An outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda is threatening incomes of Lake Turkana fish traders in northwestern Kenya.
Traders on Thursday said they were incurring losses running into millions of shillings as fish prices nosedive due to an unstable market.
Fish traders from Uganda and the DRC have been taking long to travel to Lake Turkana for stocks because of the lengthy Ebola screening process. Some have stopped travelling to buy fish.
The Kenyan Ministry of Health has intensified screening of people entering the country from Uganda to manage the outbreak.
“We are monitoring travel records of passengers before they are allowed to enter the country,” said Joshua Arusei, a Port Health Service Officer at the Busia border post.
“The DRC is our main external market for fish, and the outbreak of the virus in the country and Uganda has impacted negatively on our businesses,” said fisherman and Impressa Group chairman John Loiritei Mame.
He said prices at the lake shore have dropped from about Ksh400 ($4) per fish to Ksh200 ($2).
Uganda’s Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization have confirmed cases of Ebola outbreak in the region.
The outbreak has dealt a blow to expectations of Kenya's fishing industry. It recently acquired equipment worth Ksh51 million ($500,996), including 12,661 fishing nets and 15,000 floaters that were distributed to fishermen in 30 beach management units.
“Income generation from fish in the lake has increased from Ksh12 million ($117,876) to Ksh16 million ($157,168), while production has improved from 31 to 35 tonnes in the last six months. But, the outbreak of Ebola will impact our business negatively,” said Leah Napokol Epat, the Impressa Group treasurer.
South Sudan, and Kenya's cities Nairobi and Kisumu are the other main markets for fish from the fresh water lake.
“Local traders are taking advantage of lack of our main market in the DRC to exploit fishmongers by offering them low prices,” said Mr Stephen Ekal Ekuwom, a beach management unit official.
A trade assessment report by the Indian Ocean Commission indicates that the DRC imports 89,000 tonnes of fish annually to meet domestic consumption.
An average of 15,000 kilos of fish were exported to Nairobi and 6,000 to Kitale in western Kenya from Impressa beach alone last month.
At the same time, environmentalists and fishermen have expressed concern over construction of a dam by the Ethiopian government on River Omo, arguing that it will lead to a decline in water volume in Lake Turkana and interfere with commercial fishing.
“Water volume in Lake Turkana, a source of livelihood for more than 20,000 families through fishing, is likely to decline by 60pc in the next five to seven years as a result of construction of Gibe dam,” said Eliud Emeri, the group leader.