…Defaulters risk N87m fine, 5yrs imprisonment
From Magnus Eze, Abuja
The Federal Government yesterday, warned that it will soon clampdown on cold rooms stocked with illegally imported frozen fish across the country.
Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, who made the disclosure in Abuja at a press conference, said government, will enforce the Sea Fisheries Act Cap S4 Laws of the Federation 2004, pointing out that measures had been put in place to arrest, detain and prosecute defaulters.
He explained that importation of frozen fish without licence attracts five years imprisonment or a fine of $250,000 (about N87m) or both in addition to forfeiture and destruction of the vessel and its products.
“We are setting up task force to visit cold rooms the same way the Customs is doing on smuggled rice. Even if you have beaten the security agencies to bring it in, we are going to fish you out; close down the cold room and make sure that you pay the $250,000,” Lokpobiri stated.
The Minister named some of the illegally imported frozen fish to include tilapia, red pacus, river bream, croaker and horse mackerel, stressing that the unpatriotic individuals behind the unwholesome act sabotage the efforts of the Federal Government despite the extant fish importation policy and prohibition of farmed fish importation through the land borders.
He attributed the increasing cases strange illnesses and organ failure in the country to the high consumption of unhealthy fish and fishery products as well as other frozen foods.
Threatening that government will make life miserable for the smugglers noting that concerted efforts were being made with stakeholders to upscale local production.
He disclosed that local supply had been increased from 800,000 to 1.1metric tonnes since the beginning of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, leaving a deficit of about 2.1metric tonnes to meet national demand of 3.2mt.
Aside collaborating with the Customs, Marine Police and Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, Lokpobiri also revealed that the ministry was discussing with the Nigerian Navy to provide security for fishing activities on the Gulf of Guinea.
National President, Association of Indigenous Seafood Stakeholders, Mr. Lamina Rasheed, who also spoke to newsmen appealed to government not to relent as smugglers had virtually sent them out of business.
Rasheed explained that it was not possible for their members; after paying 14 per cent customs duty to compete with illegal importers who do not pay any duties; hence his call on government to remove fish from foreign exchange (forex) ban list, to enable licenced importers access to forex for fish importation.