Scarcity amid plenty as ‘illegal’ loans drown fishermen’s catch

A fisherman loads fish into a lorry at Usenge beach. A kilo of Nile Perch sells at between Sh150 and Sh300.[Isaiah Gwengi, Standard]
It’s 3pm at Kuoyo beach in Mageta Island, Siaya County and the fishermen are setting off in their boats for an overnight fishing expedition.

Their boats cut through the rough waters of Lake Victoria and soon, they are in the middle of the glimmering lake. As they lay down their nets, the evening is illuminated by nothing but the beauty of sunset with orange, gold, pink and blue tints in the horizon.

They are all excited that the night will bring a good catch. Now and then, they pull their nets into the boat.

Sometimes the nets are loaded with fish, prawns and crabs, but, they all occasionally get them empty.

By morning, they start rowing back to shore looking haggard and tired after working in the cold - a tough job indeed.

As they reach the shore, their main headache remains middlemen and purchasers who have invaded the fish market.

By the time they have sold all their 40kg Nile Perch at Sh4,400, the fishermen would have lost a lot of money to middlemen, boat owners and purchasers.

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“After deductions by the boat owners and purchasers, a fisherman will go home with as little as Sh300,” says Moses Odero, a fisherman in Usenge beach.

Like many fishermen, Odero says that purchasers are fast emerging beneficiaries as fishermen rush to get loans from them.

“Purchasers have taken advantage of the rush by fishermen to get loans to buy fishing gears and this is turn forcing majority of us to be food insecure, live in dilapidated dwellings without adequate water or sanitation and unable to pay for health care,” says Odero.

While the government of Uganda gives loans to fishermen to purchase recommended fishing gears, Kenyan fishermen say that the government has left them at the mercy of purchasers and processors.

“By the time I am being paid Sh150 - 280 for a kilo of fish delivered; the petrol cost of transporting the fish has already been deducted; the drivers paid and workers who pack the fish for the export paid,” he tells The Sunday Standard.

According to a recent report released by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), the fishing industry in Kenya recorded a 4.5 per cent increase in earnings to Sh24 billion in the previous year despite increasing concerns due to fish imports from China.

Lake Victoria accounted for 66.1 per cent of the total fish landed with an output of 98,200 tonnes in 2018.

Odero, who has been a fisherman for more than 10 years, says that lack of established systems to which fish can be produced, processed and marketed has made the price value of fish to diminish.

After three years

Kennedy Ochieng, a former fisherman at Wichlum beach was given fishing gears worth over Sh400, 000 and according to the loan agreement form; he was to repay the money after three years.

“The agreement stated that I was supposed to pay Sh30 per kilo of fish supplied to the purchaser and that I could not sell the fish to any other person apart from the purchaser,” explains Ochieng.

Ochieng, who has turned into farming after quitting the fishing industry, says that after successfully repaying the loan, the purchaser refused to hand over documents of the gears.

While those who get loans from purchasers sell a kilo of fish at Sh120, a fisherman who operates without a loan is able to sell his catch at Sh180 per kilo.

Alfred Anyango, West Uyoma Beach Management Unit (BMU) network chairman has requested the county government to step in and regulate the fishing industry to ensure that the fishermen get better deal through better prices.

Even though some fishermen decided to sell their fish to the neighbouring industries in Uganda who offer better prices, Anyango says that most factories were closed due to poor markets in European Union and Asia.

“We currently have two factories in Kenya and they’re overwhelmed with the production. This has contributed to increased availability of Nile Perch locally,” says Anyango.

Between March and May this year, there has been a drastic reduction of Nile Perch price from Sh260 per kilo to Sh110. While a kilo of Nile Perch is bought at between Sh110 and Sh130, Ugandan industries buy the same catch of fish at between Sh250 to Sh 300.

More than five years after the county government of Siaya promised fishermen that it plans to set up fish processing plants, local fishermen have remained impoverished.

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