Rivers’ dead fishes: Bonny LG inaugurates fact-finding committee

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People are already harvesting the dead fishes for consumption and sale

Banji Ayoola

Chairman of Bonny Local Government Area of Rivers State, Mr David Irimagha has inaugurated a fact-finding committee to unravel the cause of recent death of fishes in large numbers on the shores and waterways of the area.

The committee is to probe the immediate and remote causes of the incidence; proffer a realistic and sustainable solution to the situation; and advise on ways to checkmate a recurrence of the incidence and protecting the marine ecosystem in the area.

The move is part of the ongoing official efforts at both the state and local levels to uncover the reasons behind, and find a lasting solution to, the incident.

Speaking while inaugurating the committee on Saturday in Bonny, Irimagha charged the committee members to view their assignment as a serious one.

He noted that the incident was threatening the primary means of livelihood of the people of the area, stressing that every effort and resource has to be deployed to quickly resolve the disturbing situation.

Chairman of the committee is the Secretary of the Bonny Environmental Consultants Committee, BECC, Amairigha Hart, as Chairman, while Airigha Brown is Secretary.

Other members include the Supervisor for Health, Bonny Local Government Council, Nixon Tolofari; Blessing Pepple; Claudius Hart; and Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of Kristina Reports, Godswill Jumbo

Others are ASP Noel Okusha (Marine Police), Lt. Commander M. Adamu (Nigerian Navy), Nelson Kaizer (Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps), Capt. Ibinabo Omineokuma (Joint Taskforce,and Operation Delta Safe).

They also include Chidi Ikocha (Nigeria LNG); acting Leader of the Bonny Youth Federation, Tamuno-Opubo Wilcox-Buruwi; Jewel Atedoghu, and Kingsley Jumbo.

Vice Chairman of the Bonny Chief Council (BCC), Chief Hanniel Pepple will supervise the committee.

In his speech during the event, the lawmaker representing Bonny Constituency in the Rivers State House of Assembly, Abinye Pepple thanked members of the committee for availing themselves to serve the community at such a critical time.

He assured them of his full support in the discharge of their assignment, expressing optimism that they would deploy their best skills and knowledge to ensure the success of their assigned task.

Also, Chief Hanniel Pepple noted that the committee’s task was a critical one that should be pursued with patriotic vigour and passionate commitment.

He stressed that the continued vending of the affected fish, Croaker, represents a danger to public health. He charged the committee to consider impounding and destroying the fish anywhere it is found whether fresh or smoked, and to enforce a total ban of the fish in all markets around Bonny LGA.

There has been an incidence of dead fish (croaker) around the shores and waterways of the coastline communities along the Atlantic shoreline.

It was learnt that communities lying along the coastline across Ondo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers and Akwa Ibom States have been impacted, while the cause of the incidence yet to be unraveled.

Besides, it was learnt that the incidence, which started about three weeks ago, has, so far, affected an estimated five million fish of the croaker family.

Locals, who spoke in Lighthouse, Amariarikiri, Finitasengi, Ifoko, and Agaja communities, among others, reportedly lamented that their means of livelihood has been drastically affected as they are unable to catch other species because the stench of the dead croaker drives away other species of fish from the fishing environment.

Already, Rivers State Government has cautioned fishing communities against harvesting, eating or selling dead fishes found floating along Bonny and Andoni shores in the state.

Simultaneously, government promised to carry out full scale investigation to unravel the actual cause of the sudden death, in large numbers, of the fishes.

It handed out this caution through the state’s Commissioner for Environment Mr. Igbiks Tamuno, in Port Harcourt, the state capital during an emergency meeting with King Dick Isotu, the traditional ruler of a fishing community in Andoni Local Government Area.

He noted that the dead fishes may constitute danger if consumed since the cause of their death was yet to be ascertained.

The Commissioner cautioned: “People should avoid the temptation of consuming or selling these fishes in the interest of human health.”

The royal father had during the meeting, pleaded with government to quickly unravel the cause of death of the fishes to save the fishing ecosystem.

Isotu said: “As a critical stakeholder, I am in the ministry to intimate the Commissioner about our fears.

“The massive death of fishes along the rivers of Finima in Bonny and Oyorokoto in Andoni LGA calls for urgent concern.

Earlier, an environmental body, Bonny Environmental Consultant Committee, BECC, had raised alarm, warning against harvesting, buying, selling or eating the dead fishes floating on the shores of Bonny Island and other communities around the Niger Delta region.

BECC Chairman, Prof Sodienye Abere had in a telephone interview with a local newspaper, Kristina Reports, said that his committee had received reports of the sighting of dead fishes around the shores of Bonny and surrounding communities and was investigating the source of the incident.

His words: “We got some reports about four days ago that there was a gas leak due to a pipeline burst around the Fuakpa, Sobiekiri and Okololaunch area and dead fishes were being sighted along shores in the area.’

He fingered a major oil company as “the only company having a gas pipeline around the area, so we are suspecting them.”

According to the paper, Abere advised the people of the area against buying or harvesting fishes in the area as they may have been contaminated by a yet-to-be-identified chemical, stressing that people should prioritise their health and wellbeing at this critical time.

He said: “BECC calls for caution in buying or harvesting fish from the Bonny areas for fear of contamination. We are still investigating the cause of the outbreak and not sure what is responsible for this development. It may be a gas leak, of which we are suspecting Shell, but it could also be the use of dynamites, but by who? We don’t know yet”.

