Sustainability is a must for Lake Victoria’s Nile Perch if the three riparian countries sharing the world’s second largest fresh water lake are to sustain and regain the dwindling European Union Market, a new report by UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has warned.
“Sustainability is a must for Nile Perch…the increase this year (2011) in the availability of cod and other whitefish fillets will definitely affect the market of Nile Perch,” says the report, which is the latest focusing on how the Nile Perch sector faired in the market in 2010 and 2011.
It says that gone are the days when Nile Perch conquered the market alone because in recent years two types of fish with similar nutrition contents like the Lake Victoria Perch have been discovered and exported cheaply to the European Union Market.
The EU market is the largest market for Nile Perch from East Africa whereby it consumes 80 percent of total annual exports. Nile Perch fillets have the highest content of Omega-3- found in the fish species.
Researchers have found that Omega- 3 fatty acids from seafood may reduce the risk of blood clotting, and also reduce levels of cholesterol. Also Omega-3 have positive effects on other disorders such as cancer, arthritis, asthma, and improve brain development and eyes tissues.
Before the recovery of cod stocks, the main competitor of Nile Perch was pangasius fillet from Viet Nam, as well as tilapia from Asia, mainly China or Central America. Although these are cheaper, they are not as popular as cod in the European Union.
According to the report by FAO, exporting companies and the governments of appropriate East African countries will need to make a greater effort to publicise the work they have been doing on sustainability issues related to the Nile Perch fisheries on Lake Victoria.
“Combating bad press about over-exploitation and mislabeling is still an important task for the sector,” the report indicated. Reacting to the report, a major fish processor told The Guardian on Sunday, “sustainability is a must and we all agree but the problem is the methods applied by the government to ensure sustainability.”
“Sustainability should be implemented at the source not at the factory or any local market…What is being done by the government is short of curing the problem,” the industrialist maintained, opting for anonymity.
“Prevention is better than cure and therefore our fisheries officers should focus more on preventing the problem of catching immature fish,” he said.
“What is needed is to ensure that the immature fish are not fished…but what we see in this move is personal vendetta with some processors being targeted,” he declared.
According to FAO, the Government of Kenya has announced new measures to curb declining fish stocks in Lake Victoria. The new initiative targets Nile perch and the use of eco-labeling to encourage sustainable fishing and the reduction of negative impacts on the environment.
In Tanzania one fish processing plant called Vicfish has adopted eco-labeling to encourage sustainable fishing and reduction of negative impacts on the environment.
In 2010 Kenya exported 3,600 tonnes of Nile perch fillets to EU markets, while Tanzania sold 16,300 tonnes and Uganda 11 800 tonnes.
From January to June 2011 the EU imported 15 700 tonnes of Nile perch fillets. In 2010 Nile perch was the second most imported freshwater fish in EU, after pangasius.
However, with declining supplies, tilapia producers will be looking for opportunities to enter this market segment. According to the report, while in 2008 imports of Nile perch fillets to the European market reached 42 300 tonnes, in 2010 the figure had dropped to 31 600 tonnes.
In the first quarter of 2011, the EU remained the main market for Nile perch imports with 8 200 tonnes of fillets coming from these three African countries. Figures have remained stable compared with the same period in 2010, the report says.
On a positive note the Dutch company, Anova Food, announced in May that sales of its Naturland-certified sustainable Nile perch products now account for over 20 percent of total sales in that category in the US. Anova’s certified Lake Victoria Nile perch is easily identifiable with the Naturland logo printed on the packaging, demonstrating that the standards have been successfully implemented and guaranteeing the sustainability of the fishery.
In addition, social and economic conditions of fishermen and their families have improved considerably in Bukoba town on the west side of the lake since the initial launch of the certified product in early 2010.
According to Kenyan authorities the Nile perch stock in Lake Victoria declined from 1.9 million tonnes to 1.2 million from 1999 to 2001 and then drastically dropped to 544 000 tonnes by 2005 and a further dramatic drop to 370 000 tonnes noticed in 2008.
Nile perch has been a popular fish in European markets for several years, but it has become more expensive for importers because of the reduction in supply from African countries. This decline in supply may lead to changes in whitefish markets in the EU.
Nile Perch has also aroused interest in Middle East markets. They are willing to pay a higher price for frozen fillets and this has left EU importers with reduced availability of this fish.
Regarding retail prices, in Spain, Nile perch is being sold in supermarkets at EUR 8.50/kg, to EUR 10.55/kg meanwhile in Netherlands, Nile perch fillets can reach EUR 13.90/kg at fishmongers.
Asian markets, however, are not interested in Nile perch because of the availability of pangasius, while Australia may again become an attractive market for Nile perch because of its similarity to barramundi, a local freshwater fish.
For Nile perch to regain its valued status, local governments and fishing companies need to work together to ensure sustainable management of this important resource, and also to address the issue of illegal fishing. Processors also need to communicate better on anticipated improvements to consumers and to focus more on the role of Nile perch in food security in countries adjoining the lake.
The Spanish Association of Marine Aquaculture Producers, Apromar, says that aquaculture in Spain is increasingly affected by the pressure of pangasius and Nile perch imports. Apromar cited as unfair competition the import of animal products, including seafood, fed with feed that was banned in the EU.
Recently, imports from countries where sanitary or labour requirements are less demanding than those of the European Union have also been criticized.
In Uganda, three red alerts, resulting from the poor quality of the fish exported, have been raised. The EU threatened to ban fish from that country.
According to FAO, the supply of Nile perch remains uncertain for 2012. African countries need to demonstrate sustainable and responsible practices in Nile perch fisheries to keep their presence in the key markets, as well as comply with quality standards for export.
Introduced in Lake Victoria by the then British colonial government to increase the fish species and attract tourists within the region, Nile perch is a large freshwater fish found extensively in the rivers and lakes of East Africa that can grow up to 200 kg and two meters in length.
The fish is a predator, lives and feeds throughout the water column whereby its main attractions as a food fish are its abundance, ease of catching with a variety of small and industrial techniques, its large size and very palatable bone-free white flesh.
The IUCN report further showed that in the past five years the production of fish from Lake Victoria has represented about 25 percent of the annual total catch from Africa’s inland fisheries.
According to analysis conducted by fish processors in Tanzania, the total collapse of lucrative Nile perch industry means ‘economic suffering’ to an estimated 300,000 people currently employed by the industry.
Another 3 million people whose livelihood depends indirectly on this industry will face economic crisis. Nile perch industry is one of the key sectors of the Lake Victoria’s economy which is home to over 8 million people.
The industry’s annual exports revenues rose to Shs246 billion (US$194 million) in 2004 before falling significantly in 2006, due to sharp dwindling of the perch population and the invasion of cheap Bassa fish from Vietnam and China in the European and Middle East markets.