By John Omoaka
Stakeholders in the fishing industry on Wednesday called on the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to lift the ban on foreign exchange for importation of stockfish heads into Nigeria.
Speaking at the Norwegian Seafood Seminar held at Sheraton Hotel in Lagos Wednesday, the Norwegian Seafood Council, Director Africa, Mr Trond Kostveit, stockfish heads was among the 42 items placed under forex restrictions by the CBN in 2015.
“Initially, imported pelagic fish and stockfish were not included in this list. However, fish was later included. With the inclusion of fish on the list, it automatically affected stockfish and stockfish heads importation,” he added.
Representing the Executive Governor of Rivers State, Chief Wike Nyesom, the Deputy Governor of the State, Dr (Mrs) Ipalibo Banigo, said that partnership with the Norwegian Government will create more jobs and provide technical assistance especially in the local fish production.
“We want to ensure that we have sustainable food for our people especially low carbon which we know stockfish represent. We also want to ensure that we keep the jobs on the value chain of this industry. We don’t want jobs to be lost any longer”
“We want our local aquaculture to increase and improve and we are looking for assistance in areas of technical training from the Norewegian Government for our people who are into local production of fish,” she said.
Delivering the keynote address, Honourable Minister of Agriculture & Rural Development, Alhaji Sabo Nanono, who was ably represented by the Director of Fisheries, Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Ime Umoh, mentioned that the importation of stockfish/stockfish heads was not a threat to local fish production and asked relevant authorities to stop listing stockfish as animal feeds.
“Stockfish and stockfish heads are processed from the finest of codfish which can only be found in the coldest of waters and can never be produced in our Nigerian water. This then affirms that stockfish and stockfish heads do not compete and certainly pull any threat to the local fish production in the country.
“Stockfish head is not animal feeds as it is sold for human consumption in all our local markets and supermarkets and it is eaten by virtually all the tribes in the Nigerian society.
“Effort should be made by the relevant organization/regulator to stop the practice whereby stockfish heads is being imported into the country under false declaration of animal feeds by dubious importers,” he said.
On his part, the Royal Norwegian Ambassador, Mr Knut Eiliv Lein, assured the stakeholders of partnering with Nigeria in the areas of creating jobs for the populace and building capacity.
“The importation of stockfish is very important to Nigeria because it creates jobs and puts nutritious food on the table. Conversation with the Minister of Agriculture and others has offered Norway’s assistance to build capacity in this sector,” he confirmed.
Representing the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, the Deputy Director, Mr Ishaku Zakaria, said based on the present reforms and policies of the current Administration, Norwegian investors are welcome.
“The present Administration has initiated several reforms and policies that are geared towards removing some bottlenecks, in terms of trade barriers.
“We strongly believe that both countries’ bilateral relationship and alliance will further expand the Non-oil sectors of our economy.
“Nigerian government would welcome more Norwegian investors to invest in the Nigeria’s identified priority sectors such as Auto & Automotive parts, Textile & Garments, Iron & Steel, Petrochemicals & Plastics, Pharmaceuticals, Agriculture & Agro Business covering livestock and other key value chains with respect to the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA),” he said.
Speaking on behalf of the Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs Service, Col. Hameed Ali (Rtd), Chief Superintendent of Customs, Mr Akeem Tolani, promised to liaise with the appropriate quarters what was discussed and advised against false declaration of consignments.
“Let me use this opportunity to advise the stakeholders in importation chain, particularly the importers and the Agents , they should be straight forward and more accurate in their declaration. So that the 24 hours clearance procedure which the Customs has invested lots of human and capital resources on, under the able leadership of the Comptroller General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (Rtd) can be achieved while the cost of doing business in international trade would be reduced”
The Consultant to the Norwegian Seafood Council in Nigeria and former Deputy Director in the Federal Department of Fisheries, Ms Abbey Cheke, lamented over the inclusion of stockfish/stockfish heads in the list of items barred from CBN’s forex market.
“In Nigeria today, according to the Bureau of Statistics, we have over 80% of the people living below the poverty level. From research, stockfish heads prevent kwashiorkor which is a serious lack of protein in this country.
“We are trying to delist stockfish and stockfish heads from the list of items that cannot have access to CBN’s official forex market. Meanwhile, it does not only create jobs but it also creates the necessary nutrients especially protein for the very low income bracket,” she said.
The President of First Premier Stockfish Importers Association of Nigeria, Gregory Ilobinso asked the Federal Government to reduce duty on stockfish imports to 10% and remove it from list of banned items.
He also request exporters to further reduce their landing cost to reflect the current economic realities in Nigeria as a result of COVID-19 issues.