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There’s money in fishing — but it’s not cheap to get started

By Nanjinia Wamuswa | August 30th 2016
Vincent Mukoya (right) supervises the distribution of fish from his boat at Marenga Beach on the shores of Lake Victoria in Budalang’i. [PHOTO: NANJINIA WAMUSWA/STANDARD]

BUSIA: Acquiring a boat and starting a business in fishing is quite expensive.

This is the reality Vincent Mukoya faced in March when he decided to venture into the trade.

“I can assure you from experience that if you see any boat floating and going about fishing activities, the owner has spent a fortune on it. It is not as cheap as many people might believe,” he said.

Mr Mukoya was born and brought up on the shores of Lake Victoria in Budalang’i, Busia County. He worked for various prisons across the country until he retired. To avoid penury, Mukoya wanted to invest in something that would continue generating an income for him.

“I looked around and realised that fishing is the only economic activity in this area. I also got assurance from friends already in the business that there’s a lot of money in fishing, so I settled on it.”

Business Beat met with Mukoya at Marenga Beach early in the morning supervising the distribution of fish after his boat docked after a night out.

He says what surprised him the most about the business is the high cost of acquiring a boat and getting started.

If he could afford it, Mukoya says, he would have started out with at least two boats because profits are higher the more vessels one has.

But just setting himself up with one boat cost him Sh400,000, with the engine being the most expensive input at Sh250,000.

Licences and levies

The construction of a boat costs between Sh80,000 and Sh100,000, depending on the size one wants. Nets and other fishing equipment cost about Sh10,000.

Mukoya adds that to operate in the waters, one must pay Sh3,000 for various licences and levies.

“Further, a boat needs at least six employees who are paid Sh200 each on a daily basis. This comes to Sh1,200 a day,” he says.

“The six employees work in groups of three in day and night shifts.”

And before they set out, each employee gets another Sh150 for meals. The day shift works from around 6am to 5pm, and the night shift from 7pm to 4am.

The boat’s engine consumes an average of Sh3,000 per shift. And for night fishing, employees head out with special lights whose batteries are recharged at Sh1,000.

“You compute this cost of getting into fishing and realise anyone who owns a boat is wealthy because a fortune is invested in it,” Mukoya says.

But despite the costs, he has no regrets.

“It is worth the investment,” he says, adding that he makes between Sh20,000 and Sh40,000 in profit in a month. In low seasons, when the fish are said to be ‘hiding’ is when he earns the lower limit.

“There’s a ready market for fish. I cannot remember a day that l failed to sell all my fish. In fact, l have a contract with several traders whom I supply, so I do not sell my stock to anyone unless all my clients have received their share,” Mukoya says.

Among the challenges he faces are the seasons when fish are not in plenty yet he has a contract to supply a minimum amount. At such times, he is forced to source fish from friends to settle the demand. And then there is the harassment from Ugandan police officers.

Since Kenya occupies only 6 per cent of Lake Victoria, its fishermen tend to prospect in Ugandan waters. This has seen the Ugandan revenue authority demand Sh70,000 in tax annually. This, however, is thought to be too expensive as sometimes the catch traders net is small.

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