Good laws set up to boost fishing, but policies are yet to take effect

HEALTH & SCIENCE |

Fishermen cleaning slaughtering a ray, November 29, 2015. [Maarufu Mohammed, Standard]

Fishermen at the Coast are poised to earn more from their sweat if the government implements the policies it has put in place to address the myriad challenges facing the industry.  The government, in an attempt to seal holes in the sector, established the Kenya Coast Guard Services (KCGS), which came into force in 2018. 

The KCGS under Brigadier Vincent Naisho Loonena has been instrumental in the arrest and capture of illegal fishers. In May 2019, for instance, the coast guards seized two Chinese fishing vessels - Harong 109 and Harong 108 - off Malindi within Ungama Bay. The crew were 13 Chinese and seven Indians who, according to Loonena, had no travel documents and could barely communicate in English.  

However, the arrests have been few, as Kenya’s monitoring system for its waters continues to be hampered by lack of capacity. At the launch of the coastguard, the country had just one boat. The vessel, together with the recently acquired $30 million (Sh3 billion) patrol boat, are not enough to patrol the country’s 1,000-kilometre coastline. 

This makes it hard for the coastguard to perform its core functions satisfactorily as they lack modern equipment like aircraft, boats, vehicles and communication system. Other challenges include undeveloped fishing ports and poor beach access roads. 

But, the government has embarked on a number of activities to address the challenges facing marine fishing at the coast. Some of the measures include fiscal investment, launch of the coast guard services, reviewing laws to make sure they protect the locals and help in environmental conservation. 

President Uhuru Kenyatta has also issued Executive Order 1/2016, which declares government’s interest in developing the national blue economy. Following the order, the government plans to invest billions of shillings in the revival of marine fishery sector by establishing a maritime academy and launching of a KCGS to protect marine resources and secure its territorial waters. 

Further, the government is also implementing Port State Measures Agreement, which seeks to deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing through the adoption and implementation of the effective port state measures. This will assure the international market that fish from Kenya is harvested in a regulated manner and attract high prices.  

In 2018, Uhuru launched the KCGS Act, 2018 to enforce law and order in Kenya’s territorial waters. 

In his speech then, he said the responsibility of the coastguard service is to oversee and protect Kenya’s territorial waters and any other area prescribed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. 

The guards are also supposed to protect the Exclusive Economic Zones from illegal invasion or exploitation to curb IUU fishing, border disputes, piracy, human and drug trafficking, illicit trade, smuggling of contraband goods, degradation of the marine ecosystems. The degradation is caused by discharge of oil or dumping of toxic wastes and harvesting and destruction of coral reefs.

Marine security

“KCGS should help us deal with marine security including illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing by foreign trawlers, smuggling of contraband goods, degradation of marine ecosystems through discharge of oil, toxic waste dumping and the destruction of coral reefs and coastal forests,” Uhuru said, revealing that Kenya loses Sh10 billion annually through illegal fishing. 

The President said foreign vessels trawling Kenyan waters was a major concern. “The KCGS should ensure that our ocean will not be used for drug  and human trafficking and illegal fishing. It should guard against exploitation of our natural resources by foreign countries and ensure that no foreign vessel will steal our fish,” Uhuru said.  

In June this year, Uhuru unveiled the Sh10 billion Kenya Marine Fisheries Socio-Economic Development Project, an initiative meant to uplift income of fishing communities along the coast. 

He said the project must be exploited to generate investments, create jobs, increase tax revenues and sustainably improve livelihoods of locals. 

Uhuru said his government was seeking to commercialize Kenya’s enormous marine resources for the benefit of Kenyans by creating strategic national systems to ensure landing of more than 300,000 metric tonnes of fish annually and in turn create at least 60,000 jobs over the next 10 years. The project is supported by the World Bank. 

He called on the newly created Oceans and Blue Economy Office to ensure that fishing vessels licensed to operate in Kenya’s waters provide job and training opportunities for local fishers and young people.   

Lack of provisions for control and orderly development of Kenya waterways is of concern, especially with regard to navigation, equipment, communication, search and rescue services, marine insurance, safety of crew and vessels, standards or certification and seaworthiness. 

Dr James Kairo, a chief scientist at Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute has called for investment in infrastructure such as development fishing ports and beach access roads by the government is likely to have a ripple effect in the sector.  

The plan also notes that the current environmental management and conservation programmes are inadequate to control depletion of fish stocks and loss of biodiversity. 

Similarly, the effect of climate change, the impact of deforestation, land degradation, introduction of alien species and loss of critical habitats negatively affect fish production. Pollution from agricultural, domestic and industrial activities affects fish production and quality. 

Safety of local fishermen is also a major concern. KCGS data shows that each year, boats and fishermen drown in the ocean for lack of financial resources to purchase modern safety equipment.  

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya has promised that government will assist boat owners to acquire safety equipment at affordable prices and intensify the education of fishers on the importance of safety at sea. “Fishers will be encouraged to access navigation aids to ensure safe passage to and from fishing grounds. But the government will continue to grant fishing rights to other Distant Water Fishing Nations to fish in its exclusive zones taking into account the state of the stock and economic returns,” Mr Munya said. 

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