China maintained its position as the leading exporter of fish to Kenya last year with the value of imports standing at Ksh1.4 billion even as President William Ruto targets to stop the Chinese imports to protect local players.

Industry data from the State Department of Fisheries seen by Business Day Africa indicates that Kenya shipped in 8.5 million kilogrammes of fish from China last year, valued at Ksh1.4 billion, which was a decline from Sh2 billion a year earlier.

President Ruto has on two occasions recently spoken against fish imports from China, stating that the government will not allow it when enough catch can be made locally.

“We are not going to allow fish imports from China when we can get enough locally by tapping the Ksh120 billion fisheries potential that we have as a country,” Dr Ruto said during his visit to Homabay and Central Kenya recently.

This is not the first time that the authority has threatened to ban fish imports from China as former president Uhuru Kenyatta during his tenure also announced that the government was going to stop imports from the Chinese in order to protect local traders.

In 2018, Mr Kenyatta said it was not possible for Kenya to import fish when local traders have them in plenty locally.

“I have been told about the imported fish from China. It is not possible that we import fish when our local traders are here,” said Mr Kenyatta then.

Kenya has an annual deficit of 365,000 tonnes of fish against a demand of 500,000 tonnes, which can only be filled through imports.

The directive by President Ruto puts the fisheries department at a crossroads given that they have argued before the country does not produce enough fish and has to rely on Chinese imports.

In total Kenya imported fish worth Ksh1.8 billion down from Ksh2.47 billion last year from the 19 sampled countries, to bridge the growing deficit due to diminishing stocks from major domestic sources such as Lake Victoria.

The data from fisheries indicate that the country shipped in 12.6 million kilogrammes of fish last year, which was a decline from 19.6 million kilogrammes imported in 2021.

On the other hand, fish exports grew significantly with the country recording Ksh5 billion in exports in the review period, up from Ksh3.4 billion a year earlier.

Kenya has been promoting aquaculture through the Economic Stimulus Programme that started during President Mwai Kibaki’s regime, in an initiative that was expected to reduce the deficit between supply and demand.

The State Department of Fisheries says aquaculture provides up to 24 percent of the country’s total fish production, with the balance coming from lakes and oceans.

Kenya is yet to attain its full potential in fishing from the Indian Ocean. Under the Exclusive Economic Zones, local fishermen are allowed to fish up to 200 nautical miles from the Kenyan shores, but they are operating at below five nautical miles for lack of appropriate fishing gear to explore the deep sea waters, leaving it to be exploited by developed nations.