Residents suffer as foreign fishermen loot stocks in Kenyan waters
Poor governance, the government’s willingness to do business with foreigners and inadequate fishing gear continue to hurt local coastal fishing communities as foreigners fish for Kenya’s stocks.
Experts accuse outdated laws, poor infrastructure and unfair implementation of laws governing fishing on the coast to be among the main obstacles hindering optimal fishing.
According to recent census data, the six coastal counties of Kwale, Mombasa, Kilifi, Tana River, Lamu and Taita Taveta have a population of 4.3 million people, who depend mainly on fishing for their livelihood.
But impoverished residents have nothing to show for their toil and feel the government is dragging its feet to help them earn more money from fishing.
Kenya has a coastline of 1,000 kilometers from Vanga to Lamu with 20 species of fish. The coastline includes an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) off 200 kilometers, according to a 2017 government report titled, “State of the Coast Report II: Enhancing Integrated Management of Coastal and Marine Resources in Kenya by the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA). “ The country’s territorial waters and its EEZs cover a total area of 142,400 square kilometers.
The EEZ is an area of the sea in which an independent state or country has special rights to explore and use marine resources, including fish, water and wind power. This law was prescribed by the United Nations Convention in 1982.
Data from the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) show that Kenya’s EEZ in the Indian Ocean can produce between 150,000 and 300,000 tonnes of fish.
KMFRI chief scientist Dr James Kairo said marine fish production and mainly inland capture fisheries in Lake Victoria are capable of injecting $ 86 billion (780 billion shillings) per year into gross domestic product. (GDP) of the country. This is revealed by the 2018 Kenya Capture Fisheries Value Chain Finance study carried out in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development (USAid).
However, the study shows that Kenya’s fish exports account for only $ 20 million (2.2 billion shillings) of the more than $ 1 billion (100 billion shillings) of annual exports to the country. European Union (EU) with tea, coffee, tea, cut flowers and vegetables. most of the exports.
According to the fisheries expert, Kenya loses fish worth 100 million dollars (11 billion shillings) each year due to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing by foreign vessels in the waters of the country. country.
“Marine fishery production is between 5,000 and 9,000 tonnes per year and contributes only 0.8% to the GDP. That’s against an annual potential of 300,000 tonnes, ”Kairo said.
Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya said the lack of an appropriate legal framework is hampering investment in marine fisheries.
He called for a comprehensive and modern legal and regulatory framework for fisheries management, as the status and progress of national laws are not reflected in international legal and institutional arrangements.
“As a result, conflicts in law enforcement and duplication of work in fisheries management arise. This severely limits surveillance efforts in Kenya’s fishing waters, resulting in many cases of IUU fishing, ”Munya said.
The Kenya Vision 2030’s third medium-term plan (2018-2022) for the blue economy sector notes that there is currently no national fishing fleet in the EEZ.
For example, the straddling and highly migratory fish stocks of the EEZ are exploited by distant water fishing nations (DWFNs) such as Tanzania, the United States, China, Italy and a number of other countries. Europeans. Consequently, local communities do not benefit from the exploitation of stocks in the EEZ.
The policy document also notes that the current licensing system for fishing in Kenya’s EEZ does not encourage or ensure sustainable exploitation of stocks and does not adequately benefit residents.
Thus, foreign fishermen are drawn to Kenya’s coastal waters because of its rich tuna belt, where around 25 percent of the world’s tuna is caught. The KMFRI said 90 percent of the fishing grounds are untapped by locals and are left to IUU fishermen.
KMFRI data shows small-scale artisanal and subsistence fishermen who catch coral reef fish like rabbitfish, parrotfish, emperors, small tuna, octopus, squid, shrimp and lobster.
“Sea fishing is mainly exploited by foreign fishing vessels and targets skipjack, yellowfin and bigeye tuna. These include the United States, China, Italy and a number of other European countries, ”said Kairo, also an expert in forestry and mangrove management.
Aliens catch large fish like sharks, rays, snappers, grunts, groupers, emperors, sickles, jacks and mackerel and smaller commercially important species of jacks and silver bellies.
David Mutugi, a fisherman based in Mombasa, said the low catch of fish by the local fishing community is attributed to coastal overfishing due to the artisanal nature of the fishermen who operate small boats powered by wind sails and boats. manual paddles.
“Few Kenyan fishermen can catch high-value species like tuna in the EEZ using ocean-going vessels. This allows foreigners who illegally fish in Kenya to catch thousands of tonnes of fish, leaving small fishermen behind. with few catches of less than 5 kg per day, ”Mutugi said.
Hamadi Mwinyi who has been fishing octopus in the Shimoni area of Kwale for 25 years and is part of a group of 60 members who specialize in octopus fishing and the 700 member Shimoni BMU agrees.
“We sell a kilo of fish for 250s to our BMU. Those who sell directly to middlemen or exporters sell at a lower price. It only impoverishes us, ”said Mwinyi, sympathizing with his group of fishermen, fish traders, boat owners and builders and tour operators.
“We buy a kilo of fish from fishermen at Sh 250 and sell it to hoteliers and exporters at the same price. But hotel visitors buy a kilo of fish for 1,000 shillings while exporters sell for a minimum of 2,000 shillings per kilo, ”said Rishad Hamisi, 67, chairman of Shimoni BMU.
Additionally, local fishermen are not allowed to go beyond four kilometers into the ocean, which limits their ability to catch more fish.
“With this inferior gear, we were able to harvest an average of three million kilograms of fish in 2019, which brought us 750 million shillings. It can triple when we get modern fishing gear, ”Hamisi said. He added that this is the average catch of the 10 active BMUs operating along the coast.
A 2018 government assessment of pelagic stocks by the KMFRI in the Indian Ocean showed that bigeye, skipjack, albacore and yellowfin tuna stocks are overexploited and require strict management regulations.
A decline in annual catches in 1990 and 2005 is associated with the absence of appropriate fishing regulations, leading to overfishing of lagoon reefs beyond their maximum sustainable yields.
The data also show that the shrimp fishery declined from a high of 1,300 tonnes per year in the 1990s to a low of 150 tonnes per year in 2009.
The decline has resulted in the closure of the shrimp fishery due to conflicts between locals and semi-industrial fisheries, overfishing and environmental degradation from bottom trawling.
It also shows that over the past 25 years, sea cucumber catches have also declined, from a peak of 227 tonnes in the 1990s to just six tonnes in 2016.
“This is attributed to overexploitation, habitat conversion, the effects of climate change and live lobster exports,” Kairo said.