Stormy seas for the fish market

Amira Hisham, Wednesday 1 May 2024

A boycott campaign designed to protest against surging fish prices has been launched in Port Said.

Stormy seas for the fish market


The people of Port Said governorate are incensed by the sharp rise in the prices of fish, a beloved local staple. The price of the popular blue tilapia fish, a small tilapia known as shabar, has soared to LE250 per kg, up from LE80 a few months ago and representing an over 200 per cent increase.

The surge in prices has spread to all kinds of fish sold in the coastal governorate.

The prices of fish have also been on the rise nationwide with the advent of Easter, which Egyptians celebrate by consuming salted fermented fish known as feseekh and herring.

But the hike in the coastal cities has been much higher.

Fuelled by frustration at the rising prices, two weeks ago a number of Port Said residents launched a boycott campaign under the slogan “Let it Rot.” Campaign coordinator Wissam Al-Safti has called on residents of the governorate to boycott buying fish.

Al-Safti said on TV that the decision to launch the campaign was not arbitrary and had been based on a meticulous market analysis, bearing in mind that Port Said is a coastal city where fish is usually sold at cheap prices.

He explained that while investigating the reasons for the price hike, the retailers whom people typically buy from said their profit margins do not exceed 20 per cent and had attributed the price hikes to wholesalers or fisheries owners.

“Fish-farm owners have justified the price increases by citing the rising costs of electricity, diesel, and labour, as well as fish feed, leaving them with minimal profit margins. Fishing boat operators cited the same reasons,” Al-Safti said.

“When attempts to negotiate a price reduction with the fisheries owners and fishing boat operators failed, a group of residents agreed to initiate a boycott campaign against the exorbitant fish prices.”

On the first day of the boycott, prices remained high, but by the second day, unsold fish had begun to spoil, and the fish was sold for half its stated price. On the third day, many merchants closed their shops because fish-farm owners had refused to lower their prices.

They were also apprehensive about buying fish, fearing the accumulation of unsold inventory in the boycott.

What began as a local initiative in Port Said then reverberated across a number of other governorates, with Al-Safti putting the total number at 25 and the media saying they do not exceed 12.

Images have circulated on social media depicting fish shops in some coastal governorates devoid of buyers or closed.

“I closed my shop several days ago because there was no fish to buy,” Mohamed Al-Labban, a fish-shop owner, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Al-Labban has been operating his ready-cooked fish shop in the heart of the Port Said market since 1985. He says that he cannot raise his prices because “the majority of my clientele belong to the working classes. I have also never seen fish prices hike by 200 per cent before now.”

The Port Said Chamber of Commerce held a four-hour meeting on Sunday to address the ramifications of the fish price surge and the boycott campaign.

The meeting included Mohamed Saada, secretary of the General Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce, the head of the Port Said Chamber, and parliamentarians, representatives of fish merchants, boycott campaign organisers, and the Fish Chamber of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce.

Representatives from the Ministry of Supply and the Consumer Protection Agency were also in attendance.

Following the meeting, Saada told the Weekly that discussions between all the parties involved, including fishermen, boat owners, merchants, and farm owners, had revealed that the increases in the prices of fish had been partly fueled by rainstorms in Port Said that had reduced activity and the supply of fish.

“A scarcity of commodities typically leads to price hikes. Come May, the rainstorms will be over, and fishing will resume in Lake Bardawil. The fish supply will increase, and there will be a subsequent decrease in prices,” he told the Weekly.

“Due to the rainstorms, fishermen may spend three or four days navigating rough seas and catching less fish. Moreover, the prices of diesel and spare parts have increased. All these expenses ultimately impact the retail price of fish,” Saada continued.

“The merchants have promised to reduce fish prices,” he said, stressing the Chamber of Commerce’s alignment with consumer interests.

Saada urged the Directorate of Supply and Consumer Protection to monitor the market to ensure daily price announcements. He added that the chamber was monitoring fish prices.

Economic expert Ali Abdel-Raouf Al-Idrissi told the Weekly that the boycott campaign has shaken the market, but only as a painkiller or temporary fix.

Boycott campaigns tend to be responses by consumers to skyrocketing prices, and Al-Idrissi said that the real solution to the problem lies with the state and its regulatory bodies.


* A version of this article appears in print in the 2 May, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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