Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Why is Zambia importing 40,000 tons of fish every year?


Fish is a traditional part of our diet. Compared to many other countries, Zambians have a distinctive preference for fish compared to other forms of essential protein such as beef or chicken. Fish and fish products account for a large proportion of our animal protein intake and provide essential micronutrients to the majority of Zambia’s population who are highly vulnerable to malnutrition. But we are eating less and less of it. Average per capita fish consumption has declined for many years.


A quick look at the history and statistics clearly show the natural fisheries of Zambia have played an important role in the country’s development. Total capture fish production has recently been about 70,000 to 80,000 tons a year and is about 40% of the animal protein consumed. This total fish production has increased from 40,000 tons in the late sixties and early seventies. However, the per capita supply of local fish has decreased from 12 kg to 7 kg per year. This is commonly attributed to a high population growth rate estimated at 3.2% per annum and limited supply. This increasing demand for fish has resulted in increasing prices and additional fishing pressure on nearly all of our wild fish stocks in our rivers and lakes. There is therefore an imperative need to improve the management of our capture fisheries resources if they are to continue to contribute positively to economic development and improved human health. Experts have told us we have reached the maximum amount of fish we can harvest and it is unlikely that there will be any increase of production from natural fisheries. Is this true? Fish production from Zambias fisheries are shown below. A look at fisheries around the world shows this is what has happened elsewhere and is exactly the same problem as virtually all other fisheries have, and is a typically common phenomenon globally. More and more people trying to catch less and less fish.

What can be done about it?

Importing more fish

Currently it is estimated that about 40,000 tons of fish is being imported into Zambia every year. At a very conservative price estimate of US$ 2-00 per Kg, this means we are paying over eighty million US dollars to import our additional fish requirements! Should we be spending this amount in foreign exchange when we have some of the best water resources in Africa? Can we not produce enough fish domestically to feed our population? And provide employment to thousands of people currently unemployed?

Traditional thinking is that we should take up fish farming. In fact, Zambia does produce a substantial amount of fish through this method, in the region of 10,000 tons a year. Developing this sector certainly can provide a considerable amount of fish to alleviate the present deficit. There are some large scale producers in Zambia, but developing this industry is expensive. Large amounts of capital is required for cages and ponds that need to be built, and the fish must be fed expensive food to ensure they grow properly. Is this the cheapest and most cost-effective way of providing quality affordable fish for Zambians? What are the alternatives?

Better management of our fisheries resources

Fisheries experts will tell you that one of the major problems causing low yields from natural fisheries is overfishing, and generally this takes the form of catching young fish with mosquito nets before they have had a chance to breed, or catching the breeding stock, and thereby not using the full potential of the fishery. This was the reason Zambia introduced the famous “fish ban” that is now almost universally ignored. Clearly, this is due to a failure to manage our fisheries resources by those people tasked to carry out this function. So what other tools can fisheries managers effectively use to ensure adequate supplies of this essential commodity? Is just trying to protect our existing fish resources enough, or should we be thinking of how it is possible to INCREASE our fish production from our wild fisheries?

Fisheries enhancement

Previous efforts to increase fish production have been done, right here in Zambia. Kapenta from Lake Tanganyika has been a staple food for generations, and after the Kariba dam was built, these fish were transported from Mpulungu and introduced to Kariba. Today, about 35,000 tons of Kapenta are harvested from the lake and provides considerable employment for thousands of people. This intervention has been praised extensively by fish experts and is often quoted as a prime example of good management.

So are there any other interventions that can be used to increase our fish production? Let’s take a look around the world and see where else this strategy has yielded positive results. Our first stop is supermarkets in Lusaka. And what do we see there? Tilapia – breams- from CHINA! These fish originally came from Africa, and now Africans are buying them back from the Chinese! What other types of fish are on sale here? Nile Perch from Tanzania! The same fish that are swimming next to the Kapenta in our part of Lake Tanganyika! How did this happen? Why are we importing fish we already have in Zambia?

