Community people, environmentalists and members of the FishNet Alliance have called on relevant regulatory agencies including the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the National Environmental Standards and Regulatory Enforcement Agency (NESREA) to ensure that the actual cause of dead fish being washed ashore in the Niger Delta Coastline is identified, addressed and the perpetrators brought to book, should it be from an unnatural cause.
This call was made in a field report titled: “Massive Death of Fish Across the Atlantic Coastline of the Niger Delta” was made available to the media on Tuesday, May 5, 2020 by the FishNet Alliance, Nigeria. Findings were obtained from field visits to affected communities, reports by other stakeholders, news publications and statements by community persons.
According to the report, the news of dead fish washing ashore first broke on February 20, 2020 when community people from Ogbulagha Kingdom in Burutu Local Government Area of Delta State reported massive death of fish, floating and littering their shores.
“This incident has replicated itself in other fishing communities along the Atlantic coastline in the Niger Delta states of Ondo, Bayelsa, Rivers and Akwa Ibom. The species of fish mostly affected is the Croaker Fish popularly called Broke-Marriage or Onah in local dialect,” the report states.
Furthermore, the report outlines: “The immediate cause of the incident is yet to be known, but there are speculations that it is related to the activities of multinational oil and gas production companies operating in the region. Among other pointers to the oil companies as source of the incident, some environmentalists have attributed the dead fish littering the Niger Delta coastline to discharge of toxic chemicals from oil company operations at Forcados oil export terminal and urged governments at the affected areas to wake-up to their responsibilities in the protection of the environment and the service to the people, while calling on NOSDRA to ensure that the result of the tests are not unduly delayed.”
The report confirmed that some community persons are picking up the dead fish and taking them home for consumption and/or to process and sell to unsuspecting members of the public. In some communities, there have been reported cases of dogs dying after consuming the dead fish. There are also fears that, if not properly and timely investigated, this trend could continue and even spread to other communities – knowing the interconnectedness of rivers (in the Niger Delta and other water ways in Nigeria).
The communities need help as they are faced with hardship caused by the lockdown, to curb the spread of coronavirus and threats from pollution of their waters – which is their major source of livelihood, according to FishNet.
In the report, the Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), Nnimmo Bassey, expressed concerns, stating that when coastlines become littered with dead fish, it is a clear indication that there is a serious public health threat.
He noted: “The dead fish are smoking guns pointing at a serious crime. The coronavirus pandemic should not deter the relevant institutions from getting to the root of the matter. This matter should not be swept under the carpet because we are focusing attention on the pandemic.”
While the report acknowledged that NOSDRA and NIMASA have taken samples of the dead fish and water from the affected areas for analyses, the stakeholders demand a full and unbiased investigation into the issue and for perpetrators, if any, to face the full weight of the law.
They called on other stakeholders, especially environment and health NGOs, to put pressure on the authorities to see the development as a major disaster and ensure that the cause of the pollution is quickly detected and the public is duly alerted.
They caledl for adequate sensitisation to raise the awareness of people especially in environments experiencing this phenomenon to ensure that the dead fish are not consumed or sold in view of possible health implications.