Recession, competition take bite out of Nile perch
By Steven Hedlund, SeafoodSource editor
03 September, 2009 -
Overfishing has hurt eastern Africa’s Nile, or Lake Victoria, perch resource over the past 10 years. But an ailing global economy, coupled with increased competition from cheaper whitefish species such as tilapia and pangasius, are keeping Nile perch prices in check, despite reduced availability.
According to the Lake Victoria Fisheries Organization, the Nile perch population plunged from 1.9 million metric tons in 1999 to 370,000 metric tons last year, and processors have reportedly cut production by 50 percent. Overfishing is mainly responsible for the fishery’s demise.
But diminished demand and increased competition are largely to blame for the drop in Nile perch exports over the past year. Nile perch exports from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda to the European Union fell from to 11,700 metric tons in the first quarter of last year to 8,800 metric tons during the same three-month period this year. They dropped from 52,800 metric tons in 2007 to 42,300 metric tons in 2008.
Nile perch prices are also falling. Last month, frozen fillets were commanding only about EUR 6.20 (USD 8.83) a kilogram in the European market, compared to EUR 7 (USD 9.97) a year ago, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization.
However, the drop in Nile perch exports to the European Union has left the door open for U.S. buyers, who increased Nile perch imports from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda to 243 metric tons in the first half of 2009 from just 90 metric tons during the same six-month period in 2008, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Though overfishing has devastated eastern Africa’s Nile perch resource, an effort is underway to make the fishery more sustainable.
Earlier this year, Naturland, a German organic farmers cooperative, certified Lake Victoria perch as sustainable, and products from the region now carry the organization’s eco-label. The certification covers about eight landing sites in western Lake Victoria and involves about 1,000 fishermen in Bukoba, Tanzania.
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