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Lake Victoria fisherfolk use ice fish boxes for better profits

MIGORI (Xinhua) -- For the remote fishing communities living near Lake Victoria in Western Kenya, capturing fish is one step but selling it at a good price while fresh is the greatest achievement.

Access to electricity is a major problem making it a dream for these communities to own freezers to preserve their catches before they reach the market.

To beat the odds, some of the fisherfolk at Muhuru Bay in Migori County have found a collective solution; investing in four ice fish boxes as a group called Ngore Mtakatifu Women Group.

Each of the boxes can hold 800 pieces of fish for three days which allows each of the 35 members of the mixed-gender group to maintain the quality of the fish and retain its market value.

“The fisherfolk are often forced to sell off their fish at a throw away price just to avoid making losses because fish gets spoilt quickly if not preserved,” Lucas Odhiambo, the groups chairperson told Xinhua recently.

“But the boxes are helping a great deal. We can store enough fish and sell it at once at a good profit,” he said.

Odhiambo said traders take advantage of the fisherfolk when they know they are short of alternatives.

“You will rather sell a piece that costs 4 U.S. dollars for 2.5 dollars instead of making a total loss,” he said.

However, cooling options such as the ice fish boxes gives them not only an upperhand to negotiate for better rates but also exploit alternative markets within the country.

He said preserving and marketing the fish collectively is cheaper and more profitable than doing so individually.

Their market is mainly at the capital city, Nairobi, which the chairman said is consistent and reliable.

Odhiambo said non-connection to the national grid disadvantages the remote fishing communities for they are put off the system that would power freezers to maintain the freshness of the fish.

“Fishing is our main economic activity. That’s where we get money to educate our children. It is therefore important that we get the necessary support to boost our fishing activities,” he said.

But their livelihood is also under threat due to overfishing resulting from an increased number of fishers at the lake, he said.

Lake Victoria is a shared resource among three East African countries-Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania-and it is home to tilapia and Nile Perch, the fish species which bring a source of living for at least 35 million people from the three nations.

A 2012 study by SmartFish, one of the largest regional programmes for fisheries in Africa, implemented by the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) jointly with the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), attributed unreported illegal and unregulated fishing on the Lake Victoria waters in the three countries to the drop in the Nile Perch stocks.

According to the study, the total biomass of the Nile Perch declined to the lowest recorded estimate of 298, 394 tonnes in 2008 from 1.4 million tonnes in 1999.

To counter the falling stock of the fish species, Odhiambo said fishers have adopted use of fish cages which are floated on the lake.

Each holds 2,000 pieces of tilapia and take eight months to mature.

“Overfishing is really a threat to us and we are very concerned. It is diminishing our livelihood and that is why we have embraced fish cages. That is our way of cushioning ourselves from total lack of fish to sell,” he said.

“There are many people nowadays capturing fish in the Lake Victoria that overfishing has become very common here and we don’t know what will happen in the future,” he said.

On security of the raised fish, Odhiambo said the area fishing community values respect for fellow members’ property that nobody steals fish from the cages.

Just like fish is a cash crop for his community so is coffee for some in central Kenya but in comparison, the latter have struggled with protracted theft cases darkening their days of hardwork to earn a living.

Meanwhile, the government hopes to have connected 70 percent of the Kenyan population to electricity by end of 2017.

If extended to this remote Muhuru Bay in the Lake Victoria environs, it is a development that would save the fishing communities costs of buying ice.

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