Smugglers are beginning to flood the markets with harmful frozen fish illegally brought into the country through land borders, the Federal Government has said.
According to the government, the smugglers bring in all sorts of frozen fish such as tilapia, red pacus, river bream, pangassius, horse mackerel, sardine, and croaker through the country’s land borders.
It, however, vowed to clamp down on the perpetrators and declared that anyone found importing frozen fish without licence from the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development risked a five-year jail term or a fine of $250,000, or both.
The Minister of State for Agriculture, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, stated that those involved in the act were sabotaging the efforts of government despite the extant fish importation policy and prohibition of frozen farmed fish importation into the country.
Lokpobiri, who spoke at the Abuja headquarters of the FMARD on Thursday, said the circulation of unhealthy fish and fishery products in Nigerian market had resulted in grave health implications such as kidney disease and cancer.
He said, “It has become necessary for the Federal Government through the FMARD to address the Nigerian public on the sale of smuggled unhealthy frozen fish, especially farmed tilapia, in Nigeria. These smuggled frozen fish are very harmful to the health of Nigerians.
“The ministry is using this medium to warn all those involved, colluding, aiding and abetting these nefarious activities to stop or face the full wrath of the law of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Importation of fish without licence attracts five-year imprisonment or a fine of $250,000, or both, in addition to forfeiture and destruction of the vessel and its products.”
Lokpobiri added, “For the avoidance of doubt, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture has put in place measures to arrest, detain and prosecute offenders as provided in the Sea Fisheries Act Cap S4 laws of the Federation 2004. Such persons will be dealt with as criminals and economic saboteurs”
To check the illegal activities, the minister said the government had been collaborating with countries in the Gulf of Guinea, Nigeria Customs Service, maritime police, Nigerian Navy and the Nigerian Agriculture Quarantine Service.
Lokpobiri said, “If we are unable to get these people before smuggling the products into the country again, we will deploy our officers to begin inspection of the cold rooms and by next week, I personally will go to some of these cold rooms to inspect.”
The National President, Association of Nigeria Seafood, Mr. Lamina Rasheed, said licensed importers were made to pay 14 per cent of their total cargo to the Federal Government, but smugglers paid nothing.
This, he said, had made it difficult for licensed operators to favourably compete with the smugglers.
He lamented that frozen fish imported by licensed operators were wallowing in various cold rooms across the country because smugglers had flooded the market with cheap but dangerous products.