21 February 2006

Kenya: Fish Prices Up As Shortage Bites

Nairobi — The prices of fish in Nyanza Province have gone up by 60 per cent, a new survey shows.

This is due to poor catches blamed on the drop of the Lake Victoria water levels. It is feared that thousands of fishermen and traders will soon be jobless.

And fisheries officials have warned of tough times ahead if the water levels do not improve soon.

The poverty index that stands at about 56 per cent in the lake region - the country's biggest fish producer - is likely to go up and worsen environmental degradation as fishing communities look for alternative sources of livelihood. Many fishermen have abandoned fishing and gone into farming.

Roast chicken and beef are fast replacing fish in hotel menus in Kisumu Town, known for its delicious tilapia dishes.

An average size tilapia that used to cost Sh 50 is now going for Sh150 and in some hotels it is being sold for more than Sh 300.

Hotelier Bob Ochieng' said the price increase had become inevitable due to difficulties in getting fish.

"Fish has become a rare commodity and we have to travel long distances , sometimes into the Tanzanian side of the lake to get supplies. It is a serious matter," said Mr Ochieng' of the Tilapia Beach hotel.

At Lwang'ni hotel on the lake shore, which used to attract customers from as far as Kakamega, the number of guests has gone down substantially due to the high prices.

And at Kisumu's Jubilee market, the prices of smoked and fresh fish has gone up by about Sh100.

Also affected is the popular "omena" known as the common man's food.

Assistant fisheries director Susan Imende said the shortage had been caused by the long dry spell.

She said fishermen were going deeper into the lake to harvest fish. "Fishermen now charge high prices to recover costs of catching the fish."

The shortage has led to an increase in the prices of the Nile Perch whose fillet is popular in Europe and Asia. A kilo is going for between Sh 80 and Sh110 up from Sh7 5, according to beach officials.

Experts also blame the drop in the fish catches on pollution on the Kenyan side of the lake.

Last week, the East African Community secretary general, Mr Amenya Mshega, led a delegation of experts in a tour of the lakeside to inspect the water levels. The team described the situation as "grim".

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