Fishery: The Abandoned Sector

Ethiopia depends on its inland water bodies for its fish supply. The growing number of dams has increased its country’s potential of fishing. Though the culture and dietary tradition does not favor fish consumption throughout the year, the rise of population, urban centers and overall growth of the hospitality industry, in recent years, are creating a favorable condition. As a result production of fish ascended to 50,148 metric tonnes last year, up from 17,047 six years ago. The per capita consumption has also reached to 500grams in the year from less than 150 grams a decade ago.
However, with the rise of population whose purchasing power is fast growing and dietary culture changing, a big demand is being created. The ever burgeoning hospitality industry is also creating further demand. As a result, the significant growth of production did not match the supply especially in urban areas like Addis Ababa. EBR’s Ashenafi Endale consulted stakeholders and researches for this report.

Mengesha Muche, in his mid twenties, has been dependent on Lake Hawassa to earn a living ever since he was 16. For more than a decade, he sets up his trap nets during the night and comes early in the morning to collect the fish.
“A fish, which weighs up to a kilogram is sold for up to ETB30 at the coast of the lake,” He told EBR. “Sometimes I get up to ETB200 per day.” He recalls that when he started fishing, he used to sell five to ten fish that weigh up a kilogram for one birr each.
In recent years, a growth of fish consumption has been witnessed in the country. This has resulted in the increase in fish price. The change in fish consumption indicates a change in trend over the last few years, creating significant fish demand, especially in towns and Addis Ababa.
According to information obtained from the Ministry of Livestock and Fishery (MoLF), the production of fish has ascended to 50,148 metric tons in last year, up from 17,047 six years ago. The per capita consumption has also reached to 500 grams currently from less than 150 grams a decade ago.
The fish harvested in Ethiopia mainly comes from three sources. 73Pct, 36,608 tonnes, of last year’s harvest comes from lakes. With 18,304 tonnes of fish harvested annually, Tana, the largest lake in the country, is the major contributor. Tana, which rests on 3,600 kilometre square area, is found in the state of Amhara. Lake Chamo in the state of SNNP, which covers 551 kilometre square area, contributes 5,557 tonnes.
Reservoirs contributed 19Pct of the fish harvested last year. With 3,525 tonnes harvested, Takeze Dam contributed the highest amount last year. Koka, with 3,461 tonnes, comes in second place. Small rivers, dams and ponds also contributed 3,510 tonnes of fish in the year. On the other hand, a little more than 500 tonnes of fish was produced from rivers like Abay and Baro.
According to FAO, the country’s lakes and reservoirs have an estimated surface area of 7,334 square kilometer. Rivers account for 7,185 square kilometer while small water bodies account for 275 square kilometer.
According to a data obtained from MoLF, the fish market has generated ETB1.084 billion last year, up from ETB583 million in the preceding year. Tilapia is the most common fish species in Ethiopia while African cat fish, barbus and Nile perch are also widely available fish species in the country.
Currently, restaurants in Addis Ababa buy Tilapia, the most consumed fish species in the country, with ETB80 to ETB120 per kilogram. The amount of Tilapia harvest has increased by 246Pct from 7,554 tons in 2009/10 to 26,158 tons 2015/16, a growth that was not registered on any other fish species. In fact, Tilapia is one of the most important species for 21 century aquaculture and is produced in more than 100 countries.
“A decade ago, there were only few specialized restaurants that serve fish in the capital. Their number is significantly high now. For that matter any small restaurant and hotel serves fish in addition to other dishes,” said Getinet Shiferaw, manager at Sinknesh Fish Restaurant located around Kera in Kirkos District. Sinknesh was established 20 years ago.
“Together with the change in the awareness of the public regarding the nutritional value of fish, the demand for fish meal is fast growing in many restaurants.” ascertained Getinet. The skyrocketed price of meat has also increased the demand for fish, because the later is way cheaper.
Many studies indicate that fish, contains a high protein, with 17-29Pct of amino acid, which is similar to that of the meat. according to the study entitled ‘Fish Production Constraints in Ethiopia’ fish products are essential to food security, providing over one billion people with their main source of protein and more than 4.3 billion people with about 15Pct of their average per capita animal protein intake globally. Fish proteins are particularly important for preschool-aged children and pregnant women.
Many Ethiopians eat meat. This is often associated with the pattern of settlement that is in fertile central highlands and abundant pastoral areas, which are characterized by wider expansion of cattle breeding. However, the recent increment in meat price coupled with the rapid growth of the population and its economic growth, changing dietary culture of the people, fast growth of the hospitality industry in big towns and cities, has caused the rapid growth of fish consumption.
