Post-harvest losses in artisanal fisheries

While artisanal fisheries rarely discard fish, they do lose a substantial amount of the value of their catch before it can be eaten. Particularly in tropical countries, high temperatures mean that fish can spoil while still in the boat, at landing, during storage or processing, on the way to market and while waiting to be sold. In Africa, some estimates put post-harvest losses at 20 to 25 percent, and sometimes as much as 50 percent.

Stoking a chorkor oven in Ghana
FAO/18297/P. Cenini

Arranging the fish on trays for smoking in the chorkor oven
FAO/18298/P. Cenini

Post-harvest losses are divided into physical and economic losses. Physical losses in artisanal fisheries are less than 5 percent. High losses occur occasionally (a whole day's catch may be lost as a rare incident) but as a percentage of the annual catch this would only be in the order of 1 to 2 percent. Before a fish spoils completely it will be processed by smoking or fermentation. On the other hand, economic losses as lost value because of lower quality, including insect infestation and breakage, are high.

Minimizing post-harvest losses is therefore one key to increasing revenues and food security, without intensifying the fishing effort. Improved processing techniques are a large part of the answer. Low-cost techniques have been developed by many fishing communities, most often by the women, who are mainly responsible for the fish after it is landed.

Fish is an important food item in West Africa and is mainly supplied by artisanal fishers and processors. Fish that cannot be marketed fresh must be preserved by sundrying, smoke-drying, salting or fermentation. The improved Chorkor oven, which was designed in the hamlet of Chorkor on the outskirts of Accra, Ghana, is used to smoke sardinella and has been successfully adopted by many communities. The banda oven is used to smoke sardinella and bonga, a small pelagic fish, that is a significant part of small-scale fish catches in western Africa.

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