Elsabeth Belay has been going around the city for fish shops since the fasting season started on February 28, 2022. Even though it is out of her budget to eat fish on most days of the fasting season, she says that it is the only thing that makes her feel like she has eaten.
“I know the prices have gone up, but I guess I expected it since none of the fish comes from Addis Ababa and fuel prices have also gone up. I am not eating it because I can afford it but because I crave and want it. I am privileged enough to spend my money on my wants and not just my needs but I truly do believe fish is necessary during the fasting season,” Elsabeth said emphasizing the nutritional value she aims to get from it.
All across the city, fish shops have filled up their stock in hopes of amassing customers who need their daily dose of omega-3. Even though more and more people have sworn off fish during the Abiy fasting season, the ones that still see it as comfort food, line up to get their hands on the fish dishes of their choice.
“I think I’ve only had fish twice since the fasting season started, and I wasn’t buying on one of the occasions. Since I am the only one who eats it in the house, I have to resort to eating out. It honestly has gotten crazy expensive,” said Tsedeniya H/eyesus.
“I am doing my masters and I also have other added costs, the allowance I get is barely enough to scrape by on regular everyday food, let alone fish. I remember a couple of years ago when we would go to the fish place around tourist hotel Arat kilo, but I have not dared to go that way in so long now,” added Tsedeniya.
In recent years, factors like religious beliefs have led to fall in demand for fish. Even the ones who still resort to eating fish are hindered from doing so because of the skyrocketing prices of cooking oil, fuel and other commodities that are essential for cooking fish dishes.
However, amidst the price upsurge, places that exclusively serve fish have managed to stay open and thrive.
“I had to spend more than 400 birr on a single fish goulash at Sinkinesh fish restaurant. Honestly, I can’t afford to spend that much on every single meal of the day. But the portion was good and the food was amazing so I would probably do it again,” said Elsabeth, emphasizing on how she would much rather be satisfied with what she has had than eat a reasonably priced meal and stay unsatisfied for the rest of the day.
Other parts of the population would beg to differ though with fish increasingly becoming a luxury food of sorts with the cheapest form (tuna) costing 65 birr per serving. A lot of families are unable to afford fish during the fasting season, regardless of its nutritional value, which has become unaffordable by most.
There are alternatives to eating out even when it comes to fish though. An anonymous fish supplier from Kera told The Reporter they bring in fish at an affordable price, providing quality fish that are brought from Afar, Ziway and Dila at a reasonable price.
“My prices have not increased due to the increase in fuel prices. I sell a kilo for 220, 250, and even 190 birr depending on the type of fish customers choose. My orders have gone slightly up since the fasting season started but even on regular days people order from me, but only the people that know of my business.” said the anonymous supplier.
The fish market in Ethiopia is not as prominent as its eastern African neighbors. It owes its low supply to being a landlocked country but despite a potential of producing 94,500 tons of fish a year and the Blue Nile Basin supporting 77 fish species, the nation produced around 59.4 percent of its potential in 2017/18. In Kenya, fish production from freshwater sources stood at almost double the amount in Ethiopia in 2017, which saw a 9.5 percent decline from the previous year.
More than 70 percent of the fish produced in Ethiopia are harvested from Abay, Chamo, Tana, Ziway and Hawassa lakes. The rest are from hydroelectric dams such as Finchaa, Koka and Tekeze. Most of the fish comes from Oromia, Amhara, SNNP and Gambella regional states, while Tilapia, Nile perch and Catfish are the most consumed species both in private and commercial settings.
In a paper published by Martinus Van der Knaap, it emphasized how Ethiopia has an estimated fish production of 51,481 tons annually and national fish consumption per capita is low at a mere 0.5 kg per year, whereas the recommended quantity of fish per capita is between 12 and 17 kg per year.
Ethiopians prefer to eat meat, with an average annual meat consumption of about 10 kg per person. This is due to cultural patterns and to a significant extent, fertile central highlands that allow a considerable level of cattle to breed. Yet Ethiopians, as people living in a country drenched in malnutrition, are trying to utilize their natural gift of fresh water fish, to harvest it in a sustainable manner and supply for the masses.