You will always find a parade of fishes and other sea foods from the Atlantic Ocean here. The roll call is endless: Tilapia, Cat fish, Bonga fish, Crayfish, Akpanata, Tortoise fish, Electric fish, Scombia, shrimps, crabs, periwinkle and other edible sea foods fills the market. Both smoked and fresh are everywhere. See you at Ibeno fish market adjudged to be the biggest fish market in sub-Saharan Africa.
It is located at the sea shore of Ukpenekang in Ibeno Local Government of Akwa Ibom. The Atlantic Ocean that surrounds it encourages fishing as an occupation among the natives. Operations of oil companies with numerous oil workers in town provide ready buyers for fishermen. With a boat ride into the fishing settlement offshore, one would admire both leisure and economic adventures of fishing.
But before fishes arrive the market, much work is done in terms of processing, to turn them to finished products, for sale. When TNN visited Itak Ifa village offshore, from Ibeno fish market, fishermen were found in their make-shift huts either preparing their net or removing fishes from the nets or smoking already caught fishes in readiness for sales. The voyage was rough and adventurous but with the help of fishermen well versed in oceaneering, who know when tide rises and falls for safe sail, we arrived the sea shore with loads of fishes.
TNN observed that fishing is not restricted to the riverine natives. Some fishing companies in their fishing trawlers were found in the ocean. The advance technology in fishing made it possible to meet high demand of fish in the market.
TNN saw fish dealers in different categories. Those in the high sea smoked the fish there at the fishing settlement and brought them to the shore for sale, while others waited at the beach, bought fresh fish and smoked them all night for sale.
A typical fish market day is a scene to behold in Ibeno oil city. From 4am to about 6:30am is a beehive of activities for fish sellers and buyers. Within this period, natives who had prepared their wares would pack them in baskets, bags, and scales depending on quantity and sizes of the fish while buyers from other areas in Akwa Ibom states such as Abia, Cross River as well as the entire south east, south-west and northern Nigeria wait in their trucks and buses. Most of them would arrive the previous day, stay in hotels or customer's houses to catch up with ever rushing competitors so that they can buy the quantity needed, before another trip. For crayfish buyers, customers have to order from dealers when it is fresh before they dry it and store in white cellophane for onward movement to other parts of the country and beyond.
Scale and non-scale fish have different prices because of nutrients and health benefits. Mr. Ibok Etim told TNN that scale fishes are more nutritious in content than non-scale fishes, but could not explain the nutrients that make it distinct from other fishes in the market.
Apart from the open fish market in Ibeno, some catering companies working with ExxonMobil as contractors are customers to the fish dealers. Nowadays, many people prefer fish to red meat due to health complications arising from consumption of red meat. Therefore, demand for fish in diet becomes higher. Many shops around Jelly road in Mkpanak stock fresh fishes of all sizes in deep freezers for buyers who cannot make it to the fish market at Ukpenekang. A kilo is sold for between N1,500 and N2,000, depending on the specie and size of the fish.
The fishermen are few, while the fish market is dominated by women. In an interview with TNN, Mr. Asukpa Edet said those who are not connected to secure work with oil companies resort to fishing to eke a living but lamented that since 2002, ExxonMobil had not distributed fishing net to fishermen. He said the fish market would have been a booming business in the area.
A trader in Ibeno fish market makes huge money daily. On a good day, Mrs. Atim Itrecho told TNN that her sales amount to over N1.7m and smile to the bank any day she sells in the market. Another trader corroborated it. Nkoyo Asukpong said she makes over N700,000 daily from sales of fish, crayfish and other sea foods.
Entry into the market is rigorous and exclusively for natives especially buying fish from the trawler and other fishermen from the high sea to the shore. Last year, women under the aegis of Ibeno fish market union made a protest march to the palace of the Paramount Ruler of Ibeno, HRM Owong Effiong Bassey Achianga who is the Chairman Traditional Rulers of Oil Mineral Producing Companies (TROMPCOM) and demanded that only Ibeno women should be allowed to buy from the fishing trawlers and fishermen when they arrive from offshore. TNN learnt that the request was granted. Since then, women in Ibeno became large in fish business as other buyers could not buy directly from offshore trawlers and fishermen.
In another interview with TNN, the Supervisor of Education, Youth, Sport and Culture in Ibeno Local Government Mr. Isaac Williams Amana, said when approval would be received from chairman of the council, the department would embark on enlightenment, sensitization awareness campaign to enlighten the youths on the need to explore the sea resources so that the present focus on oil as the only source of revenue would be diversified for the benefit of the people and government.