Kenya spent 1.7 billion shillings on fish imports from China in 2018, an increase to 11.8 percent from 1.5 billion shillings spent in 2017.
Data from the State Department of Fisheries show that Kenya imported a total of 22,362 tonnes of fish from China in 2018, an increase from 19,127 tonnes imported in 2017.
The increase on fish imports from China gives a reflection of the strong strangle for Chinese fish in the local market which accounts to more than 70 percent even as local traders complain of lack of market as a result of cheaper fish from China.
Industry numbers show the value of fish imports have been rising steadily in the past four years as the Chinese take advantage of their cheaper supplies to gain a foothold in the Kenyan market.
Kenya has recently turned to China to meet its fish consumption demand, which has seen its fish imports from the Asian nation double in the past two years to hit 2 billion shillings in 2017 from 1 billion in 2016.
According to data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), Kenya spent $22.17 million on fish imports in the first 11 months of 2017. The Chinese imports, which stood at $6.24 million in 2015, came at a time when local production was falling over concerns about dwindling stocks.
While local traders sell a kilogram of fish for 3,500 shillings, they end up making great loses since Chinese fish takes the better share of the market as it goes for 1,800 shillings per kilogram.
The country has an annual deficit of 365,000 tonnes of fish against a demand of 500,000 tonnes, which can only be filled through imports.
Since 2008, the highest production to be recorded in the country from both marine and aquaculture was 182,000 tonnes, recorded in 2014.
The National Treasury in January 2019 defended the importation of fish from China for local consumption, saying the Kenyan fishing industry does not produce enough to satisfy demand hence the need to import from China and other markets.
The stand by the Treasury, appeared to be contradictory to a ban on fish imports, particularly from China, by President Uhuru Kenyatta in October 2018 when he said that there was a need to safeguard the livelihoods involved in fishing and questioned why the country was importing fish when Kenya had enough resources in place to cater for the fish shortage.
After President Kenyatta’s sentiments on Chinese fish imports, China responded through acting Chinese Ambassador to Kenya Li Xuhang on the move to cancel application of fish from its market terming the move as a trade war that would lead to cutting economic ties between Kenya and China.
Fishermen have in the past opposed imports, saying if empowered through training and access to credit to enable them to buy superior equipment, they can increase their daily yields from the current 50 kilograms to over 200 kilograms.
At the Gikomba Market in Nairobi, Chinese fish is sold openly but after being repackaged by traders. This involves removing the frozen pieces from the packed boxes that come with a two-year expiry date. After repacking, they are sent to various locations by handcarts.
Laboratory tests revealed that fish imported from China had traces of mercury, lead, arsenic, and copper, exposing millions to health risks.