Kenya fish imports from China plunge, market prices rise

fish pix

A fishmonger sells tilapia at an open-air market in Nairobi. PHOTO | REUTERS

Value of fish imports from China dropped 31 percent or Sh700 million last year on Covid-19 pandemic disruptions, triggering a rise in prices in a cut that cushioned local traders and fishermen from the cheap consignment.

Industry data indicates that the value of imports from China dropped from Sh2.2 billion in 2019 to Sh1.5 billion last year as quantities shipped from China declined significantly — the first decline in five years.

The reduced imports saw local fish prices increase 11 per cent on average to Sh175 a kilo last year from Sh158 in 2019.

The value of China fish imports has been rising steadily over the past five years as the Chinese take advantage of their cheaper supplies to gain a foothold in the Kenyan market, leading to uproar among local fish traders and fishermen.

The matter of Chinese fish flooding local markets sparked diplomatic unease between Nairobi and Beijing in 2018 when President Uhuru Kenyatta said Kenyan government officials should find ways of curtailing the imports.

Director of Fisheries Daniel Mungai said the decline was caused by a slump in business worldwide last year occasioned by the outbreak of Covid-19 that disrupted not only fishing activities but also its movement.

“Generally there was a decline in global trade last year and the fish industry was not spared as shown by the drop that we recorded from China in the review period,” he said.

Wuhan city in China was the epicentre of Covid-19 outbreak, causing global disruption in the trade due to tight measures imposed to curb its spread.

China fish, mainly tilapia, is normally cheaper than the local catches. A kilo of fish imported from China goes for Sh250 while local meat sells at between Sh350 and Sh400 depending on the size.

Mr Mungai said Kenya cannot avoid imports from China because of the local deficit in the country with the volumes of the catch at Lake Victoria, which is the country’s major source of fish have been dwindling over years.

Last year, the volumes caught from Lake Victoria dropped from 90,000 to 86,000 metric tonnes, according to the fisheries office.

Despite the decline last year, China still accounted for the largest share of fish that were imported from the world, raking in 70 per cent of the total value of shipment in 2020.

Gikomba Fish Traders chairman Paul Oyimba said there is a reprieve now at the fish market following a sharp decline of the commodity from China.

“We are no longer competing with Chinese fish at the moment because of the absence of Chinese fish here. All of the stocks that we are selling now are sourced from Lake Victoria and Lake Naivasha,” he said.