Fresh data compiled by the State Department of Fisheries shows that the country shipped in 22,362 tonnes of fish mainly from China, an increase of 11.8 percent, up from 19,127 tonnes worth Sh1.5 billion that was imported in 2017.
In the past four years, the value of fish imports has been rising steadily as the Chinese traders continue to take advantage of their cheaper supplies to gain a foothold in the Kenyan market.
Local traders say they cannot compete with the Chinese imports and want the government to intervene and save them from losses.
“Whereas a 10-kilo carton from China will cost Sh1,800, we sell the same quantity at Sh3,500, making it hard for us to compete,” Mr Paul Oimba, the chairperson of Gikomba Fish Traders told a local business daily.
Lamu County Beach Management Units (BMUs) Chairman Mohamed Somo yesterday said lack of markets for their fish has left many stores and coolers full of rotting tuna, forcing the fishermen to discard them daily. The situation has subsequently led to a drop in the prices of tuna, leaving many fishermen reeling in losses.
A kilo of tuna normally sells for Sh300 ($3) but now retails at just Sh100 ($1).
The ‘sour issue’ of Chinese fish flooding the local markets has since metamorphosed to become a diplomatic matter and even caused diplomatic unease between Nairobi and Beijing last year after President Uhuru Kenyatta asked government officials to find ways of curtailing the imports.
Kenya is, however, not alone in dealing with fish imports from China, Tanzania, which controls more than half of Lake Victoria, also saw an increase of 23 per cent increase in its fish imports from China, costing some $8 million.
The country was China’s second largest fish source in 2017, with the Asian giant exporting more than 1.300 tonnes of fish worth $1.13 million.
Dar es Salaam imported frozen pacific mackerel, Indian mackerel, chub, frozen sardine and tilapia.
Lack of water-tight policies coupled with centuries of under-funding continues to disadvantages the local fish industry in the two countries, which has resulted in low fish production and lack of market.