By Gabriel Ewepu
ABUJA—THE Federal Government yesterday read the riot act to frozen fish smugglers and cold room operators, vowing to slam N77.5 million ($250,000) fine or five years jail term on them.
Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, who read the riot act at a briefing in Abuja yesterday, said government would soon set up a crack team to trace the smugglers to cold rooms, with a view to fishing them out, prosecuting them and shutting down the cold rooms.
According to him, the annual demand for fish in Nigeria stands at 2.3 million metric tonnes, with a supply of 1.1 million metric tonnes, from 800,000 metric tonnes previously.
A fish vendor negotiates price on April 30, 2013 with a buyer as normalcy returns after Islamist clash with soldiers on April 25, 2013 in the remote northeast town of Baga, Borno State.
He said government was collaborating with stakeholders to see how to gradually upscale local production by deliberately encouraging it.
He said: “It has become necessary for the Federal Government, through the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, to address the Nigerian public on the sale of smuggled, unhealthy frozen fish, especially farmed Tilapia in Nigeria. These smuggled frozen fish are harmful to the health of Nigerians.
“We are setting up a task force that will go to the different cold rooms like what Nigerian Customs Service is doing to illegal storing of smuggled rice.”
; we will also go to these cold rooms where these smugglers have kept the fish, locate them there and seal up the cold room, ensure that they pay the $250,000 fine.
“The smuggling of unhealthy frozen fish into the country is detrimental to the progress being made towards guaranteeing the good health and nutrition of Nigerians. Some of the negative effects of this include unhealthy fish.
“In the light of the above, the Ministry is using this medium to warn all those involved, colluding, aiding and abetting in these nefarious activities to stop or face the wrath of the law of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“Importation of frozen fish without licence attracts five years imprisonment or a fine of $250,000 (N77.5m) or both, in addition to forfeiture and destruction of vessel and its products.
‘’For the avoidance of doubt, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development 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 would be dealt with as criminals and economic saboteurs.”