As a fisherman in Kpata, Lokoja Local Government Area of Kogi State, Abdullahi Gimba depends on the resources of the River Niger to provide for his two wives and 13 children. It is how he has earned his income for the past 30 years; by taking to the waters for several hours every day.
But the waters are low and yield has become increasingly low in the last decade, forcing Mr Gimba to travel longer distances in search of fishes for a good catch. This is making his livelihood and that of other fishermen like him more difficult and unreliable.
“We don’t get as much fish as we used to in the past. We only get the most in the rainy season when the water levels are high and the water is deep but sometimes it [water levels] increases so much causing flooding, which is another problem we’ve faced almost every year since 2012,” Mr Gimba said. “It’s worse in the dry season because fishermen who don’t have enough money to buy mechanised boats have to paddle far into the waters for many hours before getting some catch,” he added.
In communities like Kpata, families are forced to either survive with less or come up with strategies to adapt to the changes they are experiencing.
Impacts of Climate change on Fishing
Considering Nigeria’s enormous water resources, artisanal fisheries is a major contributor to the nation’s economy and is reported to employ 8 million people like fishermen and retailers of fish gear equipment and another 18 million engaged in fish processing, distribution, and marketing.
Although the fisheries industry has greatly suffered from environmental impacts, illegal fishing and weak governance, climate change-driven crises have completely changed the game.
Declining fish stock has been attributed to the high CO2 emissions which drive global climate change The resultant inconsistent weather conditions may result in a 53 per cent reduction of fish resources in Nigeria by the year 2050, according to the World Bank. With fewer fishes to catch, you may not only miss your favorite seafood but also the livelihood of thousands of fishers is at risk.
Small-scale fishers are most vulnerable as they are exposed to sea-level rise, coastal erosion, flooding, and loss of their sole livelihood as a result of continuously depleted resources.
As the planet warms, the seasonality, biological productivity, and abundance of fish species are greatly affected.
“Marine life is forced to migrate to a favourable habitat where temperature and oxygen levels are optimal or at least survivable,” explains Moshood Mustapha, Professor, and Head of Department of Zoology at the University of Ilorin.
“The entire biology of these fishes and water quality parameters are disrupted because as the ocean becomes warmer, it will resultantly be more acidic with lower oxygen levels,” Mr Mustapha continued.
Fisheries management strategies
One of the long-term goals of the Paris Climate Agreement is to foster the inclusion of a longer adaptation goal by increasing the ability to adapt to adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience. Mr Mustapha stated that these communities require social and political support from the government in order to better adjust.
“The public and private stakeholders in the fisheries sector are to set up awareness campaigns for those uneducated Fishermen, weather forecasting and climate change monitoring systems, early warning systems, and disaster recovery programmes. These are the innovative ways these fishermen are supposed to be supported for disaster preparedness and emergency management but the government has not made any of such efforts,” he said.
Fishers are attempting to adjust their own way, without corporate or institutional support.
There are six common adaptation strategies most fishermen in Kpata engage in to improve their catch: increasing and changing fishing time, increasing fishing efforts, changing fishing location and fishing deeper into the water, shifting to mechanized boats, and taking a moratorium on fishing.
“When I newly started fishing, we could fish for just two hours and that would be enough to sell the next day,” said Usman Baba, another fisherman resident in Lokoja. “But now, we would have to fish at least five hours from many different locations for a good catch. We have to look for ways to cope because we must feed our families. I normally do my fishing at night somedays to get a better catch. The fishes are more active when it’s dark, that’s when they feed and come out to the water surface.
“I also practice aquaculture. So, during the dry season when we can’t catch plenty. I supply fish traders from my fish ponds”, he continues.
“Many of the younger fishermen do not have money to buy mechanized boats and have to paddle for long hours during fishing trips. I remember how difficult it was before I finally bought one. Although motorboats are expensive and not every fisherman can afford them, it helps a lot.”
Just like Mr Baba, Mr Abdullahi Gimba talks about how he has to find alternatives whenever fish landings are low. In addition, fishermen in his Lokoja community have agreed on some other strategies.
“Nobody fishing from this river is allowed to use chemicals for fishing. Although it was popular before, now it is completely banned because it causes more damage. I have an engine boat that enables us to travel long distances on the water very fast and catch more fish. I also support myself by going back to the farm where I grow corn and some vegetables,” Mr Gimba explained.
Believing that fishing reflects their cultural identities rather than just livelihoods. It’s clear that both fishermen are reluctant to completely abandon fishing for other options but only support their income by farming and aquaculture to complement their livelihood.
Although the climate challenges in their community will remain a persistent threat, and continue to make their livelihood harder to manage, they remain optimistic about the future, hopeful that every new day will be better than the last.
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