For instance, nine years ago, when Getinet started to work at Sinknesh, close to 150 kilogram of fish was consumed during the pick season, an amount that is consumed in off pick fish consumption season currently. Compared to the current demand Getinet said “During pick seasons such as fasting season, our fish demand reaches 300 kilogram per day.”
However, the growing fish demand is not matched by enough supply especially in urban areas like Addis Ababa. “The demand is above the capacity of the restaurant to serve especially during fastening seasons.” said Kinfe Sahlu, manager at Arba Minch Fish Restaurant located around Kera in Kirkos District. The restaurant serves up to 300 customers per day, during fastening days.
Both Arba Minch and Sinknesh usually serve three species of fish and prepare five types of dishes with price range between ETB100 to ETB150. However, they stress that fish dishes that are preferred by customers (Tilapia and Nile Perch) are hard to get.
“Those fish species that are preferred are endangered,” argues Tesfu Gife, senior fishery expert at the MoLF. “The fishers do not tolerate even until newly hatched fish grow up and reproduce.”
There are a number of reasons for the misuse of the country’s fish resource. Some insiders argue about the lack of investment in the sub sector and management of resources. That’s why some resources are overexploited. Water bodies such as lakes and others near towns where infrastructure is better developed and links resource areas with market destinations, their fish resource is over utilised. Several remote areas on the other hand have abundant aquatic resources which remain underutilized.
“Currently, Lake Hawassa is the most overused lake in the country and most of the fish species known are endangered,” says Tesfu. He added that “poor monitoring and environmental protection aggravated the problem.”
It is not only overexploitation that has endangered some fish species in Ethiopia, chemical wastages released from flower farms and industries also pause serious threat on some fish species in Lake Ziway. “The chemicals are discharged into the shores of the lakes, right where fish lay eggs,” explains Tesfu. “Especially Tilapia cannot stand chemicals and it is almost at extinction point.”
According to Adefris Kasaye, fish post harvest senior technical expert at the Ministry, because Lake Hawasa is highly depleted hotels and restaurants in the town are currently buying fish harvested from Lake Ziway. He affirmed that Lake Ziway itself is also depleting making the problem even worse.
A report compiled by FAO in 2015 reveals that some lakes like Chamo and Ziway may be fully-or-over-exploited. There has been a steady decline of fish landings as a result of increase in the number of fishing nets and vessels on Lake Chamo. In addition to chemical related problems, Lake Zeway appears to be in a state of overexploitation due to the combination of open access fishing, strong local fishing tradition, increase in fishing effort and use of illegal gears.
Tesfu says fishing the newly hatched ones has even interrupted the way the fish used to survive naturally. “For instance, Lake Tana used to produce the largest fish in Ethiopia. However, recently, fish at the lake started to grow faster than their usual time. They reach the breeding size fast and immediately stop growing to gain wait. This indicates that they are trying to breed fast, before they get into trap nets. They are adopting themselves to the human interruption. This is how far [human interventions] have endangered their survival as a species.”
The lack of institutional capacity to bridge the supply and demand gap is one of the challenges the sector has for long faced. Experts argue that the gap between demand and supply emanates from the absence of licensed and well equipped fish suppliers that collect from fisheries and supply it to the market in a sustainable manner after the former Ethiopian Fish Production and Marketing Enterprise ceased operation. They complain that the Enterprise gradually became dysfunctional after it was privatized in 2007, with ETB19 million. The Enterprise used to distribute up to 10 quintals of fish per day. Heavy duty refrigerators, simulated trucks, fishing boats that can stay up to six days on lakes, and other valuable assets, became inactive after privatization.
The absence of complete legal framework is the other factor that hinders the fish sub sector in Ethiopia although the country adopted the Fisheries Development and Utilization Proclamation in 2003. The proclamation was aimed at guiding and ensuring the conservation, development and utilization of fishery resources in the country. Of course with the approval of this proclamation, two regional governments, the states of SNNP and Oromia, ratified their version of the proclamation for the management of fisheries under their jurisdiction. However, this legal tool has not been popularized even in the states.
The water sector strategy, which was introduced in 2001, also gives less emphasis to the fish sub sector. The ten year road map released by the government in 2010, only acknowledges the importance of fishery as a natural resource sub-sector and highlights the need to review the handling of fisheries in the country’s programme formulations and public institutions setup.
Experts like Tesfu argue that the lack of fishery master plan, policy, strategy, and regulations hampers the efforts for developing and modernizing the sub sector as well as attracting new investment. “Though there are many foreign investors who want to put their money in the area, the lack of proper legal framework that specifies the technologies they can use; incentive packages available; and [environmental and biodiversity] issues they need to take into considerations, the country is not attracting meaningful investment in the area. We are pushing for the ratification of the long awaited draft regulation, which will address many issues in the sub sector,” said Tesfu.