Also, it was learnt that along the Atlantic shoreline including Finitasengi River 7, Lighthouse, Amariari, Agaja and other communities in the area, there has been apprehension since the sighting of large numbers of dead fishes.

Besides, the social media had been awash with posts and comments on the issue with people wondering what could be the real cause of the incident.

Findings of a preliminary investigation into the matter on Wednesday and Thursday, April 15 and 16, 2020, by a group of Bonnyyoung men had shown unwholesome economic activities by some unscrupulous traders.

The report, a copy of which was sent to The Radiance, was entitled: “Findings of Preliminary Investigation into the Incidence of Dead Fishes on Bonny Waterways”

It was signed on behalf of the team by Godswill Jumbo.

The report in its brief said: “Upon learning of the incidence of the dead fishes on the shores and waterways of Bonny Local Government Area, a volunteer team of Bonny indigenes took it upon themselves to go probe the reality, immediate and remote causes, impact, and possible remedy to the situation.”

The team that conducted the two day exercise included Godswill Jumbo, Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, Kristina Reports; Humphrey Buowari, Director of Environment, Finima Youth Congress, FYC; Kelly Brown, Coordinator of Environment, FYC; and Kindness Brown, Public Relations Officer, Environment Office, FYC. 

Areas visited included Finima Town, Amariari, Lighthouse, River 7, Agaja, Uku-Mbi, Mbisu 1, Mbisu 2, and Ifoko communities; while the respondents included Community heads, community members, fisher folks, traders and children among others.

Findings on the affected fish show that:

• “Croaker, popularly known as ‘Broke Marriage’ and called ‘Onah’ in Ibani dialect is the only observed fish affected by the incident; 

• The fish were seen lying dead and littered along the shoreline from Lighthouse all the way to Ifoko on the fringe of the boundary between Bonny and Andoni LGA; and 

• The fish were also sighted dead and floating on the sea and being washed ashore by waves”.    

On the impacted areas, the report disclosed: 

• “Amariari, Lighthouse, River 7, Agaja, Uku-Mbi, Mbisu 1, Mbisu 2, and Ifoko communities in Bonny LGA; Oyorokoto and others in Andoni LGA.;

• We also received and verified reports that several communities along the Atlantic shoreline across the area referred to as the Gulf of Guinea is affected too. These include Ondo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers and Akwa Ibom States in Nigeria.”

Citing witness confirmations, the report said: “Community heads and members, fishermen, market women who trade in fish, children living in the impacted communities, among others testified of witnessing this both onshore and offshore.

The fishing folks further disclosed that the odour of the dead fishes was scaring away other living fishes thus depriving them of their daily catches. 

They informed that the incidence began about the last week of March 2020 and (the dead fishes) were in large quantities as much as were filling their fishing baskets and boats.

Some used theirs for domestic consumption while others dried and sold to their customers both in Bonny and Port Harcourt.” 

The report disclosed the following curious observations made during the investigation: 

• “Only the Croaker was affected across all the observed affected areas;

• The dead fishes were always turning up fresh in the mornings along the shores; 

• The fishermen observed out at sea that some of the fishes kept popping up on the surface of the water and some were alive when sighted only to be struggling to stay alive and then they die; 

• Within two nautical miles from Lighthouse, the fishes were all dead but beyond that and as far as the Fairway Buoy, many of the fishes were sighted alive only to die later; 

• On the body of the fish, swellings were sighted looking like a lesion or boil. When pricked something (like) pus would be excreting from it; 

• The fish begins to rotten from the tail as against the head; 

• The fish begins to turn green when it begins to get rotten; 

• When spread out on the fire to dry, unlike normal fish, these do not thoroughly dry up, instead they would disintegrate or scatter; 

• Out at the sea, we observed that the tide was carrying them from the high sea towards the sea shores, suggesting probably that the cause of their untimely deaths maybe up ahead out there in the deep sea.”

On unwholesome economic activities, the report said:

• “The failure of the fishing folks who first witnessed it to alert the authorities but went haywire harvesting them for sales both fresh and dried;

• In spite of the injunctions by various community heads that people should not harvest the fish, locals were sighted harvesting in large quantities. Even out there at the high sea, several fishing boats were sighted harvesting the fish; 

• Several people confirmed to us that the fish was in the markets and even in Port Harcourt.” 

On the likely cause of incidence, it said: “It was yet difficult to ascertain the reason behind the deaths of the Croaker. 

The team has contacted Professor Ibitoru Hart and also sent samples of the fish and water from different locations as directed by her to her in Port Harcourt.” 

The report therefore made the following recommendations: “As a first line of response, the team hereby recommends as follows: 

  • A declaration of the situation as a Public Health Emergency; 
  • A declaration that the Croaker Fish as at now should be avoided, should not be bought or sold, and not harvested wherever it is sighted whether dead or alive. 
  • Law enforcement and security agencies should be mandated to enforce the ban on the fish, especially the harvesting of it onshore and offshore;
  • Law enforcement and security agencies to enforce the ban on the sale of the fish;
  • Engagement of experts to explore the possibility of breeding that species of fish so that it doesn’t go extinct;
  • Public health office should be mandated to study and recommend the best approaches to checkmate any outbreak of infection arising from consuming the fish;
  • The results from the laboratory tests of the fish samples should be made public and where there exists dire consequences, the public should be properly sensitized about it;
  • The relevant public health, environmental and related stakeholders should be converged to engage in a multi-stakeholder approach to address the issue and find a proper and sustainable solution to it.” 

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