Kenya slashes Chinese tilapia imports by half

Saturday February 10 2024

Tilapia from China at a supply point in Kisumu County, Kenya. China exported 1,927 tonnes of Tilapia to Kenya in 2023, a sharp drop from 4, 228 tonnes in 2022. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


Tilapia imports from China plunged 54.4 per cent last year as Kenya erected barriers against the delicacy from foreign sources to protect local fishermen and farmers.

Data from Chinese authorities shows the country exported 1,927.81 tonnes of frozen tilapia, frozen tilapia fillets, and preserved whole or chopped-up pieces of the fish type to Kenya in 2023.

It is a sharp drop from 4,228.24 tonnes that the Asian country sold to Kenya in the previous year.

In 2021, Kenya brought in 9,886.5 tonnes of tilapia from China, underlining a rapid drop in purchases of the delicacy from the populous country in recent years.

Read: Kenya imports from China record rare drop

The drop comes at a time when the Kenyan government has bowed to pressure from local fishermen and fish farmers whose fortunes had taken a hit due to an influx in cheap imports from China.


Last year, the government slapped an excise duty of 10 per cent on imported fish to protect the local aquaculture sector, which employs thousands of individuals.

“There has been an increase in importation of fish into the country, which has negatively affected the local fish industry,” said National Treasury Cabinet Secretary, Prof Njuguna Ndung’u, last year in his budget speech for the financial year 2023/24.

“To promote and protect the local fish industry, which provides livelihood to many Kenyans, I propose to the National Assembly to introduce excise duty on imported fish at Sh100,000 per metric tonne or 10 per cent of the excisable value, whichever is higher,” said Prof Ndung’u.

The excise duty was aimed at making fish imports more expensive to reduce the gap between their price and that of local fish.

Tilapia is the main fish sold in Kenya and has huge demand. It is fished from Lake Victoria and other freshwater bodies such as Lake Naivasha and is also reared in fish ponds by farmers.

Besides tilapia, Kenya imports other types of fish such as mackerel anchovies, catfish, and Nile Perch from China.

Read: Kenya finds new avocado market in China

Mackerel toppled tilapia to become Kenya’s largest fish type import from China last year.

Some 3,316.44 tonnes of mackerel were brought in from China in 2023, which is 72 per cent more than the quantity of tilapia imports during the period.

However, the mackerel imports last year declined from 3,197.35 tonnes compared to the previous year.

Lake Victoria is Kenya’s main source of fish, but dwindling stocks from the water body in recent years have forced the country to rely more on imports to plug the gap even as demand for the delicacy continues to grow.

It is estimated that Kenya has an annual deficit of 365,000 tonnes of fish against a demand of 500,000 tonnes.