A fact that many people may not be aware of is that these Nile Perch are actually not from Lake Tanganyika. They are from Lake Victoria. And the Nile Perch in Lake Victoria were INTRODUCED!

Nile perch was introduced into Lake Victoria by fishery Managers in the 1950s and by 1980 the Nile perch fishery had attained major commercial significance. Foreign and domestic investors installed fish processing plants specializing in Nile perch products. The demand for Nile perch landings increased the entry of a great number of fishermen into the fishery, currently about 300,000 people are employed directly in the fishery, and many more jobs were created in processing. In 2006, the Nile perch fishery contributed over 24% of the volume of fish harvest and 66% of income generated through fisheries in the three East African countries of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. In 2000, the harvest was 620,000 tons. In 2005 it was 804,000 tons and slightly over 1 million tons in 2006. Fish production in 2005 had a basic value of US $340 million; and that of 2006 had a value US $371 million. In 2005, Nile Perch contributed 32% of the volume of all fish landed from Victoria and 71% of the landed value.

This is a very impressive economic performance that has created hundreds of thousands of new jobs that were not there before. Additionally, it has given the three countries that have access to the lake a major exportable product that has earned them millions of dollars in foreign exchange. And, unlike copper, it is indefinitely sustainable!

How much did this intervention, that now generates over a BILLION DOLLARS in business, cost? The truth is we do not know. Apparently the Nile perch were introduced into Lake Victoria by personnel of the Uganda Fish and Game Department by simply transferring a few buckets of these fish from Lake Albert. Probable cost – not more than a few thousand dollars!

Can this intervention be replicated in Zambia?

After extensive research it seems highly likely this can be done. By extrapolating the improvement of fish catches in Lake Victoria to Lake Kariba and making adjustments for the size difference, it will probably lead to an increase of fish production of more than 400%!

Our current shortfall of fish that is being met by imports is about 40,000 tons as mentioned above. By introducing the original fish that co exists with the Kapenta we have already introduced, we can boost national fish production by over 150,000 tons. We will have changed the situation completely from being an importer to having a product to export! And diversified our economy and created thousands of jobs in the process. For the cost of moving a few fish from one lake to another.
This must surely be one of the most cost-effective ways of solving a problem!
My suggestion is that the Minister of Livestock and Fisheries looks into this suggestion with all the urgency and seriousness it deserves.

By Adrian Piers


  1. Fish, Salaula ,massive debts , foreign supermarkets and a few previous presidents – sad that we lazy Zambians we import everything.

    • Mr Adrian Piers
      Yes we import fish because Zambia does not commercially keep fish for resale. So because our fish is naturally replenishing it’s self, we therefore need to control our fishing. Yes import of fish is therefore good. Most countries having a coast have plenty of water and access to millions of fish. So why not import?
      If it is tomato, cabbage, onion, maize etc I would say why??? not fish.


    • White monopoly capital has shifted from South Africa to Zambia and wants to empower white owned Industries by importing their seafish. We eat freshwater fish in Zambia but pick n pay shop right don’t want to stock it.

    • There is no reason why Zambia imports fish…the minister if fisheries and livestock to gether with the ministery needs an Overhall.

      Making Zambia selfsufficent in fish needs hard work by GRZ, not mere farts by lungu.

      Also there are no bribes to be had in making Zambia self sufficient so that where you won’t find PF doing any work.

  2. It should be noted that introduction of the Nile perch in Lake Victoria caused indigenous species in the lake to perish, at the cost of local fishermen and their livelihoods. Without proper analysis, introduction of new species can have major effects on nature.

  3. As with all other natural resources, management of these need no political intervention as the same politicians are detrimental to the very existence of fish populations and their sustainability through populist policies. Political will to listen to and implement prescriptions arising from resource sector technocrats is what is needed to rebuild natural resources. Research is cardinal and though effective translocations and introductions can be, need to understand interspecific benefits should precede carrying out actions deemed to be solutions! One other element to consider is the maintenance of unblemished fish stocks/strains that in future could attract academic and research tourism otherwise all will end up as “what was in existence” only visualized in museum containers!

