The best justification of the fishing industry’s outcry about the threat posed by Chinese imports is the record amount shipped in last year.
The imports increased by 11.8 percent, fetching Sh1.7 billion for the Chinese.
Quite worried are Kenyan traders and fishermen, who see the Chinese undercutting them as they can deliver the fish at a much lower price than the local catch.
It is in the Nairobi market where the problem is being acutely felt. Fish traders say they cannot complete favourably with the cheaper Chinese imports.
Whereas a 10-kilogramme carton of fish from China costs Sh1,800, its Kenyan equivalent goes for Sh3,500.
The Chinese, thanks to their sophisticated industry and logistics, including refrigeration and shipping, can hold onto their stocks much longer and ferry them farther, and the Kenyan market is proving quite lucrative for them.
This matter has been simmering and, last year, President Uhuru Kenyatta directed officials to find ways to curtail the imports.
Naturally, this caused a tiff with a Chinese diplomat wading into the controversy with what was deemed a trade war threat.
Though true that Kenya has an annual fish deficit of 365,000 tonnes against a demand of 500,000 tonnes, the foreigners’ unfettered access to our market could be disastrous.
The fishing industry supports no less than 100,000 Kenyans directly and 800,000 indirectly.
Also of concern is the quality of the Chinese fish, with some of the imports having been found to contain deadly substances and, therefore, unfit for human consumption.
The imports, as some government officials insist, are required to meet the rising demand for the delicacy.
However, the local industry must be shielded from unfair trade practices such as predatory pricing and consumers saved from unfit food.