Sitting on the shores of Lake Victoria, the world’s second largest fresh water body, Kisumu and the neighbouring areas should be awash with fish. That could have been true a few years back when the prices of popular fish like tilapia and Nile perch were pocket-friendly. Now, they are a delicacy for the rich man’s dining table, thanks to rising prices.
These days, it is not unusual to spot cars parked near fish markets as owners buy the precious delicacy from vendors.
Jenipher Oduor is one such vendor at Kisumu’s Oile market. But she is not happy with the turn that the fish business has taken. Suppliers charge her a pretty penny for their fish whose sizes continue to grow smaller while supply remains erratic.
“This makes it hard to convince clients about the cost,” she says.
Mrs Oduor says that when her overheads are factored in, the final price the consumer has to pay is quite high, a reality that has cut her client base.
“Currently, we charge about Sh450 for a fish weighing one kilogramme, up from Sh250 a few years back. We mostly sell to few rich clients who can afford unlike in the past where anyone could buy,” she said.
Eateries near beaches too have had to increase what they charge to stay in business.
Pamela Oketch, a vendor in one of the fish eateries at Lwangn’i Beach said: “In the past, a meal of fish sold at around Sh450 and could serve two adults, but now we are charging between Sh600 and Sh1,000 for the same quantity.”
This, she said, had led to reduced sales as consumers opt for other white meat delicacies like chicken which are cheaper.
“A customer once walked away saying the price of fish here is like that of a whole bull in his village,” she said with a light touch.
Visitors arriving to Kisumu and wish to indulge in a fish meal will quickly note that the delicacy is more expensive in Kisumu compared to other towns.
Daggaa or Omena as it is commonly referred to, is also spiralling out of reach. Largely considered an option to fish for the low end market, a 250grammes tin now retails at Sh30 up from Sh10 a few years back.
Fish fillets-known as mgongo wazi- which are the remnants from fish firms that process Nile perch for export are not affordable either as animal feed industries present stiff competition to vendors.
The vendors who purchase the fillets from fish firms for sell to local Nile perch lovers are fast losing the battle to the animal feed industries that also use the fillets as their main raw material.
The irony of high fish prices in the lakeside region has been blamed on various factors among them the stubborn water hyacinth that has combined with poor fishing methods to choke fish from formerly fertile breeding grounds thus reducing fishermen harvests per day.
Industry players however see the hyacinth menace as a blessing in disguise as it has prevented what would have been otherwise serious overfishing form the world’s second largest fresh water lake.
“The hyacinth infestation has saved the fear that the dwindling stocks of fish may be replenished but has impacted negatively on the supplies of fish hence the high market prices”, Kisumu Fisheries Department official, Dr Ojwang’ Oweke.
Dr Oweke cites a ministry of fisheries report conducted between 2005 and 2011 stating that the decline in fish appears to have been temporarily halted by the falling ability to catch fish due to the growing abundance of water hyacinths.
Others argue that the problem could be lying in the tendency by middlemen to transport most of the fish caught to markets outside the lake region thus causing a shortage that results in high market price.
Peter Yodo, chairman of a beach management unit in Rachuonyo District, believes the stocks have been dwindling over the years due the water hyacinth, overfishing and inappropriate fishing gear and that the price of fish could be stable if the local market was given priority.
“We used to net about 1,000 kilos of fish in a day’s collection compared to 300 kilos currently; but if traders can concentrate on the lakeside region market, prices can be affordable.” argues the Mainuga Beach Management Unit chairman.
Mr Ayodo says that every trader rushes to sell their fish to Nakuru, Eldoret or Nairobi markets, a move that eventually results into a glut in those markets because they also receive supplies from other regions.
“That is why fish is expensive here- where it is expected to be cheap that know nothing about fishing”, says Mr Yodo. Fish firms are on the spot also for buying fish and processing the same for international markets.