The challenge of over-fishing can be solved by using alternative fishing gear that is environmentally sustainable and also by practicing deep sea fishing rather than shallow water fishing.
Ali Shee, a fisherman, knows all these, but what options does he have, he asks. “Our boats are not capable of going into the deep sea and we do not have that kind of gear.
And anyway, even if we catch the big fish, there is no market for them,” he says.
As a result, George Maina, a marine biologist, and his team at The Nature Conservancy says environment conservation is an exercise in futility if the community has no way of earning from it.
It is for this reason that they have launched a programme called Fish to Market, which helps fishermen gain access to high-end markets, bypassing middlemen and giving fishermen incentive to practice sustainable deep sea fishing.
“Through funding from The Nature Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy provides cooler boxes for fishermen and is in the process of acquiring more sustainable fishing gear,” says Maina.
They are encouraging fishermen like Ali to change tack, just like Mohamed Ali, also a fisherman, has done. Mohamed is one of the fishermen who have joined the Fish to Market programme, which he says is far more profitable.
Initially, he was a shallow water fisherman and would use nets, but because of human activity, that is no longer feasible. Ali Hassan and five other fishermen goes up to 30 kilometres into the deep sea and uses hook and line fishing, which is legal, as opposed to using nets.
With motorised boats made of fibre glass and cooler boxes provided by The Nature Conservancy, they can take extra hours out in the sea fishing.
“Before ice boxes came, we used wooden boxes to place the fish. At the landing place, it was a matter of first come, first served. Sometimes we had no market, and had to throw the fish back into the water,” says Ali.
Once they catch the fish, they cut off the head, tail and guts and immediately put it into the cooler box filled with ice. This way, the fish stays fresh regardless of how long the fishermen stay out at sea.
The fishermen are also able to catch fish of greater value, such as tuna and red snappers that sell more in higher end markets, including Fuzz Dyer, owner of Manda Bay Lodge. The fish that the deep sea fishermen catch passes through his kitchen, where it is weighed, filleted and packaged for buyers such as the Talisman Restaurant and various game lodges. This earns Ali and his colleagues Sh150 per kilogramme of fish on the spot, with a typical catch of 50 kilogramme of fish per night - way better than the Sh60 per kilo he used to earn as a shallow water fisherman.
Profits that The Nature Conservancy gets once the fish is sold and all costs deducted are split in the middle: 50 per cent goes to conservation activities, while the other 50 per cent goes to a development project that the community chooses at the end of the year.
The Lamu County Government says that The Nature Conservancy has helped supplement their efforts to patrol the fish landing sites, train and encourage people to use sustainable and legal fishing methods.
“It has been difficult to place measures on illegal fishing because we receive the least funding as a county and because of political interference,” says Kamalu Sharif, County Director of Fisheries in Lamu. “We encourage compliance by training rather than enforcing because this is a poor community and 90 per cent of the economy is driven by fishing.”