Why fish is Tanzania’s overlooked gold mine

Monday August 13 2018

The minister for Livestock and Fisheries Development, Mr Luhaga Mpina.

Dar es Salaam. At a time when exports of some traditional crops are not doing that well, the fishing industry is steadily becoming a lucrative sector.

This has increased the possibilities for Tanzania to win big from exports of fish and fish products in terms of foreign currency earnings.

A recent report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) states that Tanzania exported a total of 39.691 million kilogrammes of fish and fish products in 2016 alone. The country earned $257.257 million (about Sh526.228 billion) from exports of fish and fish products in that year. According to the Bank of Tanzania (BoT), this was $109.257 million (about Sh249 billion) higher than what the country earned from exports of cotton, tea, cloves and sisal combined in the same year.

Exports of the four commodities together earned Tanzania a total of $148 million (about Sh337.44 billion) during 2016.

Titled The National Environment Statistics Report (NESR) 2017, the study says Tanzania exported a total of 696,663,040 kilogrammes of fish and fish products during the years from 2001 to 2016, thereby earning the country a relatively staggering Sh5.8 trillion during the period.

This means that, on average, the government exported 43,541,440 kilogrammes of fish and related products annually worth an average of $161.7 million (about Sh368 billion at the prevailing exchange rate).


Mostly exported fish and fish products are Nile perch from Lake Victoria, sardines from Lake Tanganyika, shell fish from marine waters – including prawns, lobsters and crabs – as well as molluscs, squids and octopuses.

Domestically, NBS says per capita consumption is high, averaging between 25 and 40kg/person annually. This suggests that the local market for fish is also attractive – and, if well-supported, the local market would grow tremendously.

“Although fish production has been increasing in the past few years – mostly due to fish farming activities and an increase in the number of fisher folk – Tanzania still needs to catch more fish so as to meet the rising demand and supply gap due to population growth and a booming tourism industry,” the report reads in part.

In any case, statistics show that Tanzania was compelled to import 13.92 million kilogrammes of fish at a total cost of $12.75 million (about Sh26.774 billion) in 2016 alone to meet local demand.

Tabling the budget estimates for his ministry for the 2018/19 financial year, the minister for Livestock and Fisheries Development, Mr Luhaga Mpina, said Tanzania’s marine and fresh waters had an estimated 2,736,248 tonnes of harvestable fish.

“Fish production has been increasing during the past few years, mostly due to fish farming as the number of fishermen is also on the increase,” he said.

The fishing industry contributed 2.2 per cent of Tanzania’s gross domestic product in 2017, ministry figures show.

According to Mr Mpina, despite the increase in fish production, Tanzania still needs more fish harvests to meet the rising demand and close the supply gap resulting from relatively rapid population growth and booming tourism business.

Despite its massive money-making opportunities, however, the fishing industry is facing a number of challenges and constraints.

Those highlighted in the NBS report include inadequate technical expertise and management skills, as well as insufficient financial resources and lack of adequate tools to manage and control the related development processes.