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How fishmongers throw away millions in ‘waste’ fish scales

By Isaiah Gwengi | August 10th 2019
Dennis Otieno shows a bouquet made from fish scales. [Isaiah Gwengi, Standard]

At Usenge Beach in Bondo, there are hundreds of fish on sale, including tilapia, Nile perch, mud fish among other species.

The fishmongers remove fish scales and throw them away as waste. What they do not know is that the waste, which includes bladders, could earn them millions of shillings in local and foreign markets.

With more than 10 years’ experience in the trade, Ms Agnes Aluoch says she knows little about fish leather.

“We only sell the fish and throw away the rest. We scrap off the scales using a knife,” says Aluoch, adding that they can throw away waste that fills up to a 20-litre bucket every day.

But Mr Dennis Otieno, an intern at the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (Kemfri), saw an opportunity in the leftovers.

According to Otieno, about 150,000 tonnes of fish waste is produced every year and 80 per cent of it is dumped.

In an interview with Saturday Standard during the ninth Great Lakes of the World Conference held in Kisumu, he said they are offering an alternative.

“What we have been throwing away as waste can potentially sell higher than what we take home as the resource,” he says.

According to Otieno, a resident of Kisumu, the waste from fish has had environmental impacts and he thought of finding an innovative solution to the problem.

“I have admired how the fish scales are arranged and therefore thought that they could make beautiful flowers,” says Otieno, adding that he is able to make at least five bouquets in a day.

Otieno says the process of making flowers from fish scales starts by washing them.

“After washing them, you soak the scales in dye extracted from plant pigments and then dry in the sun for at least three hours,” he explains.

He thereafter sticks together the coloured scales using glue extracted from the fish skin and make desired designs and patterns.

Otieno, who is in the process of selling the innovation to the public through exhibition in conferences, says there is a need for capital investment in aquaculture.

“With the growing potential in cage fish farming, there is great opportunity for business because it provides raw materials and market,” he says, adding that once he penetrates the market, he will be able to sell a bouquet at between Sh500-Sh1,000.

Apart from using the fish scales to make flowers, Otieno also extracts oil from them, which he uses to make soaps and pressed cakes.

He says while fish weighing 18kg sells at Sh7,200, one is able to extract 11 litres of oil from the waste and sell at Sh8,250.  

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