Saving Nigeria’s dwindling tilapia fisheries sector

Nigeria’s tilapia fish industry is facing some challenges, a scenario that makes it fail to register meaningful and sustainable growth. Stakeholders suggest ways to save the industry, DANIELESSIET reports.

Nigeria has always been a major consumer of fish, and demand for fisheries products has increased in recent years due to health-consciousness of the citizens. With the population expected to exceed 250 million in 2050, demand is likely to increase even more. However, fisheries resources are limited. Even now, many fish are already on the brink of extinction due to overfishing. For this reason, the production of fisheries products through aqua farming has become important to the challenge of securing food resources. One area that offers prospect is tilapia fish farming.Globally, large-scale commercial tilapia farming operations are profitable and international companies are investing in both local and foreign species.
While countries such as Egypt have continued to record successes in tilapia farming, Nigeria’s ailing tilapia fish sector has continued to register drastic falls in production.
Experts said despite government policies to boost tilapia production smugglingfrom from China and other constraints have made it impossible to realise the dream.
With increase in population and pressure on the nation’s fisheries resources, experts say the sector may be doomed unless certain actions are taken to stimulate increased production.
Addressing a Food and Agriculture Writers Association of Nigeria (FAWON) forum in Lagos, the stakeholders noted that the Nigerian tilapia industry would have expanded rapidly in the past few years, if serious efforts were made to change from a small-scale concern to a large one capable of feeding the entire population .
One of them was the National President, Tilapia and Aquaculture Developers Association of Nigeria (TADAN) Mr. Remi Ahmed.
Addressing the forum where the speakers focused on the current and future challenges and opportunities facing the industry, Ahmed said tilapia provides a nutritious and inexpensive protein, which plays a key role in alleviating nutrient deficiency.
But over the past few years, competition from tilapia smuggled from China into the country has intensified.
Despite higher production costs stemming from harsh operating conditions, he said cheap imports from Asia are making investment not worthwhile.
He said the Nigerian Tilapia farming model was currently being appreciated globally and this would mean unregulated importation of the commodity to retard local production. “This is coming when the international community is happy with the level of work done in Nigeria’s tilapia sub-sector. Within the short period tilapia was introduced to Nigeria, we have been able to develop and produce Tilapia feed that is better than the ones used in most African countries. Let government stop importation of Tilapia into the country because afterwards, the smuggled Tilapia will not allow local producers to get ready-made markets. Restriction of Tilapia importation is not even enough, we want an outright ban because we are producing a lot and we can meet the Tilapia deficit if given the right playing field, ” Ahmed said.
He said importers of the commodity are enjoying grants and other incentives from their countries which is why when the fish is brought here, it is very cheap.
He said cost of power and others are serious challenges, so this is not encouraging.
Ahmed canvassed ban on imported tilapia to protect local aquaculture producers. Although Customs often seize fish and poultry products that are smuggled into Nigeria, the wide availability of imported products show that their efforts are not working.
The fish farmers would like the government to close down those outlets that sell black market fish and argue that foreign tilapia is only so cheap because the smugglers do not pay taxes on them.
He said substantial amounts of foreign tilapia are available on the market, in spite of the ban on imports, which was intended to protect the local industry
He said the potential exists to increase tilapia production significantly. However, for this to be achieved, the local production system needs to be improved and greater emphasis placed on establishing best-practices. Such a move would help to bring greater market credibility, improve margins, and ensure that a more consistent quality product is available.
Global Technical Head-Fish – Triton Group, Edna Dionisio said the most effective way to support advancement of the sector is to provide a consistent supply of high-quality fish feed products, along with technical support to the industry.
She noted that ensuring Nigeria-raised tilapia meet the highest quality standards will not only open the door for local farmers but that the products will command much better prices. According to her, feeding accounts for 70 to 80 per cent of the total cost of aquaculture. Moreover, it is often done by unskilled workers, which in many cases, leads to overfeeding or uneven distribution. This means that larger, more aggressive fish tend to get most of the food while the rest go hungry.
She said feeding makes the business less profitable, uncontrollable — because the biggest cost is just spread on the water.
In order to improve the sustainability of tilapia production, she observed that it’s essential to improve feed efficiency – the ratio between the feed given to the fish and their weight gain.
Many of the small fish farmers, she noted, have no prior professional training. She said farmers must track weather conditions and water temperature, which affect fish health. And the farmers must keep records of the feed and the medicine they use.
Edna Dionisio said her dream is to solve the problem, by making feeding more efficient and controllable.
She said tilapia farming could be a more viable option in addressing household protein deficiencies and economic security if attempts were made to improve production of fish feeds and fingerlings.
She said empowering small-scale farmers to run productive and profitable farms is vital if the nation is to feed the future in a sustainable way.
She said there was need to speed up research and implementation of new innovations and technologies such as genetic improvement of local species and formulation of low cost improved fish feed.
She said her organisation is at the forefront of commercial tilapia research, with University of Ibadan and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), dedicating resources to progress tilapia feed, nutrition and technology research and development.
Together with the local industry association, she said her organisation is sponsoring training and offering incentives to a few model farms that invest in improvements. The idea is that others will follow suit if they see it makes financial sense.
She said the industry facesthe challenge of approved and certified hatcheries to supply fingerlings and brood stock to farmers.
She said Triton Group is ready to help local small-scale farmers increase their livelihoods and income by sustainably producing tilapia.
Vice-President, TADAN, Mr. Nurudeen Tiamiu, said fish was an important source of protein. For this reason, the production of fisheries products through aqua farming has become important to the challenge of securing food resources.
He observed that there are some obstacles that must be overcome in order to obtain a stable supply of fisheries products using aqua farming.
For example, there is the problem of the need to obtain feed. Tiamiu said that the government should collaborate with real stakeholders in the sector to fashion out a roadmap to develop farmed fish in the country.
He noted that tilapia farming has emerged as a significant component of global fish supplies.
Tiamiu said that the aquaculture sector had been besieged by people who were not known fish farmers, making and taking decisions on behalf of the real time producers.
Tiamiu said: “I see no reason why the Ministry of Finance is making policies on fish import, while the Ministry of Agriculture is not doing anything for stakeholders. We have a bunch of stakeholders, you have not met with them and have not seen their capabilities in production and that means the Nigerian government do not understand the issues to be addressed when it comes to food safety. We do not even know the quantity of Tilapia needed for consumption, we only know that we have 15 million metric tonnes of fish deficit. Let government meet with stakeholders and fashion out a roadmap to develop farmed fish and farmed fish is the only way aquaculture can survive in Nigeria.”

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