Fishermen take a break, spoil party for fish lovers

A fishmonger grading her stock at Kisumu's Fresh Fish Market. Fishermen took a break to celebrate New Year holiday, resulting in fish shortage and a hike in cost. [PHOTO: TITUS MUNALA/STANDARD]

Fish traders and consumers in Kisumu are complaining over scarcity of the commodity in beaches along Lake Victoria, leading to a hike in prices for the few that are available.

Vendors at the fresh fish market in Kisumu’s main bus park said most fishermen who usually supply them with fish from various beaches such as Usenge, Lwanda K’Otieno, Asembo and Dunga did not work during the festive season.

“Many fishermen are on holiday with their families. The supply of the delicacy is low yet our customers are demanding to be served with fish,” said Caroline Auma, a vendor in Kisumu city’s popular Lwang’ni beach restaurants.

The traders also accused the fisheries department of interfering with their business.

“They often confiscate our fishing gears, leaving us with no option but to stay at home,” said George Odunga, a fisherman at Lwanda K’Otieno.

But experts insist the decline in fish quantity in Lake Victoria is as a result of unlicensed fishing techniques.

Dwindling stock

The Lake Victoria biennial fisheries frame Survey (2012) by Kenya Marine Fisheries Research Institute (Kemfri) called for the control of new fishing methods in the lake.

According to Kemfri, fishermen prefer Nile perch, tilapia or dagaa, as opposed to other fish species. The popular species are also being caught when still young, further threatening future fishing opportunities.

Yesterday, Auma said they have had to hike the prices to meet the transport costs among other expenses, to get some profit.

She said a tilapia that used to cost Sh350 was being sold at a retail price of Sh550, while a smaller size that cost Sh180 last month is now going for Sh300.

“It is not only tilapia, but dagaa (commonly known as omena) and Nile perch (mbuta). Both retailers and consumers are feeling the pinch,” said Auma.

A two-kilogramme tin, commonly known as gorogoro of omena, shot from Sh250 last month to Sh350 during the festive season.

Another vendor, Evelyne Lukale, said she has had to sell mbuta that used to cost Sh200 a kilogramme at Sh300 for her to make some profit.

Water level

The prices of mud fish (kamongo) also shot up from Sh800 to Sh1,200 during the same period.

Another factor for the hike, according to Ms Lukale, is the low water level in the lake.

“When the water level in Lake Victoria goes down, fish also decreases,” said Auma.

She says over the Christmas holidays, the exorbitant fish prices spoiled the festivities for many Kisumu residents, prompting them to turn to beef, a blessing for the butchers.

Jackson Onge,i a butcher at the Jubilee Market, revealed he sold all his meat on New Year’s Eve as many people complained fish was expensive.

“We had an advantage since our prices did not change, giving residents an alternative for fish,” said Mr Ongei.

According to Ongei, instead of one buying a small fish at Sh550 that can only feed three or four people, the same amount can buy one and a half kilogrammes of meat that can feed more than 10.

“People are going for quantity and food that is friendly to their pockets,” he said.

The fish traders are, however, hopeful that things will change when fishermen resume work and the water levels rise in January.