Mrs. Victoria Ayetoro could be mistaken for a government supervisor. She is arguably well into her sixties, and her elegant look in her bush-green designed Ankara dress would make one believe she could be an official from the local council.

But Mrs Ayetoro is not a government official. She is a dry fish trader. Over the past 21 years, she has bought and sold dried fish.

Through this trade, she has trained three of her children in higher education. Two of her sons graduated from university and a daughter from a Nursing college – a remarkable accomplishment for a woman of her class. She is obviously very proud of it.

Even though her children have now assumed full responsibility for her welfare, she has refused to quit her business.

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“I've been in this business for a long time, since the days that the market operated from 'Isale-Eko'. This is where I worked to raise all the children God gave to me and I am thankful. By the grace of God, today the children are now giving back to me. But I am using this to keep myself busy instead of just staying at home since I am not so old already,” she told Bounce News.

*Entrance to Stone Wharf Jetty Crayfish Market

Mrs Ayetoro is one of the hundreds of women-traders who milled around the jetty on a certain Tuesday morning when Bounce News visited the market - their gaze pointing in one direction, where a boat-laden seafood cargo was being expected.

The Stone Wharf Jetty is not a household name in Lagos. It is not popular in that sense but if you ever hold a conversation with a typical Lagos wife about crayfish, it is bound to come up.

Some 300 to 400 baskets of crayfish are loaded in a local boat in Ilaje in Ondo state and transported to Lagos by the sea.

But that is not all the cargo that the boat brings. It also brings about 150 baskets of dried fish, which includes eja panla, eja okondo, eja kote, snails and so on.

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The boat also brings other agricultural produce such as coconut, plantain, garri, banana, palm oil, drums of locally brewed dry gins etc.

*The boat loaded with several cargo waiting to berth at Stone Wharf Jetty

Mrs Ayetoro is one of those who trade in dried fish. Over the past three years, demand for dried fish had more than doubled, according to her. And this is because of demand for export purposes. As a matter of fact, more than 70% of her supplies are to exporters, said Mrs Ayetoro.

This is remarkable given that about three years ago, Nigerians were one of the largest importers of stock fish from Norway.

But all that changed in 2016, after the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN removed importers of stock, dry fish and every other seafood from accessing foreign exchange.

As Mrs Ayetoro spoke to the Bounce News crew, shouts of excitement rented the air – the boat had been spotted on the horizon and the traders positioned themselves. The market officials cleared the harbour of the crowd to make for easy berthing.

*The boat offloaded and market in full swing

It was around past 10 O’clock in the morning. The boat had left Ilaje the previous day and sailed all night to get to Lagos at that time. A second and the last boat for the day was being expected before mid-day.

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According to the traders, there were about eight of those boats, but six of which have now stopped working and the market is left with only the two boats to service it.  

One of the major factors that made the boats to stop coming is paucity of funds by the traders. This made it impossible for them to fill more than 2 boats with their supplies. So, instead of the boats sailing half empty every time, it was limited to the two, said the Market leader, (the Babaloja) Mr. Iwaeni Kolawale.

The implication is that the market cannot hold every day as regular markets should. Instead, it takes place every other nine days.

“The traders here need money to do this business. We are looking for a way to meet the government to give us loan. We need money seriously to grow this business.

“Our business centres around agriculture and as the government is pumping money into agriculture, it is also supposed to extend its financial support to us because we are also contributing to the growth of the GDP. We need help with loans for our members,” said Mr. Kolawale.

But besides the need for financial support, Mr. Kolawale who has been in the crayfish business since 1996, said the market is in dire need of proper structure to protect the traders from the elements.

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You see, the crayfish market was not always in the Stone Wharf jetty. It operated from Isale Eko in Lagos Island, but the traders had to vacate the market in February 2005 after the Lagos state government erected a structure near the market and declared their activities illegal.

*The market in full gear

It was after that incident that the market union sought refuge at the Oyingbo Stone Wharf jetty.

But now, “the biggest challenge is the element. If there is rain, we have to endure it, there is no shelter to run to. Some people will use nylon or umbrella to cover themselves. Also, during the time of dry season, we are under the hot sun, there is no place to run to.

“And that is where we need the assistance of government or any other private partner to help us erect some structures to protect the people from the weather,” said Mr. Kolawale.

Every other nine days, over 1000 people including traders, union workers and truck pushers work to earn their living in the market, with about 50-million-naira worth of transactions taking place, said Yemi Irewunmi, one of the market’s union leaders.

According to him, the market still faces significant threat. The traders need enough money to keep the remaining two boats active.

*Some of the sampled crayfish

If the two remaining two boats were to stop due to inadequate cargo or it breaks down, then there will be no longer a seafood market at the Stone Wharf Jetty.

The two boats bring tons of cargo each week - an equivalent of 4 trailers. If the boats were to stop operations, the traders would have to resort to road haulage, but they would face the enormous task of finding a space for another market as trailers cannot get into the jetty as it is currently.

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This would also triple the cost of shipping seafood cargoes and consequently the retail price in the market, not to talk of the number of people that could become jobless.

*A woman samples a basket of crayfish

“The local boat costs about 22 million naira. Some of us would like to buy and operate a boat but how can when access to loan is so remote to people like us,” he said.

Should the cargo now resort to road, the chances of the haulage not getting to destination on schedule will always be there, thereby truncating the weekly regular schedule of the market which has been the case for decades.

And this is why Babaloja Kolawale believes the market deserves all interventions it needs to keep the market alive.

“This market is very important to Lagos. It is just that many people are not aware of it because of its hidden location. About 80% of crayfish and dry fish sellers in Lagos get their supplies from this market. This is the largest crayfish depot in Lagos state. If anyone tells you that there is a crayfish depot in Lagos bigger than this one, it is a lie,” he said.

Watch the video report here: