In fisheries, the point of harvest is defined as the point at which fish are captured. PHLs of fish may be defined as the difference between the potential value of the raw material at the point of harvest and the actual value at the point of end use.  Watch the video below for a brief overview of fish postharvest losses presented by NRI's John Linton.

Source of losses

The main reason for postharvest loss is biological spoilage. Fish are a highly perishable product. In most countries in Africa, a fish out of water, left untended, will spoil and become unusable and valueless within 24 hours. Losses also occur through inappropriate and poor processing and storage practices. Also, losses result from no or low usage of by-catch or by-products.

Critical points for PHLs are presented in Figure 1. This presents a simplified value chain.

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Figure 1: Simplified value chain

Examples of the many factors leading to PHLs from African fisheries are described in Table 1.

Table 1: Examples of PHLs in the value chain

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There are two other important considerations associated with PHLs:

  • The environmental cost is significant. Just because the fish is lost, it doesn't mean that it isn't needed. Product that is lost through postharvest handling has to be made up somehow. This is either through imports (as is the case in Ghana) or through higher rate of capture. This in turn puts pressure on already pressurized stocks.
  • The broader economic loss is also huge. A second quality product may sell at a given point in the market chain for US$ 1 per kg. Properly handled, the same product may command twice that price on an export market. This is the case for smoked fish, artisanal smoked and exported to Europe out of West Africa.

The justification for reducing PHLs of fish are:

  • Environmental: Most of Africa's fisheries are exploited to, and beyond the maximum sustainable level. PHLs put extra pressure on fish stocks.
  • Social: Fish is the major source of affordable protein for Africa. At subsistence level, a decrease in PHLs will increase the protein that is available for consumption. Where fish is traded, increased efficiency in the value chain should eventually result in the lower cost of fish to the end consumer. Better quality of raw product is associated with reduction in PHLs. Thus reduction in PHLs should result in improvements in health and decreases in lost time through sickness as a result of food poisoning.
  • Economic: Lost product has a direct cost – the cost of harvest and processing to the point at which it is lost. For fish that loses value through postharvest handling, the economic cost is the difference between the actual benefit and the potential benefit.

Loss estimates

Broadly, there are two categories of postharvest loss, either product fails to reach market or product reaches the market but less than its full potential value is realised. The scale of postharvest loss of fish has not been determined, however aggregated figures for Africa suggest financial losses of at least US$ 70 million for each percentage point of loss.