For Getienet Senbete, expert at Zeway Fisheries Resources Research Centre, all the effort should start from the very beginning. He argues that “Knowing the exact potential and stock of each source should be the first job. As far as I know, there was no data collected or assessment conducted on fish stock and harvest as well as supply and market chains in Ethiopia. This restricted efforts to protect endangered species to maximize their production.”
Discussion and plans are often based on the assessment of water bodies conducted in the 1990s, Ethiopia’s yearly potential for fish harvest was estimated at 45,000 metric tonnes. But after finding out that the production of last fiscal year that surpassed 50,000metric tonnes, the Ministry adopted the assessment conducted by the FAO. This puts the potential between 94,000 and 96,000 metric tonnes .Another specific example indicates that though the potential of Lake Hawasa was estimated to be 611 metric tonnes per year, 900 metric tonnes was harvested last year.
Tesfu explains that “The first assessment was done before ten years, which only estimated the potential around 50,000 metric tonnes.” He added that “the assessment did not include smaller water bodies and many new dams built then after.” Tesfu stresses even the assessment, which the Ministry use did not include the potentials of big dams like Gilgel Gibe III.
Adamu Yemar, head of Fishery, Water land and Water life Department at Bihir Dar University says his department uses the assessment conducted in the 1990’s for teaching and research purposes although the validity and accuracy of the estimate are not confirmed. He added that “a concrete study is needed to devise a strategy that saves the overexploited lakes and divert fishing activities to the ones that are underutilized.”
Only seven fish species are frequented in Ethiopia despite the presence of close to 200 fish species in the country, of which 44 are endemic. “Tilapia and Nile-perch species are over exploited in Tana, Hawassa, Ziway and Chamo and have reached a point of extinction. In addition, 30 to 40Pct of the fish harvested do not reach the final consumer due to wastage that occurs in the supply chain.”
Currently, the MoLF is working to monitor the ratio between the number of fishers in a given water body with the capacity of the resource. It is also banning fishing during breeding times. Furthermore, it is controlling the illegal use of banned trap nets and other fishing tools.
FAO’s report indicates that, gill nets are often used as seine nets and dragged in the shallow fishing areas sweeping the ground and indiscriminately collecting young Tilapia as well. Although this is considered illegal it is still practiced by many fishers. The use of monofilament nets is also forbidden in Ethiopia.
According to data from the Ministry, Ethiopia has 23,000 fulltime and 29,000 part time fishers. However, the figure does not include people who are engaged in illegal fishing, processing, and supply. In addition, most of them work in traditional manner with no mechanized and coordinated efforts.
Information obtained from the Ministry reveals that fisheries in Ethiopia are entirely traditional with most fishers operating with basic rafts made of papyrus or scarps. Some wooden canoes are found on large water bodies such as lakes Chamo, Abaya, Ziway and Tana. Motorized canoes are found on Lake Tana and Chamo.
“We have introduced a system called ‘co-management’, in which regional bureaus of agriculture, environmental protection offices and police departments in the fishing areas are coordinated to address the problems in unproductive fishing practices.” said Tesfa.
Even though the government has accentuated the need for promoting the sub sector, with the establishment of a ministry independent from the former Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, it still lacks the resource to execute its plans. So far, only two states have opened livestock and fishery bureaus.
In Ethiopia, the fisheries management system was stretched from the federal administrative setup to the states and woreda level in 1991. However, limited institutional, technical and financial capacity of the fisheries administration at both federal and regional level, especially in the areas of fisheries monitoring, controlling and surveillance as well as planning and coordination, have been major impediments to the effective management of fisheries in the country.
Officials say, as an emergency reflex to save the overexploited lakes like Hawasa, the Ministry has currently finalized the construction of a centre that multiply and release newly hatched fish species to Lake Hawassa and other water bodies in the surrounding areas. The centre is installed at the outskirt of the Hawassa town and has the capacity to release up to 200 million baby fish a year.
Another centre is also opened in Arba Minch town recently. In other areas of effort the State of Oromia is currently recruiting a designer and a consultant, while the State of Amhara has allocated ETB18 million budget and finalized the design of a similar facility. “The plan is to install such centres near each water bodies, in each state.” Tesfa said. The major lesson, however, is to stop reacting after it’s too late. EBR

5th Year • July 2017 • No. 52

Ashenafi Endale

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