Stand out from the crowd with fish leather shoes

Fish skin used to make shoes on display during the launch of the Kenya Footwear Association’s strategic plan on February 28, 2017. [File, Standard]

It’s 6 a.m. on the shores of Lake Victoria where a group of women are sorting through bags of fish waste, others chipping and chipping the skin of fish.

A group of 17 women dubbed ‘Obunga Dry Fish Women’ Obunga slums came together five years ago to start selling fish, but realized there was also more money to be made from waste of fish while preserving the environment.

You see, fish skin, bones and scales were slowly becoming a threat and “we realized we could increase our income from fish waste and so we approached a fish fillet processing plant which started to provide us with skin and fish bones,” recalls Millicent Oranga, a member of the group.

The women collect fresh fish waste – leftovers after filleting – including skin and bones and smoke and dry them before grinding them with a cutter.

Dr Isabel Asamba, an ecologist at Maseno University, says animal feed produced by women from fish waste is nutritious and increases the productivity and health of chicks, piglets and calves.

“Fish scraps and their processing by-products represent a significant portion of the original fish, and their disposal has a high environmental and economic impact,” says Dr Asamba.

Once sorted, the skin of the largest Nile perch is taken to Kenya Industrial Research and Development (KIRDI), to be tanned and processed to produce durable leather that is less likely to rot.

Chemicals are also used to remove fish oil from the skin before adding table salt for sun drying.

The leather is then used to make shoes, handbags and other products, which means “we have found a better and more appropriate way to use fish waste and make a profit rather than waste it. throw away,” says Dr. Oranga.

Raw materials are readily available as Nile perch accounts for 70% of the total fish catch from Lake Victoria.

The fish factories around Kisumu produce almost 150,000 tons of fish waste per year, mainly from Nile perch whose fillet is exported to European countries.

The women’s group buys 100 kilograms of Nile perch skins from the fillet processing factory for 1,220 shillings and after producing the animal feed, they make up to 6,000 shillings.

Here’s the math: a kilo of fish scales is worth 10 shillings and once crushed costs 60 shillings and so far the group has doubled their revenue margins and can easily make over 10,000 shillings profit per week thanks to Food for animals.

“Fish waste is a blessing and we use it to the maximum; indeed, it is a blessing in disguise,” says Dorothy Atieno, another member of the group, adding that fish intestines are boiled and used as chicken feed.

But the dwindling number of fish stocks has become a major challenge because “during the drought season, there is little fish available and we are suffering due to limited supply”, laments Atieno.

Atieno claims that the one factory supplying them with fish skins is not enough and that relevant authorities should help establish several fish filleting factories in lakeside towns.

A woman scales fish at the Obunga fish market on June 16, 2022. The skin and scales of the fish are turned into chicken feed and edible meals. [Michael Mute, Standard]

Another member, Eunice Achieng, says the group can do wonders if they get support from the Department of Fisheries and Kisumu County Government by incorporating modern technology for efficiency and increasing feed production. made from the skin, bones and scales of fish.

Statistics from the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) (KMFRI) show that species like tilapia have declined by more than 50% over the past decade, but resilient Nile perch is down 23%, but other small fish species are 56%.

For the past 50 years, Lake Victoria has produced around 60,000 metric tonnes of tilapia per year, but currently it only brings in around 20,000 tonnes.

The largest Nile perch has been resilient as one Nile perch can produce 17 million eggs compared to Tilapia’s 300 eggs.

But still, Nile perch could be around 340,000 metric tons a decade ago but that has also been dropping steadily and now sits at around 200,000 metric tons, according to KMFRI whose environmentalists cite poor practices of fishing as a threat to food security and the livelihoods of those who depend on it. on the local lake.

Dr. Chrisphine Nyamweya, deputy director of KMFRI, explains that the decline in fish stocks is the result of “more fishermen targeting the same fish. The lake is the same, we can’t make it bigger” and other fish species besides tilapia and Nile perch have also declined.

The director says the Nile perch is declining due to the use of illegal gear, adding that overfishing could kill the sub-sector.

“The Nile perch stocks have really gone down and getting really big fish to enable fishmongers to get big pelts has been a big challenge,” Dr Nyamweya said.

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