    @ Max,…

  4. contd…. true that the Nile Perch in Lake Victoria decimated indigenous species as it became the apex predator among the fishes. For a while economic returns were good but slumped awakening authorities to instituting stringent management measures. Can Zambia follow suit? Not when 75 % of the population still believe fish come with falling rains!

  5. Because we have a dull government run by dull president who only cares about his personal economy

    • What we all know is that the winner of 2016 blogger a is @mushota. Who is this retard masquerading as best blogger 2016. Oooh I forgot that it’s the upnd cretin. They are in the habit of claiming victory which is not theirs. 1mbeciles living in denial. Same with their tribal leader who thinks he won the elections. Grow up fellas and stop wanking.

    • I think the upvotes speak for themselves. I do not blog to entertain anyone or for attention. I wouldn’t give a rats behind if I was famous or not. My aim is to carry out checks and balances and show Zambians the ills of this government. Just like when hh talks and the pf react. That is the only way to get the illegal government to do anything for the benefit of the people. We all saw the initial real results which had me leading by over 30 percent here as best blogger. If you want to live in cuckoo land and tell yourself mushota won then please be my guest. You are just an insignificant wannabe blogger

  6. Agree with her or not, @Mushota strikes me as an authentic best blogger. Yes, she can be sarcastic often times, but doesn’t she do it with class! And she’s unpredictable too, and that’s what makes for a bestseller – a cliffhanger plot. As for @NEZ, he’s a one liner thinker; very easy to tell how he’s gonna come out. If you ask me: @NEZ is a cadre; @Mushota, a refined blogger.

    • Mushota plays mind games with the PF kaponyas who applaud any blog that distracts away from the constant borrowing , corruption and pescution of citizens….

      Other bloggers like NEZ are political and social activists who point out the ills of corruption and misrule by theives masquerading as leaders like kiezer zulu.

      NEZ is boss.
      Pay them no mind.

    • I agree with you Chalo.

      One is open minded while the other is closed minded , that is the difference between a free spirit and a cadre.

  7. I think the main problem of introducing nice perch into lake Kariba is Kariba is a shared lake with Zimbabwe.
    Zimbabwe uses the lake as a tourist destination and commercial fishing and touarisim are a bad mix.
    The Zimbabweans just about tolerate our small kapenta fishing in their waters.

    Also you can be assured of the collapse of kapenta stocks as the nile perch is a greedy predator.

    • Sibonga
      Have you seen any game reserves on Lake Victoria? Apart from a few island resorts lake Victoria is heavily populated as a result of commercial fishing.

      Or have you heard or seen of any commercial kapenta fishing on Lake Victoria.??

      Some people just argue without providing any information…..that is what free handouts does to a humanbeing.

    • In lake Victoria the introduction of the nile perch INCREASED the catch of kapenta to over FOUR TIMES as much as it was before! It is known as mukene there.

  8. Well put together article. Piers I believe that the tilapia from china are being “dumped” in zambia and technically should be the subject of anti dumping action by the ZRA.

    • There is no reason why all those imported fish should be farmed in zambia.
      If you dig deeper you will find PF bigwigs at the center of this importation.
      The same reason why police, army and most other uniforms are imported in zambia. PF financial supporters hold the import contracts.

      Zambia is being held at ransom by theives.

    • The Chinese fish are dumped worldwide and cost of production is much less than Zambia, china man earns less than kw5 day

  9. copy and paste originality and the estimates are wrong . this article is skewed to suit one’s view. ask the agriculture expert…. we don’t talk and have real info….. we are scared to give the best advice for fear of being retired on national interest

    • You don’t talk for fear of victimisation…that is why we have the Internet……it is people like you who keep quiete and make things worse.

