Major stakeholders on fishing in Lake Victoria are scheduled to meet on Wednesday in Mwanza amid tensions over drastic fall in fish prices.
The meeting to be held in Mwanza will be chaired by the Minister of Livestock Development and Fisheries, Dr Mathayo David in an attempt to defuse tensions which have lasted for about two weeks as small fishermen demand better pay from owners of fish processing industries in the lake zone.
The minister told The Guardian on Sunday here on Friday that the government deems it important to convene the meeting to seek a workable solution on the matter.
“My team will meet different groups of stakeholders like industry owners, agents as well as representatives of the fishermen. We will initially meet each group separately and then all groups together later. This will help us to collect useful information to avoid being misled in a larger meeting,” he explained.
Minister Mathayo said he had some hints on alleged mistreatment of fishermen by industry owners, for maximizing profit at the expense of the poor.
“We have some tips for example that industry owners sometimes declare a quantity of fish as reject but astonishingly do not return the fish quantity to the fishermen. We also hear that there is little transparency on the quantity of fish purchased as sometimes the buyers under-declare the weight. These are matters we want to establish and possibly bring to an end,” he said.
The government wants to establish claims that Kenya fish buyers offer better prices than those in Tanzania.
“We really do not understand claims that Kenya buyers offer better prices because the markets are the same but we will try to gather all important information for the benefit of all interested parties because they are depend on each other,” he further noted.
However, Dr Mathayo’s statement was countered by Vincent Nyerere, the legislator for Musoma Urban who said the minister should go and talk to fishermen instead of attending a meeting in Mwanza.
“Why meeting in Mwanza and enjoying air conditioning while fishermen are in Ukerewe and other areas in Lake Victoria shores? The minister says the main market for our fish is Belgium while we know that the main market is Israel. We can not bear this at the expense of the poor people,” said Nyerere.
The MP said he told the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Livestock Development and Fisheries on January 25 (2012) that there was a cartel among industry owners to lower prices for a bigger profit, but no action was taken.
He said Kenyan buyers offer up to Sh4,300 a kilo compared to Sh3,000 offered by Tanzanian buyers.
Last Tuesday Dr Mathayo said in a government statement in the House that the recent drop in the prices of Nile perch (sangara) in the country has been caused by lack of a market in Europe.
The minister told the National Assembly that over 95 percent of the fish from Lake Victoria were being processed and sold outside the country. His statement followed a dispute which emerged between fishermen in the Lake Victoria Zone and factory owners who reduced fish prices.
He mentioned other factors which led to the drop in prices as instability of the euro, economic and business slump in Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece which are major markets for fish from East African countries.
Other factors include unemployment facing these countries thus affecting their capacity to buy items including exotic food items. This means people take to other foods like pork and chicken because they are cheaper, he said.
Dr Mathayo said the presence of other types of fish whose prices are cheap from the Far East countries of Vietnam, China and Australia has caused the prices of Nile perch to drop.
According to reports from FAO Globefish of April 2012, the prices of Nile perch in European countries started to drop from 2009/2010 when one kg fetched euros 7 dropping to euros 4.50 in 2011/2012, he said.
In the past two weeks, he said, prices paid to farmers for Nile perch in East African countries have dropped further. In Tanzania the price fell from Tsh4,500 per kg to TSh3,000, while in Uganda it dropped from Ush6,000 to USh4000 which is equivalent to TSh2600 while in Kenya the prices went down from KSh210 to KSh120 which is equivalent to TSh2,300.
Dr. Matayo said the government has discussed the price issue with factory owners, fish agents and fishermen who sell fish to fish processing factories on the possibility of improving the business and prices.
He said it has been agreed that fish agents and fishermen should meet with factory owners to discuss compensating fishermen for the loss caused by the sudden drop in prices.
The Tanzania Industrial Fishing & Processors Association (TIFPA) was also instructed to submit to the government proposed prices before July 5, he said.
“Prices which will be used during the transitional period from June 21 to July 5 will result from agreement entered between factory owners and fish agents,” he said.
He said currently each factory has agreed with its agents as per their contracts, for example, Tanzania Fish Processors to buy a kg of fish at TSh3000 or TSh3100 while Omega buy fish at TSh3000 and up to TSh3200 and Vic Fish buys at TSh3000 per kg.
The government has directed its embassies in the countries which buy Nile perch from Tanzania to make follow ups on prices so that the quotations are known to fishermen and agents, to make it easier to continue advising factory owners on prices to fishermen.
Last week Ilemela Highness Kiwia asked Parliament to discuss the dispute between fishermen and fish factory owners who he alleged had lowered the fish prices and destabilized the lives of the fishermen.
However, House Speaker Anne Makinda ordered the government to issue a statement on the dispute.