• Thursday, June 13, 2024
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‘Aquaculture can bridge Nigeria’s demand-supply gap’  

Akande Gbola is the executive director and chief executive officer of the Nigerian Institute for Oceanography and Marine Research (NIMOR). In this interview with JOSEPHINE OKOJIE, Gbola speaks on the challenges facing the fishing industry and what NIMOR is doing to address some of these problems.
What is the capacity of Nigeria’s industrial fishing industry?
In Nigeria, the fishing industry is divided into three which are- artisanal, industrial and the aquaculture. The artisanal is further divided into two that are inland fisheries, which is the fresh water and the artisanal in the marine environment. Artisanal contributes more to fish production in the country, followed by the aquaculture and then the industrial. The industrial contributes less because most of the trawlers concentrate more on shrimping than fishing because of export.
Our demand is about 2.8 million and it is calculated based on per capital consumption that is the amount of fish that has to be eaten per head. Our production capacity is between 800,000 to 900,000 metric tonnes from the three sub-sectors in the fishing industry. We import about 800,000 metric tonnes, spending close to a billion dollars on importation
How can the country bridge the demand and supply gap in the fish industry?
The only way Nigeria can bride the supply-demand gap is through the aquaculture, which is now a big business. About 10 years ago, the aquaculture sub-sector in the fishing industry produces about 80,000 MT, but now it is producing between 250,000 to 300,000 metric tonnes.  This shows that a lot of farmers are embracing aquaculture and Nigeria can boost its fish production through it.
What are the challenges facing the fish industry in the country?
The fish industry is faced with the problem of high cost of fish feed. Fish feed is a critical factor in aquaculture. It constitutes 70 percent of production cost for fish farmers. Fishmeal is been imported into the country and the FX issues have led to the increase in the price.
Fish feed is a combination of different ingredients. Fish requires minerals, proteins, and carbohydrates just like human being. For us to make a fish feed, we use by-products of agro-allied companies like groundnut cake that comes out of the production of groundnut oil, soybean cake, palm kernel cake and maize amongst others, are the ingredients we put together with animal protein to formulate a fish feed. We import fishmeal into the country and a kilo is being sold for N900 and farmers need between 10 and 20 percent level at the minimum.
Another problem is that industrial contributes less than 10 percent to our fish production. Most of the Trawlers registered on our waters are registered for shrimping, with few for fish. Trawlers owners prefer fish shrimps than fish because of export. The country exports about $50 million dollars worth of shrimps yearly.
There are two categories of trawlers- we have the shrimpers and the fishers.
Apart from that there is the issue of piracy and militancy.  The issue of piracy is an international issue. The only thing the government can do is to secure our waters, which I think the government is trying. The Navy are everywhere and are seriously manning the Nigeria waters. They are also seizing the vessels that are being used for illegal fishing in the Nigerian waters.
What has NIMOR come up with to boost local fish production?
NIMOR has done a lot in boosting local fish production.  Today, 90 percent of the fish cultured in Nigeria by aquaculture and most of the farmers want to go into farming Tilapia.  NIMOR was able to observe that Tilapia is highly prolific in terms of breeding. If you put 10,000 Tilapia and leave for a period, it becomes a million. Because of its prolific nature of breeding, it becomes stunted which is unlike catfish. As an institute, we developed a technology that allows farmers to farm all male tilapia fish were they don’t have issues with rapid breeding. We are now encouraging farmers to farm all male tilapia and creating awareness for it.
Nigeria earns a lot of for exporting shrimps, so NIMOR has also carried out a research on how to culture marine shrimps. The cultured marine shrimps are called tiger shrimps. We have been able to culture the marine shrimps outside the ocean using concrete tanks. This research has resulted to one of the fishing firm taking it up, by culturing marine shrimps in Badagry area in Lagos state.
We have also come up with a technology to prevent post harvest losses or wastages by developing a smoking chain. What farmers cannot sell, they can smoke it. The smoked fish are usually more expensive in the market than the fresh ones. This ensures that business continues for the farmers. We encourage farmers to add value to their fish by smoking them and packaging it very well for export. 
NIMOR is working very hard to ensure that the institute comes up with a good fish formulation that would give farmers good return for their investments. As an Institute, we have done a research on fish feed formulation by replacing maize with cassava chips because it is cheaper compared to maize. We have also been able to use a fish called latern fish, which is gotten from the deep water and produce fishmeal from it. We have it in large quantity in our waters.
We have combined other formulations with the latern fish and done a trail on it and we discovered that it is as good as the imported fishmeal. It is still as the trail stage. When we are satisfied, we would call a stakeholders’ meeting and for import substitution since we have the fish in our waters and necessary information on how to set up a fishmeal plant. This is what we are doing to be part of the diversification of the non-oil export.
In terms of funding, do you think the fish industry is getting enough attention from the government?
The government is pumping money into agriculture. This means that the money is there and it is not meant for any particular farmer. The most important thing is for the fish industry to get themselves together to access the funds. The fish association is now making serious efforts to be a voice for the industry so that fish farmers can also access government funds.