Feasts drive fish prices up

Amira Hisham, Tuesday 23 Apr 2024

Fish, traditionally known as the protein of the poor, have seen their prices rise in the past two months, with mullet increasing in cost by 10 per cent from LE150 on 1 February to LE165 this week. Similarly, tilapia has increased from LE95 to LE110.

Feasts drive fish prices up


The reason behind the recent surge is the advent of Christian and Islamic holidays in which fish is traditionally eaten, a fish merchant told Al-Ahram Weekly.

During Ramadan, Muslims don’t customarily eat fish, preferring to enjoy it during Eid Al-Fitr. Meanwhile, Christians favour fish during Easter celebrations, while Egyptians generally opt to celebrate Sham Al-Nessim by consuming fesikh (salted, fermented mullet) and herring.

Hassan Al-Alfi, informal head of fishermen in Alexandria, said fish prices are prone to demand, with prices fluctuating based on market dynamics and the quantity available. Moreover, he added, it is not logical for a kg of poultry to be sold for LE110 and meat for LE400 while fish prices remain cheap, Al-Alfi told the Weekly. Egypt’s annual urban inflation reached 35.7 per cent in February and meat and chicken prices have doubled over the past year.

Another factor affecting prices of farm fish is feed prices which constitutes 80 per cent of total expenditures, he explained. Over the past year feed prices have been influenced by the surge in the dollar exchange rate during the last fish production cycle, Al-Alfi said.

Egypt tops the list of African and Arab countries in terms of fish production, yielding 2.2 million tons annually. Globally, it ranks high in fish farming, with an annual production of 1.6 million tons.

The current rise in fish prices is driven by limited supply. Fish farming typically commences in April and spans five months, culminating in readiness for sale by October. Considering that fish farms supply 80 per cent of the market, the timing of the current price increase aligns with this production cycle, Al-Alfi noted.

Also, typically, tons of mullet are being designated for the production of fesikh, which should be ready before Sham Al-Nessim, which falls this year on 6 May, a day after the Coptic Easter.

Al-Alfi attributed the price disparity between retail and wholesale fish, sometimes reaching up to 32 per cent, to elevated shipping costs and the involvement of multiple intermediaries before reaching the consumer, including the fish market, wholesalers and retail vendors, all of whom aim to secure profits.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 18 April, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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