From Blessing Ibunge, Port Harcourt
The FishNet Alliance has called for support for fishers in coastal communities across Nigeria whose livelihoods have been adversely impacted by COVID-19 and other human induced environmental stressors.
This as the group has specifically seek for support for fishers in Ibeno community of Akwa Ibom State.
This call was made yesterday, during a community dialogue hosted by Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), in attendance by members of the FishNet Alliance at Ibeno.
The Alliance which is an initiative of HOMEF, also provided fishnets and food items to the Ibeno fishers who earlier this year, suffered a fire outbreak that destroyed their homes and fishing gears.
The COVID-19 pandemic and government restrictions on movement have seriously impacted fishers and farmers in the community who have no formal jobs and who rely on their daily fishing expeditions for sustenance.
Rev. Nnimmo Bassey, Director of HOMEF, noted that fishers are essential to both local and international economies, but unfortunately, are among the most vulnerable groups especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to him, the continuous pollution of the Niger Delta by oil and gas related activities is unacceptable, urging government for cleanup of the entire polluted Niger Delta communities. He emphasized that government must recognize and restore the dignity and rights of the people of the coastal communities to a decent livelihoods as fishers, fish processors and marketers.
The Director of the think tank ecological HOMEF, condemned the oil spill in Mauritius’ pristine marine ecosystem and noted that impacted fishers must be supported and the environment cleaned.
Bassey lamented the discouraging body language of government in protecting the aquatic ecosystems in Nigeria from pollution.
According to him “Looking back to the incidence of dead fish along the coastlines of Niger Delta between February and May 2020: it is regrettable that months after schools of fish died in the area there has been no definitive statement from government about what killed the fish and what actions have been taken to avoid repeat of such occurrences”.
It should be recalled that the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) had reported that there were 1,300 oil spills in the Niger Delta between 2018 or 2019. It is astonishing that we could have an average of five oil spills a day in the Niger Delta without government declaring a state of environmental emergency in the entire region. This is unacceptable,” Bassey lamented.
Rev Sam Ayadi, chairman of FishNet Alliance in Akwa Ibom State, called on the government to consult and engage fishers in the drafting of policies to protect the aquatic ecosystems. This, according to him, would enable government come up with all-inclusive policies that ensure the safeguarding of their rivers, creek and seas as well as guarantying their livelihoods as fishers.
He also called on the government to hold the companies that are polluting their environment accountable for their acts.
Some of the members of the Alliance that spoke at the meeting, called on the government and other well meaning stakeholders to emulate the gesture of HOMEF in providing palliatives and fishing gears to fishers in these trying times.
They noted that ‘these will go a long way in cushioning the effect of the pains caused by the fire incidence that burned houses, fishing gears and also cushion the impacts on their economy by the COVID-19 pandemic’.
Meanwhile, some of the resolutions at the end of the meeting include that ‘Fishers should be recognised as frontline aquatic ecosystem defenders and should be engaged in policy issues Government should delineate marine protected areas in suitable locations and support fishers to lead efforts to protect such areas.
‘Fishers are ready to collaborate with government in any effort geared towards mangrove ecosystem restorations as that would enhance fisheries recovery in the region. Government should put adequate measures in place to help fishers during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
‘Traditional knowledge of fishing practices, including those that help mitigate climate change impacts should be adopted in policies.
Polluting corporations should be held liable for the harms created and should be required to cleanup their pollution and to duly compensate the affected people and communities.
‘Fishers should unite and engage in further dialogues to equip members with skills to serve as environmental defenders and to take actions to mitigate climate change.
‘Government should support fishing communities with housing and business facilities such as storage equipment and properly built fish markets’.