Why fishermen are hanging up their nets
By By KEPHER OTIENO
| July 3rd 2012
By KEPHER OTIENO
It is 7 am and several boats have docked at Dunga beach in Kisumu with loads of fish. At the site a handful of traders and middlemen ready to buy the catch.
“Have people have stopped eating fish or what is wrong, where are our customers?” asks a curious fisherman, Mr James Okomo, as he disembarks from the boat.
Okomo is worried that the abundant catch is only available to a few people buyers — usually at low prices due to reduced demand.
The market condition has culminated in fishermen reducing their night fishing hours as they wait for prices to rise again.
In the last few months, fish prices have plummeted not only in Kenya but East Africa due to decreased demand in international markets.
Most fishermen claim they have been operating on losses, due to low prices, which fisheries officials blamed on the eurozone crisis.
The euro crisis has shaken the European Union to its core, eroding the buying power of Europeans.
Ken Owino says he has been toiling to catch fish in Lake Victoria, but the trade is not lucrative.He wonders why fish prices had fallen significantly within a short time leaving them counting losses. Their story is not different from that of fish retailers.
Traders Millicent Odhiambo and Mary Ogutu who sell Nile perch, Tilapia and Omena at Oile market in Kisumu also decried low prices.
Although they wake up each day anticipating substantial profits, the glut in the market means they are only getting the bare minimum.
“Customers offer low prices,” she says.
Odhiambo says they are forced to sell stocks at throwaway prices to avoid loss that comes with unsold fish. Large-scale traders, too, decried reduced export demand.
Traders sell Tilapia and Nile perch for Sh150, yet fish can fetch up to Sh200.
The Government has blamed the low fish prices to increased yields, against the decreased demand for the commodity in the world market.
According to Nyanza Fisheries assistant Director Michael Obadha the current financial crisis in Europe has also adversely affected Kenyan fish exports.
“The euro crisis has a direct negative impact on countries such as Kenya that export fish to Europe,” he explains.
Obadha said exports had fallen over the last six months despite a 13 per cent increase in the production of Nile perch, and a 56 per cent increase in Omena production. Given that most fish produced in the country is for export, local firms are stuck with large stocks.
“In fact most fish storage facilities are full as large scale traders are not exporting fish in large quantities,” he said.
Obadha said the local fish industry is also facing massive competition from the Far East, which has also contributed to the low prices.
“China is harvesting million tonnes of fish intended for the European market,” he said. Chinese exports of tilapia registered growth of 2.3 per cent in quantity, while value increased by 10 per cent last year compared to 2010.
These were some of the factors that prompted 800 fishermen in Homa Bay County to boycot fishing to protest low prices offered by exporters and middlemen. Led by Homa Bay County Beach Management Unit Chairman Edward Oremo and Area Nile Perch Traders Network Chairman, Absalom Odira, the fishermen said prices had dropped from Sh350 to Sh70 per kg.
The fishermen vowed not to fish until the Government holds a consultative meeting with them to address their grievances.
The National Beach management Unit Chairman Tom Guda said there was no reason why Nile perch in Uganda and Tanzania would sell at Sh200, but retail at Sh80 in Kenya.
Meanwhile, Fisheries experts say Nile perch stock in Lake Victoria is slowly growing after Kenya and Tanzania stopped excessive fishing and use of inappropriate fishing methods.
Recently, the Tanzania’s Minister for Fisheries John Magufuli disclosed that Nile perch stocks are now at 400,000 tonnes, compared to 340,000 tonnes recorded in 2008.
Lake Victoria, the worlds second largest fresh water mass covers a total area of 68,800 square kilometres and has a maximum depth of 80 meters.
The value of the catch from the lake is about $350 million (Sh2.9 billion) annually at landing sites, with a further $250 million (Sh2.1 billion) generated as foreign exchange from Nile perch fillets exports to European Union countries, Middle East, Japan and the US.
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