Fishermen in Akwa Ibom State have identified pollution of waters/rivers by oil multinational companies as the major problem militating against their occupation.
Representatives of fishermen drawn from Mbo, Ibeno, Oron , Mkpat Enin, Ikot Abasi, Eastern Obolo, Oruk Anam local government areas of the state, lamented their plight at a 'Fishnet community dialogue', organized by the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) in collaboration with Rosa Luxemembung Foundation, West Africa,in Ibeno.
They complained that fishermen are now recording very low yield because of contamination of the river by oil companies, a situation that has led to scarcity and high cost of fish in Nigerian markets .
Chairman of Artisan Fishermen Association of Nigeria, Akwa Ibom state branch, , told NDV in Iwuokpom fishing settlement, Ibeno Local Government area, that about 85 percent of fish consumed in the country were produced by Nigerian fishermen, expressing fear that awkward situation would continue if the federal government and oil companies operating in the country failed to end oil pollution .
He said, "One of our major problems as fishermen is the pollution of our waters. Pollution from activities of oil companies has caused a lot of problems to this section of agriculture. For instance, the type of fish we normally catch before are no more. In this part of the country, the common fish we have is Bonga fish and sardine, but now you cannot find them in the waters anymore.
"Because of pollution, they migrated to other countries. That is why today so many fishermen appear to be jobless and idle because there is no fish for them to catch. And Nigeria does not care about this aspect of agriculture. Besides, we still face this problem of high cost of fishing equipment like outboard engines and fishing boats.'
"And this is affecting their families because some of them can no longer send their children to school because it is fishing business that they depend on for livelihood. This is a major problem. We feel neglected and this is one sector of the economy that can create massive employment for idle youths. We are calling on government to beam its searchlight to this neglected sector. Nigerians want fish and not oil pollution," he said.
One of the participants from Ukpenekang community, who simply identified herself as Mrs. Usen, said: "I have been eating fish for a very long time now. I like eating ice fish, but if you know what fishermen are suffering you will pity them. They are exposed to different challenges and danger. About three weeks ago, I was told that no fewer than five fishermen lost their lives in the river when they went fishing. It was a pathetic situation.'
"Sometimes they go fishing without making enough catch and sometimes nothing at all and they must spend much money to buy fuel for their boats. They need encouragement and support for them to be able to work hard, make a living for themselves and also continue to feed the nation. ", she added.
Speaking to NDV, the Director of HOMEF, Mr. Nnnimo Bassey, explained that the forum was expected to provide the fishermen in Akwa Ibom and indeed the entire Niger Delta region a platform where they could share ideas on how to improve upon the numerous challenges affecting them especially due to oil exploration.
He said, "Most of our people depend on fish for animal protein, so fishing is a major component of food security in Nigeria and indeed Africa. We have also noticed that this is being threatened because of massive pollution from oil and gas extraction and oil spill.
It is diminishing the capacity of fishermen to make a good catch.
"So we are working with the Fisher Fox in many African countries to set up a FishNet alliance forum that will help Fishermen to learn how to monitor their environment and share ideas about different species that they have lost, and how to restore them. The demand we are making is that there should be no expansion of existing oil fields. We believe that the best solution is to stop the pollution of the waters".