In Ethiopia, seasonality seems to apply to many kinds of food, including, most significantly, fish. Although some people enjoy various seasonal foods out of season, often timely associations are still there.
Business in the fishery market can fluctuate. Customer numbers may increase during the fasting season and then decline during non-fasting time.
The Easter fasting season, which started three weeks ago, presents a prime opportunity for those who work in the fishery market to boost earnings. The season is the longest fasting season in Ethiopia. It involves a 55-day fasting season for Christians, who represent a majority of the population.
Arba Minch Restaurant is one of the fish restaurants who sees increase during the long fasting season.
“About 1,000 people visit us during fasting season. But it drops by half during regular times,” said Kinfe Hailu, manager of the Restaurant for the past five years.
Customers are willing to pay as high as 250 Br for a fish meal they pick at Arba Minch Restaurant, which was opened two decades ago in Merkato. This is double the wholesale price.
The restaurant, located in Qera along Dejazmach Beyene Merid Street, buys fish from wholesalers who bring in their catch from the Tekeze River, accounting for close to 75pc of their supply. The rest is bought from suppliers at Lake Tana and Arba Minch.
Six months ago, there was a drop in productivity from Lake Tana, Tekeze Dam and Arba Minch. This brought a hike in prices of fish largely due to low productivity of Tekeze River.
After the drop in productivity, the government has banned fishing in Tekeze, located 987.3km away from Addis Abeba.
“The Tekeze Dam fish species are threatened because of illegal fishing,” said Tesfa Gofie, an aquaculture expert at the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries.
There was also a decline in Lake Tana and Arba Minch fish productions. The fish production in Lake Tana dropped owing to unrest in the region, while Arba Minch was affected by the environmental impacts of global warming.
“The shortages in Tana and Tekeze have improved since October, 2016,” says Kinfe, who buys five quintal of fish every day. But some varieties of fish that were quite well known on the market are becoming extinct.”
Three years ago, one of Arba Minch Restaurant’s comparative advantages was providing fish from Ziway.
“Ziway’s fish is either difficult to get or not available in the market,” Kinfe added.
Berga Bereda, a fish retailer for three decades, agrees with Kinfe.
“There is almost no one who supplies fish from Ziway, at least around my area,” said Berga, who has a shop inside Atkilit Tera, an area known for its provision of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as fish.
About 15 years ago, Ziway accounted for three-quarters of the fish supply in Addis Abeba. Now, the trend has changed, and Ziway production accounts for less than 10pc.
In 2007, four researchers studied the capacity of Ziway and found out that the potential yield of all fish species in Lake Ziway was an estimated 2,500 to 6,680 tonnes.
Seven years later, the river saw a drastic fall in the production of this natural resource, as only 300 tonnes of fish was collected from the river, according to Deraro Hora, head of Fishers Association in Ziway Lake, 160 km from the capital.
Abush Asfaw, 26, is one of the members of the association. He started fishing during his childhood when he was seven years old.
“We used to benefit from better harvests, both in the number and size of fish,” he said referring a decade ago, when he started fishing as a career.
There are more than 1,500 fishermen who work on Lake Ziway daily, according to conservative estimates by Batu Administration Bureau. At a national level, the number of cooperatives engaged in fishery has reached about close to 70.
Abush says the number of fishes in Ziway Lake is declining over the past decade.
“I used to harvest one tonne of fish a year five years ago, now I am lucky if I catch a quarter of a ton,” he said angrily.
The Association, which includes Abush and 600 other members, relates the production decline with waste discharge from flower farms near the river.
Harburg Rose, AQ Rose, Bram Rose, Ziway Rose and Share Ethiopia are the companies that have flower farms near the river.
Share Ethiopia has the lion’s share of the production, accounting for more than half of the total production in the area. With the aim of controlling the waste, the factories and fishermen came to an agreement and built a series of dams near the river two months ago.
However, last week, during Fortune’s visit to a site near the river, a small dam built by Harburg Rose was being torn down by two employees of the company.
“We are knocking down the dam following the order of the city’s water and sewerage bureau,” says Selome Seyoum, administrative coordinator of the company. “But we are sure the water has no impact on people lives as it is treated well.”
The company, in its plant, treats the water it releases and reuses it to propagate fish in its wetland. The rationale behind the wetland was to prove whether the water was toxic or not.
“The number of fish was not any more than 100 when we built the wetland, now they reach close to 10,000,” Selome added. “Living creatures would not be able to live if the water was poisoned with chemicals.”
Batu Administration says the dam is knocked down to avoid mixture of the discharge with the city’s drinking water pipeline.
The boom in the number of irrigation pumps also contributed to the decline in production at Ziway, according to residents, fishermen and officials of the city.
“People who live around the lake should save water from being wasted otherwise the lake is at a great risk,” says Washo Kedir, mayor of Batu.
Data from Ministry of Livestock and Fishery indicates Ziway accounts for close to 15pc of fish production in the country. Located inside the Rift Valley, the total area of the lake is 440sqkm
“The lake is overexploited due to inappropriate fishing practices,” Washo added.
Studies indicate the same problem in all the lakes and rivers in the country. Despite all these factors, total returns from fish marketing increased on annual average of 42.4pc. Two years ago, the total returns collected from the fish market was 583.6 million Br, which increased by 73pc in 2015, reaching a little over a billion Birr.
In the past six months, the country has produced close to 20,000 tonnes of fish, meeting 77pc of the national target for the fiscal year.
Meanwhile, exports of fish have reached over 350 tonnes, double the target. However, the contribution of the fishery market to the GDP is still in its infancy, below 0.5pc.
The country’s fish production capacity is potentially 94,000 tonnes, according to a study carried out during the Imperial period. There have been no further studies done by the government on the fishery industry since then.
However, the under productivity of the sector does not seem to be affecting the consumption of fish in urban areas. Demand for fish is growing significantly; and it offers an opportunity not to only increase production but also processing, which will require employment, with particular opportunities for the youth.
“The fishery sector is promising if it is given the proper attention,” says Kinfe, the manger of Arba Minch Restaurant.
There are plans to produce 95,602 tonnes of fish in the next three years. Of this 75pc of the fish is expected to be harvested from lakes. Increasing the production of fish by 50pc is one of the strategies adopted by the government to attain the target.
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