      “The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it”.

      Albert Einstein

    • I can’t agree with this article. He states in the first paragraphs that fish is 40% of animal protein consumed in Zambia. Those with access to a calculator will work out that 80 000 tons of fish divided by 14.5M Zambians means each Zambia eats around 5.5kg of fish and if that’s 40% of all the animal protein eaten in Zambia it means that Zambian only eat 13.8kg of animal protein in a year. As per Zambians eat 9.2kg of chicken a year. So this is a basic error of math.

      Piers then goes further to suggest introducing a new species into Lake Kariba, having JUST stated the problem is over fishing. So, Piers, how will a new species be any different? Will Zambians suddenly stop catching this new species because… and Lake…

  10. The depletion of fish in Luapula was as a result of political expediency. The colonial government never closed rivers but ensured people use proper fishing gear such as big “eyed ” nets. Failure to adhere to this and fishing in protected would land one up to five years imprisonment at Kawambwa. There were real river patrols. After independence the fish guard was disbanded as an oppressive colonial instrument and it was free for all. During the January 2015 election, the Upnd went around our villages telling people that the government had no right to impose a fish ban because the fish is God given and people should fish in anyway and any time. Many villagers were convinced by this message.

    • What most people remember is UPND telling the people of luapula that it’s province has the potential to be turned into a major fish processing center.

      And rightly so. No one ever heard UPND say luapulans should fish illegally.!!

    • @Spaka Unlike you who may be out of Zambia, I am a witness to what I have stated. All you need is to come to Kashikishi and feel out the sentiments of locals on the fish ban vis a vis political parties.

  11. The author should state his qualifications and where to find his research otherwise it might be like these people claiming we will find oil and cashew nuts will start growing at altitude, all of which is complete nonsense

    • Please contact Lusaka Times by email and they will forward your mail to me for answering your question.


    • I mean state it all publicly to the nation, not to my email. Nobody is saying it’s wrong, it’s just good practice to “show your working” like when doing an exam at school. Defensiveness here seems to confirm quackery

  12. Our governments have not been serious enough about a lot of developmental issues of the nation. Pronouncements are made just to sound politically correct while follow up actions are at variance with those same pronouncements. Zambia has a lot of experts in all disciplines and yet we fail to utilize the best of our own. Other countries who believe in quality are freely benefiting from Zambian experts that we don’t utilize. We are too busy checking who comes from where when we should be putting together the best of Zambia teams. Look at the quality of some of our ministers. Look at the background of the one in charge of fisheries! Is this seriousness?

  13. I have started a fish farm in Zed and have built ova thirty ponds and four dams all on my own. I am at a stage and ready to go into stage two of the project. Now I need capital injection to complete the project, pumps piping and stock the fish. I have contacted my area MP to help me but nothing has come to light only excuses. I cannot borrow money from the banks because of very high interest rates.
    This project is on hold until further notice. I don’t see government doing anything to help fish farming just lip service.

  14. My Zambian Pledge
    For years I complained about the failure of Zambians to produce prosperity in the face of abundant natural wealth. I complained about Zambians’ failure to manage the economy prudently even with multitude of university graduates. I complained about politicians, corruption and about everything there was to complain about my country Zambia. But then it dawned on me that the people I expected to improve and take care of my country might actually not be as smart, visionary, committed nor as hard working as I expected them to be. It suddenly hit me that actually I was in every sense as much Zambian as the people I had been expecting to improve my country. I realized that in fact I am Zambia and that the destiny of my nation is very much in my hands. I realized that the…

  15. The good news is that we are eating healthy sources of protein than say beef which can be an environmental hazard and unhealthy. we are limited to Fresh water fish and the new developments in fisheries is just kicking in, providing us with more fish sources. The fact is that we should mostly be importing Seafood type of fish from countries like Mauritius, near islands and from countries with sea ports etc, around us.

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