Before the recovery of cod stocks, the main competitor of Nile Perch was pangasius fillet from Viet Nam, as well as tilapia from Asia, mainly China or Central America. Although these are cheaper, they are not as popular as cod in the European Union.
Exporting companies and the governments of appropriate African countries will need to make a greater effort to publicise the work they have been doing on sustainability issues related to the Nile perch fisheries on Lake Victoria. Combatting bad press about overexploitation and mislabeling is still an important task for the sector.
According to Infopêche, the Government of Kenya has announced new measures to curb declining fish stocks in Lake Victoria. The new initiative targets Nile perch and the use of eco-labeling to encourage sustainable fishing and the reduction of negative impacts on the environment.
In 2010 Kenya exported 3 600 tonnes of Nile perch fillets to EU markets, while Tanzania sold 16 300 tonnes and Uganda 11 800 tonnes.
In the first quarter of 2011, the EU remained the main market for Nile perch imports with 8 200 tonnes of fillets coming from these three African countries. Figures have remained stable compared with the same period in 2010.
On a positive note the Dutch company, Anova Food, announced in May that sales of its Naturland-certified sustainable Nile perch products now account for over 20% of total sales in that category in the USA. Anova’s certified Lake Victoria Nile perch is easily identifiable with the Naturland logo printed on the packaging, demonstrating that the standards have been successfully implemented and guaranteeing the sustainability of the fishery. In addition, social and economic conditions of fishermen and their families have improved considerably in the town of Bukoba on the west side of Lake Victoria since the initial launch of the certified product in early 2010.
According to Kenyan authorities the Nile perch stock in Lake Victoria declined from 1.9 million tonnes to 1.2 million between 1999 and 2001 and then drastically dropped to 544 000 tonnes in 2005 and a further dramatic drop to 370 000 tonnes in 2008.
Regarding retail prices, in Spain, Nile perch is being sold in supermarkets at EUR 8.50/kg, (prepacked circa 500g) to EUR 10.55/kg (prepacked 300g); meanwhile in Netherlands, Nile perch fillets can reach EUR 13.90/kg at fishmongers.
Asian markets, however, are not interested in Nile perch because of the availability of pangasius, while Australia may again become an attractive market for Nile perch because of its similarity to barramundi, a local freshwater fish.
For Nile perch to regain its former valued status, local governments and fishing companies need to work together to ensure sustainable management of this important resource, and also to address the issue of illegal fishing. Companies and processors also need to communicate better the anticipated improvements to consumers and to focus more on the role of Nile perch in food security in countries adjoining Lake Victoria.