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Who’s buying illegally-caught fishes from Africa’s waters? Orakwusi, Chairman Shipowners Forum, asks

Mrs. Margaret Orakwusi, Chairman, Shipowners Association

Although fisheries management has
been identified as crucial for economic growth of African countries, a lot of
challenges including illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing still take
place persistently. For former President of the Nigeria Trawler Owners Association
(NITOA) Mrs. Margaret Orakwusi, a most significant concern in the illegalities
connected with commercial fishing in Africa’s waters is the fact that there is
a global market for the fishes caught in  “a most irresponsible
manner’’ in 
the region by foreign trawler owners, who do as bad as pair trawling, an act that
is known for depleting the resources.

In this chat, Mrs Orakwusi is pleased
that the Global Maritime Security Conference(#GMSC2019), which took place in Abuja Nigeria
from Oct. 7-9, 2019, would further expose the problem to the global
community, even as there were calls for proceeds of such illegal fishing to be
tagged in same category as the “Blood Diamonds.” She talks about many disturbing
issues and the answers they seek, in order to protect through regulations and collaboration, the
fish resources in the continent.

What are you
doing to address the problems of illegal, unreported unregulated (IUU) fishing
and the issue of challenges with exporting products to foreign countries?
We have always tried to highlight the
issue of IUU, because as a Nigerian, it is unacceptable to have foreigners
invade our waters and poach our natural resources.
When you consider the irresponsible
manner in which this is done, then, it becomes very unfortunate. There are
regulations in fishing. For me to effectively export products from my trawlers,
my activities are highly regulated by Nigeria, by EU, by American Authorities.
Before my vessel is even certified to qualify to export to Europe, EU has some
regulations that I must comply with, right from my trawlers. So, what that
means is that, you may own all the trawlers in the world, but only 10 will pass
the test. This also includes testing my crew, apart from the fact that they
will come, check each part of my vessel to ensure that my vessel is good enough
to go out there and get products that their people will eat. Then, I have some
hygiene regulations too.  My crew has to
be tested periodically. Then, the product itself, wherever I am going to fish
in the deep waters, the water must be analysed and satisfied to be free from
all sorts of substance. So, we do all these, showing compliance and then we
export to Europe. We don’t have problem selling our products, because products
from Nigeria happen to be the best all over the world, and we comply with all
regulations. For my products to be sold to the EU, I have to analyse the water
where the products were caught. I have to date and ensure the freezing and
every other process have to undergo both in-house testing by the Nigerian
Fisheries Lab, and it is certified fit. And so far, all our products have
passed all in the world. I am particularly happy about that, because we are
part of the history in Nigerian Fisheries lab.

My question has always been for long
that these poachers come into our waters, they steal, and they fish in a very
irresponsible manner sweeping from bottom to top, because they have nothing at
stake in our waters, then they leave and they find markets for those products,
running into billions of dollars annually. Something is not adding up very well
there. And when you talk about maritime security, it is very expensive, and for
piracy, you are talking about international waters. Therefore, if the pirates,
poachers are winning the war out there in the sea, how do we go back and sit
and know some other methods of not encouraging what they are doing, of not
allowing them sell their products?  That
is what we have been trying to advocate. So, where are they selling the
products? Where are they finding markets for them? What banking institutions
are they using that they are not accused of money laundering or that
accommodates proceeds from crime? Those of us who do it the right way, in
getting your payment into your domiciliary account anywhere in the world, you
have to tell a history of the fund. You have to say I caught this product from
this or from that. But, why are the illegal fishing trawler getting away with
it? Is it an international conspiracy? For not being able to face the poachers
out there in the high sea, we should be able to force the financial
institutions to be more prudent, to at least ask questions. We have the law of
money laundering all over the world. We are talking in terms of billions of
dollars annually, and the markets are in Europe and in Asia, and we have boldly
accused them of coming into our waters and poaching our resources in a most
irresponsible manner. They are stealing for this generation and for generation
unborn. When you talk about fishing, things like shellfish, like lobsters,
prawns and some other resources that we may not be eating here like sea
cucumber, it is the hottest of cakes to the Asian countries. These are things
they just come and steal and go away.

Do we lack
the mechanism to check these illicit activities here?
It is about having capacity. We are
talking about crime that happen out there in deep waters. So, we must build
capacity to arrest them. For instance, I cannot dream of going to any of the
African countries. I cannot send my trawlers there to fish without first flying
their flag or being licensed by them to be able to fish there. Immediately my
trawler gets there, it will be arrested. Therefore, to me, it is about building
capacity. By the way, the poaching is all over Africa, it is not just in our
waters. I remember there as a time I gave a talk in Tanzania and somebody said
something that was a bit scary. She said that in their own environment, some
people come in there and use dynamite. It is not good. You cannot leave your
safe environment and come to introduce certain things that are not safe for the
environment. It is also good we keep talking until EU will hear, the UN will
hear, because we need them. This is an international organised crime. Even if
we can’t effectively monitor our resources, we are entitled to our resources.

What is this
costing Nigeria or Africa?
It runs into billions of dollars
annually. It is over 40 per cent of what comes to us.   

What about
the issue of kidnappings in the Niger Delta area, how is it being handled?

I think we are making progress. The
trawler owners were the first to cry out to say piracy was going on in the
country, and we are the most vulnerable because of the nature of our
activities. When the ship lets out the outrigger to fish and a pirate vessel is
coming, it takes time to hull-up, and so they easily come in.  And the attacks used to be very violet. Although
there have been some changes, but at the same time, the pirates are becoming
too specialised. They have gone regional, and that is why this conference is
very good. Working together, we may be able to see results, because a country
cannot just stay and do it alone. Just the way the pirates have gone regional,
the history of an incidence connects two or three countries. A vessel may be
taken from country A and handed over to another pirate in country B, and may be
hashed there and executed somewhere else. So, coming together to work together
as a group to fight piracy, I think we will begin to see good results.

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