishNet Alliance is a network of fishers engaged in and promoting sustainable fishing practices in line with ecosystem limits. We stand in solidarity against destructive extractive activities in water bodies – including rivers, lakes and oceans.