Kenyan middlemen and Chinese companies dealing with fish imported from China have choked the market for locally produced fish.
The imports, which have been rising for the past decade retail for as low as 100 shillings whereas fish from local farmers and the Kenyan lakes retail at higher prices of between 400 and 1,200 shillings.
As consumers prefer the cheaper options, many local fish processing and export companies, particularly in Mombasa, Nairobi, and Kisumu are gradually closing shop due to declines in supply.
The situation is ironical because the country is capable of producing more than a million tons of fish. The imports were allowed due to what the Fisheries Department called an 800,000-ton deficit.
The country currently manages to produce 200,000 tons of fish while the Chinese imports have surpassed the capacity to hit 300,000 tons.
The Lake Victoria Fisheries is concerned of the worsening situation questioning the health and quality standards of the imported fish.
According to the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KEMFRI), fish production in Lake Victoria has dropped 50 percent for the past 10 years.
“The stock from the lake have declined from 5,000 tons every year to 2,500, and this is due to pollution by the hyacinths, excessive fishing, illegal and inappropriate fishing methods, and fishing in breeding grounds,” said KEMFRI.
China is now controlling most of the fish markets in the country, a case evident from the 70 percent dominance it enjoys in Kisumu’s Jubilee fish market; the biggest market in the Western region.
According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, by 2015, China’s fish exports clocked the 1 billion-shilling mark, a figure which is expected to be three times more by the end of 2018. Consequently, fish imports registered a 60.2 percent growth to 1.02 billion shillings in 2015 compared to 624.1 million shillings a year before that.
Meanwhile, fish still trades high in Kisumu compared to Nairobi. Nile perch and tilapia fillet sell at 700 and 550 shillings a kilo, respectively. One kilogram of fish in restaurants, on the other hand, goes for anything between 800 and 1,00 shillings.
The high cost of fish in Kisumu is attributed to the difficulty of procuring the fish from the lake. Joyce Aluoch of the Fish Traders Association says that in Kisumu Jubilee’s market, a tiny fish weighing between 200 and 300-grams retails at 500 shillings, a half a kilo fish going for between 750 and 800 shillings, and 800 to 1000 shillings for a 700 to 800-gram fish. A kilo of fish in the region goes for 1,000 to 1,500 shillings.
Imported tilapia from China outweighs the local fish prices as a piece weighing between 200 and 300-grams cost 30 shillings.
In Nairobi, Gikomba and City markets remain the largest suppliers with fish imported from Uganda.
Clearly, there is an urgent need for the ministry to reconsider importation of fish from other countries, failure to which the local market will further drop.