Fish traders scale income with skin

Fish traders along Lake Victoria are finding a new way of marketing the fish skin which is usually discarded by selling it to leather vendors who tan it and use it to make shoes, wallet and even protective charms. What started at Obunga settlement near the Lake has now moved to neighouring villagers and the market is always awash with traders traveling from as far as Nairobi who have now discovered market for the skin.

The skin from the commonly available Nile perch fish are discarded when selling the fish as most of the fish processors prefer the fish fillet.Now traders say the skin from the fish when tanned act the same way as the leather from a cow or goat hide. Buyers measure the size of the skin before deciding on the price. A 50gramme of skin would fetch Sh100 with the size of a full grown fish standing at 250-300 grammes.

“You see its even better paying to sell the skin because the market for the fish especially nile perch has become flooded and we now sell it at between Sh150-200 when we are lucky. Again apart from the companies that have opened up tanning businesses here we also have vendors from across the country which increases our sales prospects,” says Milkah Awinja who has hawked fish in the small Takawiri Island for the last five years. Companies like Flyeagle Enterprises, in Kisumu are making a kill from the fish skin and are a household name in making sandals and wallets made from the fish skin.

The fish skin is believed to have protective attributes among the hindu and Indians which explains why most of the Indians travel to Kisumu to also purchase them. Companies like Flyeagle Enterprises are now looking into the export market where demand and market  value is high.

For example in Portugal and Spain who form the largest export market, the fish skins are used for making office  glue.
However different markets require packaging of the fish skins differently. For example Like other fish by-products, the quality and amount of skins available for local consumption depends on the quality of fillet being produced. For instance, Japanese markets require skin to remain on the fillets, hence no skin is generated from fish exported to Japan. The Isreali markets require a patch of skin left on the fillet so fillets are de-scaled before filleting and exporting to Israel,  which yields better quality skin.  

The newfound way of tanning is poised to resuscitate the ailing leather industry which has been buffeted by lack of incentive to spur the tanneries even as the demand for shoes and other leather related product increases.
Recent statistics by the Kenya Leather Development Council, show that Kenyans now buy 20 to 24 million pairs of shoes every year, double the volume two years ago, this even as the number of cattle and goats which form the primary sources of leather drop as more farmers opt for other avenues of farming that are not sensitive to drought.

“So new ways of getting leather like through fish skins is definitely a welcome move and one government would definitely embrace right away, while supporting industries that have gone the fish tannery way to avoid the mistake the government made in the 90's by neglecting the nascent tanneries,” said Joshua Luone from the Ministry of Livestock Development.