Nigeria: “Interagency cooperation is vital to increase compliance and stop fight IUU fishing”

By Stop Illegal Fishing:27th Mar, 2023:

Representatives from agencies involved in monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) of fisheries activities in Nigeria met in Lagos on 20 – 23 March 2023, with support from the West Africa Task Force (WATF) – the operational arm of the Fisheries Committee for the West Africa Central Gulf of Guinea (FCWC). It was the third meeting of this national working group, created to enhance interagency cooperation on issues relevant to ensuring sustainable marine fisheries in Nigeria. The meeting was also joined by Stop Illegal Fishing (SIF) and Trygg Mat Tracking (TMT), in their role as technical partners of the WATF. 

The third session of the national working group of Nigeria was hosted within the Lagos office of the Federal Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture of Nigeria, under the Chairmanship of the Deputy Director for MCS. The Acting Director of the Department in Abuja also joined the full meeting, marking the high importance of the issue for Nigeria.

Speaking on behalf of the Honourable Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Director recalled that fisheries is a key sector for the country, especially to ensure food security for a population of over 200 million inhabitants. Economically, it is also a sector that generates significant export revenues, thanks to the trade of commercially high-value shrimps, which constitute most of the country’s exports. Ensuring the sustainability of Nigeria’s fisheries is therefore of high importance for the West African State. This includes combatting illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing practices, for which Nigeria has been stepping up its efforts. A steppingstone in Nigeria’s fight against IUU fishing has been the ratification by the country of the FAO Agreement on Port States Measures (PSMA) in 2022.

To fight IUU fishing and increase compliance with fisheries laws and regulations, developing national interagency cooperation is vital, said the Deputy Director of MCS, Mr. Paul Opuama, as he set the stage for the discussions. For this reason, in 2015, relevant agencies were brought together under the umbrella of a national working group. The goal of this national working group: joining forces to tackle all aspects of illegality or crime that can be directly related or associated to fisheries activities. In line with this goal, Nigeria’s national working group is composed of representatives from various agencies, including the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), customs, the Nigerian Navy, the Nigerian Port Authority, and the Ministry of Justice.

This third workshop of the national working group was organised with the objective to take stock of the interagency cooperation achieved since 2015, review past recommendations and agree on concrete next steps to strengthen cooperation.

With the ratification of the PSMA, operationalising the national working group has become high on the agenda – as taking measures to exchange information amongst relevant national agencies and to coordinate their activities is part of the internationally binding agreement (Article 5).

To achieve this, Nigeria is in the process of identifying operational challenges faced by the different MCS actors, as a way to define priorities in the national context to address potential gaps. To help achieve this evaluation, SIF, in its role of technical partner to the WATF, has developed an MCS capacity assessment tool. This assessment, conducted together with Nigerian MCS stakeholders, has the objective to support Nigeria as well as all FCWC countries to better understand the current situation and inform the capacity-building needs for the countries at the regional level. The workshop was used to present, discuss, and validate the results of the assessment with the Nigerian stakeholders.

The workshop was also the occasion to share updates from the WATF and present recommendations and requests made at the past technical meetings. One of the requests made by Nigeria was to conduct a study on the risks of IUU fishing associated to imports in Nigeria. As the fourth largest importer of fish after China, Japan and the United States, and the first importer in Africa, the risks of IUU fishing associated with imports were raised by the national working group as being a major concern in its last meeting in 2019. The objective of the study was to achieve a better understanding of fish imports to Nigeria and associated IUU fishing risks, towards the strengthening of port controls and seafood import requirements. Whilst the study only provided preliminary results, it highlighted the importance to take holistic measures to address IUU fishing and not focus on one single instrument. In line with the raison d’être of the meeting, it showed the importance of collaboration between the different agencies, including the importance to understand the roles and mandates of the different actors in dealing with fish imports as well as the broader processes regulating them.

After four lively days of discussions, the workshop participants made several recommendations to strengthen national interagency cooperation to fight IUU fishing. These recommendations will be taken back by the participants to their respective agency and inform further actions to be implemented. These recommendations are also key for the WATF and other partners, to help them better support Nigeria with the priority areas the national actors have identified for themselves – and help the country in its ambitions to play a major role in preventing IUU fish from accessing its local market.

 

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