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Monday, October 2, 2023

Stakeholders clamour development of marine ecotourism to boost economy

Nigeria is blessed with an abundant variety species of fish, some of which have been exported in various forms over the years. These fish species, which include ornamental fishes, are taken either from the wild or cultured.

Marine ecotourism
Marine ecotourism. Photo credit: Octavio Aburto

According to reports, large quantities of fishes and fishery products are exported from Nigeria in different forms and which have been sources of foreign exchange earnings for the country.

An estimated value of exports in the fishery sub-sector stood at approximately $48.212,070 for shrimps, sole fish, cuttlefish, crabs and over $500,000 for ornamental live fishes.

Ornamental fish keeping and its propagation has been an interesting activity for many. Apart from providing aesthetic pleasures, ornamental fishes also create financial openings. Ornamental fish sector is an extensive and global component of international trade, fisheries, aquaculture and developments.

However, the scope of this sector and impact on the economy and aquatic communities are not so well appreciated. 

There are indications that about 600 ornamental fish species have been reported from various aquatic environments worldwide.

According to a Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report, the export value of ornamental fishes in 1996 was put at $206,603,000 while the import was put $321,251,000.

The FAO report states that, since1985, the value of international trade on ornamental fishes has continued to increase at an average growth rate of 14% percent yearly, with developing countries accounting for 63% of the export value.

A Research Scientist with the Nigeria Institute of Oceanography and Marine Research (NIOMR), Mrs. Balema Mbawuike, enumerates the indigenous species that could be found in the Nigerian waters.

She said: “The indigenous species are several but as per what one has been able to find as research findings, we have Natonemas Spotasi, Genomysis Nigri, Nitorosis Nylitical, Facusini Sihusi, and Antodom Bukozi. Ninety-eight of them are freshwater species and they are not as cocolorful as the saltwater species.

“We have saltwater species, that is those from tube marine environment and the brackish environment. Tube brackish and marine environment are much more brilliantly coloured.”

Chief Creative Aquarist, Fishful Thinking Consult, Mr. Tosin Awomoyi, said that the species play various functions and there was a need for more species to fill the missing gap.

“Some of these ornamental fishes are life bearers; that is, they give birth to their young ones alive, some are egg scaterers, some are mouth brooders, that is the likes of thick lips and other families.”

Mr. Awomoyi noted that though Nigeria breeds about eight local species that are of indigenous origin, there was a need for more species to fill the missing gap.

“We breed about eight different species of ornamental species, but the breeding is not in a large quantity. So, there is still the need to buy more ornamental fishes. We have more brood stock and more parent stock,” he said, noting that, like some other businesses, aquarists are faced with numerous challenges.

“There are no companies in Nigeria that mold glass or acrylics used for aquariums to desired specifications. All we can see are people bringing in glasses from the Amo Glass Market. We keep seeing the same type of aquarium shaped glasses, rectangular. We want to see aquarium that are cylinderical, that are curved. Like I said no companies that are molding glasses be it acrylic, borocylic soft glasses and plastics. These are not available in Nigeria.

“So we can look at the aspect of glass molding, then also getting glasses for different specifications, different dimensions and different looks.”

He said aquarium fishes have some therapeutic effects in humans, an area he said was yet to be tapped.

“Another untapped aspect of aquarium that is used for spar is called garafishing. Some people that are doing spa, instead of using the normal stones to wash the leg, if you just deep your legs in an aquarium with garafishes, they will just chase the first layer of the leg and help clean the dirts on the leg and you remove your leg.”

The creative aquarist, who acknowledged that Nigerian government has lately been supporting aquaculture to increase fish production with a view to meeting the nation’s protein need, stressed that there was also a need to have aquaculturists whose main focus would be to breed ornamental fishes.

“In the whole of Nigeria now we have a lot of fish farms, but we do not have any ornamental fish farm that specialises only on breeding ornamental fishes both tropical and temperate ornamental fishes. So, this is an aspect that we need to look into.”

He asserted that aquarium business is quite lucrative only if one can acquire some expertise.

“Aquarium business is very lucrative, and it requires technical know-how. The technical know-how entails understanding the biodiversity of the different fishes; their feeding habits, their feeding ratio, their stocking density and their stocking rate.

“You need to also understand that in stocking these fishes that there are some species that can co-habit and there are others that cannot co-habit together. You need to understand individual fishes before you can pair them in a holding tank.”

A Research Scientist with NIOMR, Mrs. Balema Mbawuike, who described the export of ornamental fishes as a good business, said that there was a huge market for ornamental fishes. She however said that anyone intending to go into such export business would need to meet certain requirements before he or she could embark on the export of ornamental fishes.

“Anybody that wants to start the business and exporting ornamental fishes will start first by obtaining a license from the Federal Department of Fisheries that permits you to do such export. Once you get the licence and you get the Federal Department of Fisheries to approve your outlet site, and once they approve the place and you have your contact fishermen that fish for you and have the expertise to package, you have your customers you probably have gotten from the internet, then you are good to go.”

The creative aquarist, who spoke on the volume of ornamental fishes from Nigeria, noted that the country exported about a huge number of aquarium fishes in 2009.

“There are about 70 commonly exported species of ornamental fishes in Nigeria’s export trade. They are basically the fresh and marine water fishes. The total volume of ornamental fishes exported in 2009 was around 1,292,259 pieces at the value of $71,804,000.”.

The Director of Fisheries Resources at the Nigeria Institute of Oceanography and Marine Research, NIOMR, Dr. Ochuko Obatola, advised that Nigeria could tap into what she referred to as ecotourism as a revenue earner for the country.

“One major area that we are yet to really tap into in this country is to look at what we can benefit from these exotic fishes that we have because there are countries that make a lot of money from just what we call ecotourism now using fishes. I was in South Africa in one of their privately-owned aquaria, where aquarium is huge and the crowd that go there to see the various kind of exotic species that they have there, and they are making a lot of money from that.”

Mr. Awomoyi decried that there are no glass making companies in Nigeria, a situation he said affects the coat of glasses required for the construction of aquariums.

Speaking on the way forward, the Creative Aquarist, Fishful Thinking Consult, Mr. Awomoyi, urged the government to create an enabling environment for the

the ornamental fish business to thrive by addressing the challenges in the power sector and making it possible for people to bring in devices for the formulation of various sizes and shapes of aquarium glasses to desired specifications.

By Chinyere Ogbonna

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