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THE FISH INDUSTRY: POSITIONING FOR THE FUTURE IN THE FACE OF COVID-19

THE FISH INDUSTRY: POSITIONING FOR THE FUTURE IN THE FACE OF COVID-19

The fishing sector employs about two million people including fishers, traders, processors, input suppliers, merchants of fishing accessories and providers of related services. Just like all the sectors in our economy, the fish industry has faced a general disruption of the supply chain due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The confusion arising from the different measures taken to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus has resulted in a range of short-term effects, which vary by locality and type of fish. In the recent past, it has been reported that fishing in Lake Victoria has experienced mixed effects as a result of the pandemic.

The fishing sector employs about two million people including fishers, traders, processors, input suppliers, merchants of fishing accessories and providers of related services. Just like all the sectors in our economy, the fish industry has faced a general disruption of the supply chain due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The confusion arising from the different measures taken to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus has resulted in a range of short-term effects, which vary by locality and type of fish. In the recent past, it has been reported that fishing in Lake Victoria has experienced mixed effects as a result of the pandemic.

On one hand, there has been an unexpected boon for fishermen in some fish landing sites as imports from China have decreased due to disruption in global supply and logistics, and as Kenyan consumers avoid frozen fish imported from China for fear that it may be contaminated with the virus. In this case, fishermen are no longer competing with cheaper imports from China, their sales have gone up and prices of some species like Nile Perch have increased by up to 40% within a span of 1-2 months. Nile Perch is mainly purchased by processors who value add before selling fish products to consumers.

On the other hand, some fish landing beaches have been greatly affected by the dusk to dawn curfew and other measures such as limitations on business opening hours, closure of fish markets, social distancing directives and travel restrictions imposed by the Government to reduce the spread of the virus. This has contributed to reduced fishing efforts and increased transaction costs that have led to decreased production, lower supplies, reduced access and consumption of fish and fish products. People employed in the fish supply chain such as traders, processors, suppliers or transport workers have lost jobs due to reduced business in the industry.

For species consumed directly at the household level such as Tilapia, these measures have led to declining demand and prices. For instance, it has been reported that at the Jubilee fresh fish market in Kisumu, the price of Tilapia has declined by between 20 and 50 percent due to a reduction in the number of customers and diminished purchasing power occasioned by loss of employment. Hence, fishermen have been left with unsold fish stocks and yet cold storage facilities are limited. At the same time, demand for Omena, which is a cheaper alternative to Tilapia and is widely traded and consumed in many parts of the country, has increased significantly. As expected, Omena prices have increased, and hence this cheap source of protein has become less affordable for low-income households who are usually its main consumers.

Exports of Tilapia and Nile Perch from Lake Victoria have also declined due to international freight bottlenecks and reduced demand in Kenya’s key export destinations. Marine fisheries have not been spared either. It has been difficult to monitor the catch from sea fishing vessels, given the measures in place due to the need to safeguard the health and safety of inspectors. In addition, they have experienced a decline in demand due to the closure of hotels and restaurants and decreased exports. Kenya exports frozen Nile Perch fillets, Tilapia, tuna, octopus and lobsters from the lakes and the Indian Ocean to the EU, where key export markets such as Spain and Italy have been greatly affected by COVID-19 pandemic. A prolonged pandemic and the interruption in international trade may cause Kenya’s exports, especially frozen Nile Perch, to lose part of its market share due to a possible shift in consumer preference in these destination markets.

From the aforementioned, in the short-term, we observe shifts in demand, supply and prices of fish and fish products. As the pandemic persists, we may see similar or different dynamics in the medium-term. Though the sector may not thrive amid the pandemic, it is important to focus on the long-term and take advantage of opportunities presented by these unprecedented times. While a decline in imports from China may have favoured some segments of fishermen and fish markets, Kenya is a net importer of fish, with the annual demand at 405,000 MT against a supply of about 140,000 MT. Hence, an opportunity to boost the local production of fish exists to meet the huge deficit of 265,000 MT. Lake Victoria is the largest fishery in Kenya, contributing about 83% of the national fish production. However, overfishing, pollution and hyacinth invasion have led to a decline in the natural fish stocks and catches.

Kenya can exploit the untapped potential from aquaculture and marine fisheries. The country is endowed with huge aquaculture potential, estimated at 1.4 million hectares of land, with a capacity to produce 14 million MT of fish. However, only 0.014% (19,600 ha) of this is utilised for production. Aquaculture can be boosted through: increasing acreage of land under production; reducing fish post-harvest loss through the establishment of processing and cold storage facilities (such interventions are on-going in partnership with the Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute (KIRDI)); increasing value addition for fish and fish products; farmer cluster formation (through the Aquaculture Association of Kenya) for capacity building, better linkage to markets and coordinated production and harvesting; and, supporting cage fish farming. It is important that markets for farmed fish are identified and production is competitive and consistent to maintain these markets.

For capture fisheries, it is important to strengthen efforts in developing and implementing national fisheries  management  plans  and  local  co-management  area plans  to  protect  the country’s fish stocks, and guide sustainable utilization of fishery resources. There is room to leverage emerging opportunities in the Blue Economy. Kenya’s annual economic value of goods and services from this sub-sector is estimated at approximately US$4.4 billion, which is larger than that from tourism. The country can boost its marine fisheries from its coastline of

640 km in the Indian Ocean and 200 nautical miles Exclusive Economic Zone that is under its jurisdiction. Kenya’s marine fisheries are mainly artisanal and subsistence in nature and investment in relevant technologies and practices can increase production and commercialization.

It is also important to develop mariculture, as an alternative to capture fisheries. This requires investment in improving the availability of fingerlings, crablets and other seeds for stocking of existing or new farms; availability of adequate and affordable feeds; technical knowledge and management practices; and, access to market information and market linkages.

Overall, the revamping of the sector currently and post-COVID-19 will support local businesses and trade, directly and through linkages. With proper implementation of existing policies and interventions and management of fish stocks and resources, Kenya can become a net exporter of fish given its large water bodies, exclusive economic zones and huge potential for aquaculture. Apart from increasing trade with Europe and its neighbours in the East African region, Kenya can tap into the huge market in Africa, which as a whole is a net importer of fish and fish products.