Despite contributing effectively to the national economy, the fish trawling business currently faces a lot challenges. Crusoe Osagie presents the arising challenges, noting that shrimps business holds the most enormous job creation potential
It is now generally understood that while many countries of the world are hard pressed economically due to the lack of natural endowments, Nigeria appears to be in crisis for having too much of such resources.
The federal government has been trying to shift focus from the primary area of oil as major revenue earner to such fields as agriculture which has a lot of allied sub-sectors, and its value chains.
In fact, despite its criticality in the federal government's efforts to create jobs, enhance local capacity utilisation as well as increase revenue yield over time, the business of fish trawling, and shrimps in particular appears to be facing monumental challenges currently.
The challenges are such that observers are saying the federal government needs to urgently and decisively come into the picture to support the sector as a way of providing the much needed boost to the economy.
Speaking about the issue of a better agriculture sector and food sufficiency, a food technologist and researcher, Mrs. Moji Oresanya, advised that the federal government needs to pay adequate attention to those sectors; rather than the current practice of over-reliance on oil, which is causing a lot of problems.
She said the government at the different levels could create storage facilities and processing centres to ensure that yields from the farm and the sea are adequately processed and preserved, rather than the current practice where much of the harvest are wasted.
Her view tallies with the advice on the government to pay sufficient attention to the business of fish trawling, considering that is also strategic to the economy.
For example, it is an effective employer of labour. And in these times, in which the country has witnessed increasing unrest in a number of regions, with consequent insecurity, a lot of analysts are looking the way of boosting the activities of fish trawlers.
Like already stated, fish trawling generates employment, especially for youths, and this acts as a check on criminal activities in the country.
Also, it involves a lot of contingent economic activities, which means that it provides a platform for a series of artisan jobs, from welding to fabrication, carpentry to electricians and net mending just to mention a few. Aside those who work in the high seas, another set of hands are needed offshore in the trawling business.
Some could be processors of products from the high seas, or even middlemen, transporters, loaders or even sellers. In fact, in some climes, they are effective means of creating small business clusters, opening up of development areas and also play effective role in the start-up of medium industries. .
What these mean is that if effectively supported, fish trawling could actually provide the much needed support service to the country's quest for industrialisation; moreso at this time that experts are calling for integrated development of the economy, rather than over-dependence on oil revenue, the business of fish trawling actually requires government's attention.
These points and more have been canvassed by the operators in the past, but up till now, the much needed decisive action from the federal government has not come.
Some of the issues bothering the business of fish trawling include the lack of attention by the are authorities in terms of promptly reacting to uses raised by operators; the problem of insecurity in the high seas and moreso, the high cost of Automotive Gas Oil (AGO), otherwise known as diesel.
As much as these problems affect the operations of the sector, major is the high cost of AGO, a major input in their day-to-day operations, THISDAY has learnt.
High expense in diesel has led to increased operational costs thereby narrowing the operational margins of operators. This in turn has made it difficult for them to realise their full potentials. In terms of revenue, they are generating less comparatively and of course not able to employ more than they are currently doing.
President of Owners Association of Nigeria (NTOA), Mr. John Overo, appealed to the federal government to save the sector from imminent collapse due to huge overhead costs, including high cost of diesel. He informed that 85 per cent of the sector operations depended solely on diesel.
Overo said that the association members lost about N53 million products and equipment to the vandals at one instance.
He therefore appealed to the FG to save the sector from imminent collapse, adding: "These precarious situations would likely make the sector to go under. Our productivity had nosedived as a result of high cost of diesel used in operating the trawlers.
Overo said that 85 per cent of the sector operations depended solely on diesel, adding that the operators were incurring huge overhead costs.
"This is so because it is only in the fishing industry that diesel alone accounts for 85 per cent of the production cost. The federal government had earlier approved a direct AGO allocation to the industry from NNPC which has not been fulfilled. This is in line with support received by the fishing sector in other countries," he said.
According to him, each vessel consumes an average of 60 tonnes of diesel daily and that is N10 million per 45-day fishing trip. He suggested that the Federal Government should approve direct allocation of diesel from the major marketers to the operators.
"We are appealing to government to also subsidise diesel. If the farmers enjoy fertiliser subsidy, then the fishing sector should have an incentive to enable the sector to thrive. The supply of this product to the industrial fishing operators requires government intervention and support, if all the fishing companies would not fold up," he said.
Mr. Dayo Adesanya, as well as other executive members of NTOA, equally lent their voice to the issue of the federal government supporting the operators through concessionary AGO rates.
They listed other problems confronting the sector to include activities of pirates; absence of a centralised fishing terminal and non-implementation of their plea for an upward review of the Export Expansion Grant (EEG) from its current rate of 30 per cent, adding that the effects of challenges have led to the number of operators shrinking to a paltry 7 from a burgeoning number of 44 a few years ago.
Elaborating on these points, Overo began by saying that a centralised fishing terminal for example has a lot of advantages in the sense that all needed facilities like dry-docking, cold stores and workshops would be provided leading in part to effective coordination of fishing and other related activities.
He said AGO would also be supplied in an orderly manner and monitored effectively while operators would enjoy the advantage of standard cold rooks facilities. On the other hand, the absence for now of the above facilities, he said, has given rise to proliferation of private jetties within the Kirikiri Light Terminal 1 and 2.
In his words: "Some of the companies whose jetties are located at Kirikiri Lighter Terminal 1 and Kirikiri Lighter Terminal 2 are being forced to relocate by oil companies for the establishment of tank farms, a development, which is adversely affecting the growth of the industry."
Overo also lamented that recently, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) came up with a new tariff which is 100 per cent increase, saying those of them in the fishery business would not be able to afford such a tariff.
Responding to a question as what the association expects of the government in terms of diesel, he said: "We are appealing to government to also subsidise diesel. If the farmers enjoy fertiliser subsidy, then the fishing sector should have an incentive to enable the sector to thrive.
"The supply of this product to the industrial fishing operators requires government intervention and support, if all the fishing companies would not fold up," he added.
Another challenge which the sector faced is the issue of pirate attacks. Two cases of such cases were recorded last year, in April and August when the sea pirates struck off the Bonny Oil Terminal, assaulting seven vessels and subsequently taking them to unknown destination, where they vandalised the vessels.
"The pirate removed all the electronic gadgets on board, including the SSB Radio, VHF Radio, Radar and Echo Sounder. The pathetic report revealed by the captain is that the pirates commanded them to steam to waters off Benin Republic where attempts were made to attack oil tankers and other vessels using these vessels as platforms," he said.
"This further underscores the call by NITOA call for the provision of adequate security in Nigeria's territorial waters to ensure safe operations for fishing vessels and other law abiding maritime users", he added.
These vulnerabilities have made it necessary for the federal government' support of the sector. In the area of diesel, an agriculture economist and active farmer, Mr. Jide Omotosho, opined that the sector should be concession in the area of diesel acquisition.
He said there was nothing wrong, considering the importance of the sector, if the federal government could approve a confessional window for the members of the association to procure diesel at reduced rate.
"This is one way of supporting the sector. What we need now in the country, is to provide support in whatever form necessary to those sectors of the economy which are important to feeding, employment generation and even peace and security in the country. In fact when you create jobs, you are effectively fighting crime. This is why I support the call for increased support for such areas as fishing and agriculture", he said.