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For Nyanza fishermen, it is the best and worst of times

By Standard Team | April 1st 2020
Linet Atieno, a trader carries fish at Pier Beach in Homa Bay town yesterday. The sector along shores of Lake Victoria is feeling the pinch of coronavirus pandemic over rapid drop in fish prices. [James Omoro, Standard]

From Migingo in Migori through Remba in Homa Bay to Usenge and Uhanya in Siaya, fish landing beaches are deserted as the Lake Victoria fisheries sector feels the aftershocks of the coronavirus pandemic.

A dusk to dawn curfew has sent shock waves in the market with the price of fish dropping in some beaches and skyrocketing in other areas as confusion reigns in the sub-sector that feeds more than five million people living around the Kenyan side of the lake basin.

The fishermen who were waiting to cash in on the reduced fish imports from China due to the Covid-19 pandemic have been hard hit by the tough conditions imposed by the Government to tame spread of the virus which has killed one person and infected 59 other people in the country.

Were stuck

While The Standard established that some fishermen in some beaches were stuck with loads of Nile Perch and tilapia because of lack of market occasions due to traveling restrictions, others trading on Omena (dagaa) have hiked the prices because of high demand.

At Kisumu’s Jubilee Fresh Fish Market, the price of tilapia has fallen by between 20 and 50 per cent due to shortage of customers even after importers of frozen tilapia from China reduced the shipment by as much as 50 per cent. This reduction in fish imports would have been a blessing for local fishermen, but this is not the case.

Also worst hit is the Nile Perch export market after buyers stopped reaching out to fishermen because of the ban on international flights. A trader in Kisumu, Eunice Gaya, yesterday told The Standard that, a 2kg  tilapia that used to retail at Sh1,500 was going for Sh1,200.

“Before the coronavirus crisis, I used  to order supplies of 250 kilos of tilapia. Today, I can only buy 80 kilos because there are no customers,” Ms Gaya said.

The curfew has hit the Omena fishermen hard because a huge percentage of natural fishing activities take place at night. At Nyenye Misori beach in Bondo, the little available Omena, commonly known as the poor man’s dish, was  going for Sh1,400 per quarter of a sack, up from Sh800.

At Usenge, one of the biggest beaches along the Lake Victoria shores, fishermen have taken a break and boats are lying idle.

Statistics from the Kenya Maritime Authority indicates that there are at least 40,000 vessels within the Kenyan waters of the lake, with at least 90 per cent being used in fishing.

About 70 per cent of the local production come from Lake Victoria, and the fishermen are expressing fears that the country’s fishing industry may collapse due to the curfew.

“As fishermen we have been complying with the measures aimed at reducing the spread of the virus,” said Bob Otieno, the chairman of Dunga Beach Management Unit in Kisumu.

According to Mr Otieno, much of the dagaa (omena) and Nile Perch fishing takes place at night using artificial light.

“In every boat, we have almost three people, so the issue of crowding is not there. We also wash our hands regularly, and we have the beach managements which control movement and operations within the beaches,” he said.

The beach produces between one tonne to 1.5 tonnes of fish on a daily basis, and Otieno says shutting down the sector would be a big blow to the consumers too.

“We have fishing activities that can only be carried out at night and we’re therefore appealing to the government to reconsider this directive,” said Okoth Odero, a beach official.

Mercy Akoth, a fish trader in Honge Beach welcomed the directive, but cried foul over the timing.

“Some of us have loans and this has been our only source of livelihood. The curfew is not only going to render many of us jobless, but it will also affect the the economy of this region,” said Ms Akoth.

Shop owners and those selling fishing gears are also crying foul, saying they are likely to experience losses.

“The economy of this town depends of fish and when the curfew is effected then we’ll no customers,” said Peter Ombogo, a shop owner in Usenge.

Fish consumers are also affected, arguing that with the rising food prices, omena has been their only affordable fish.

“We were buying a two-kilogramme tin of omena at Sh100, but that has now shot to Sh170,” said Martha Achieng, a resident of Asembo bay.

Speaking to The Standard, Siaya County Commissioner Michael Ole Tialal warned all the fishermen not to go to the lake.

“We know that this is affecting everybody, but we must follow the directives as had been issued by the president,” said Mr Tialal.

He urged the fishermen to make arrangements on how they will be operating between 7pm and 5am.

The fishing community along shores of Lake Victoria in Homa Bay county is feeling the pinch of corona virus over rapid drop in fish prices.

Our spot check in a number of beaches revealed that fish prices have dropped by about 50 per cent.

For instance, a 8kg Nile Perch which used to sell at Sh3,500 now goes for Sh1,600.

A number of fish mongers attributed the reduced fish prices to lack of buyers from other counties who used to import fish from Homa Bay.

According to chairperson of fish traders at Pier Beach in Homa Bay town Rose Langa and Linet Atieno, lack of buyers from other countries now makes them target local fish consumers.

Other counties

“There are people who used to come to Homa Bay from other counties such as Nairobi, Kisii, Narok Nakuru but they no longer travel to Homa Bay,” said Ms Langa.

Another trader, Hellen Ochieng’, said the situation is discouraging fish traders from the business.

“Sometimes we are forced to sell fish at throwaway prices to prevent them from going bad,” said Ochieng’.

Suba Sub-county beach chairman William Onditi, however, said they have devised new methods to beat the curfew.

“We go into the lake as early as 5pm, but don’t come out of the late until 7am the following the day. This means we spend the entire curfew period inside the lake,” said Onditi.

He added: “We are also adhering to  social distancing by ensuring each boat carries only four fishermen.”[Report by Isaiah Gwengi, James Omoro and Mactilda Mbenywe]

Covid 19 Time Series


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