The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, weekend announced its decision to commence the structured embargo on the importation of fish into the country, with the implementation of the backward integration policy for the fisheries sector beginning January 2014.
Minister of Agriculture, Dr Akinwumi Adesina told THISDAY that against erroneous claims by some faceless groups that he had ordered a blanket ban on fish importation into the country, government is actually working on an integrated policy that will gradually deliver the country from the wasteful dependence on fish produced in foreign nations, while Nigeria's abundant aquatic resources stays untapped.
Adesina explained that the new policy being introduced, which takes full effect from January 2014 targets a 25 per cent annual reduction in fish importation into the country. He said in line with the backward integration policy, all fish importers must begin to engage in fish farming enterprises like their counterparts in other parts of the world with the aim of increasing local production and reducing fish import.
"We hereby emphasised that reports of a total ban on fish import is not true and did not originate from the minister, who has emphasised that, at no time did he announce a total ban on the importation of frozen fish into the country," a statement from the ministry said.
"Every reform process requires time for planning and time for the results to become evident. Nigerians are therefore assured of fresh and frozen fish in abundance in the coming year. The cheap blackmail will not stop government from carrying out its regulatory role in the interest of the country," the Agriculture minister stressed.
He however noted that a responsible minister will not stand idly and watch Nigeria's fisheries sub-sector plunge down the drain while financing other nations' economies through indiscriminate importation, when the home economy suffers further devastation, stressing that this warranted deliberate corrective measures.
According to the Agriculture ministry, the Circular of 29th October, 2013 which states that all bills of Lading must be dated on or before 30th October, 2013 and the fish cargo landed not later than December 31st, 2013, did not ban fish importation. It was directed at having a clear-cut demarcation between frozen fish imported under the old regime and the new regulation coming into effect in January, 2014.
The decline in Nigeria's fisheries sub-sector has become obvious for many years. Since 2005, the federal government of Nigeria had observed, with concern, the escalating foreign exchange demand for fish imports, in which the Central Bank of Nigeria noticed an unsustainable surge in the demand for foreign exchange for fish imports by various companies operating in Nigeria. This trend has continued unabated and must not be allowed to continue unchecked.
In line with Section 15 of the Sea Fisheries Act, the Honourable Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development has issued new regulations to clean up the abuse in which Nigeria has long been treated as a dumping ground for unwholesome frozen fish. This is in addition to serious trade malpractices associated with frozen fish importation into the country.
Some of these malpractices include over-invoicing, foreign exchange capital flight, and ghost import. The Honourable Minister had reiterated that frozen fish importation is not prohibited and that the new fish import policies are geared towards increasing local fish production in the country.