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Nigeria : Structured embargo on frozen small pelagic imports from January 2014 confirmed

Nigeria's Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development announced that from January 2014 a gradual embargo will be imposed on fish imports, particularly frozen small pelagics, aiming at an annual reduction target of 25%. Currently, Nigeria spends more than US$600 million on fish imports. The local production of 700,000 tonnes is insufficient to fill the 2.66 million tonnes of local fish requirement.

From 2005 the Central Bank of Nigeria noticed an unsustainable surge in the demand for foreign exchange for fish imports by various fish importing companies operating in Nigeria. The rising imports also led to fraudulent practices such as over-invoicing or ghost imports.

The Minister of Agriculture emphasised that the government "is actually working on an integrated policy that will gradually deliver the country from the wasteful dependence on fish produced in foreign nations, while Nigeria's abundant aquatic resources stay untapped". The new policy also aims to engage fish importers in fish farming enterprises to increase local production, including through the aquaculture value chain. In this context, subsidised fishing equipment has been distributed to the artisanal sector and juveniles distributed to several Nigerian fish farmers. It is anticipated that aquaculture could produce 400,000 tonnes of fish.

A fish farmer and fish importer warned that fish farming also had some shortcomings: "In case of locally farmed fish, the fish feed accounts for 70% of the cost of production, which is imported, draining valuable foreign exchange," he explained. He also noted that imported fish is available at lower prices than any other source of protein: locally farmed catfish sells for three times as much as imported frozen fish; meat and chicken are considerably more expensive.

It was reported in January that prices in the domestic market had been increasing by a third for mackerel and horse mackerel, described by many Nigerians as staple food.

Meanwhile, the fleets selling mainly frozen small pelagics to Nigeria which include Russian and European fleets, in particular the Pelagic Freezer Trawlers Association, fishing in West Africa and South Pacific are worried about such measures and how they may affect their sales in Nigeria.