It is a cold morning, as a group of half-naked men drag a net along the shores of Lake Naivasha. The nets, which include mosquito-nets, literally sweep anything from a 5kg species of common carp to weeks old fingerlings.
For hours the group wades past bushes of hyacinth weed that is choking the troubled lake, trapping immature fish in the process.
Once in a while, the ‘foot-fishermen’, as they are called, scamper for safety as a group of hippos dashes towards them, forcing them to retreat before heading back into the troubled lake.
After hours, the illegal fishermen leave with heavy gunny bags on their shoulders for a ready fish market.
On the other hand, licensed fishermen decry dwindling fish stocks that have pushed most of them out of the lake.
The crisis follows a move by Nakuru County government in 2013 lifting the annual three-month fishing ban introduced in 2000 after the fisheries sector collapsed.
When the ban was first introduced, fish catch had dropped to its lowest levels to less than 20,000kg per year.
Currently, fish production in the lake is unstable, forcing the county to reintroduce the annual fishing ban from June 1 to August 31.
Data from the Department of Fisheries indicates that fish worth Sh233 million was netted from the lake in 2017, compared to Sh160 million in 2018.
David Kilo, the chairman of Lake Naivasha Boat Owners Association, says the crisis started when the county lifted the ban but failed to control illegal fishing.
He says seining (fishing along the shorelines) has become rampant, with illegal fishermen netting more than their licensed counterparts.
“The fisheries department does not have capacity to control poaching in the lake and there is a need for more funding and personnel from the county,” says Kilo.
He says the four patrol boats from the county have stalled and for years fishermen have been forced to use their money to maintain them and restock the lake.
“Currently there is confusion over the planned fishingban but if no action is taken, fish in the lake will be depleted,” he says.
Kilo says 90 per cent of the illegal fishermen are former flower farm workers living in nearby slums.
“The former workers are fishing on the shorelines and breeding grounds, which is illegal,” he says.
“In all the cases that we have recorded of drowning or hippo attacks, majority of the victims have been the former workers who venture into the lake blindly and on foot.”
According to Jathan Wafula who hitherto worked in Karuturi flower farm, efforts to get another job from the nearby farms have been fruitless.
He says he has exhausted all his savings amounting to over Sh300,000 and now he has to rely on fishing to fend for his family.
“I make at least Sh500 daily from the lake and though it’s risky and illegal, I have no option,” he says.
Hosea Kimani, a fisherman, says poachers have taken over the lake and are “milking it dry”.
He says due to their large numbers, the poachers intimidate them and government officers then they fishanywhere and anytime they want.
“The poachers’ daily catch is five times larger than ours because they use undersize nets, fish anytime they want and along the shorelines and breeding zones,” says Kimani.
But county Acting Director of Fisheries Mathew Ngila says all is not lost in the lake, despite the challenges.
He says the total tonnage of fish catch recorded at the landing beach rose from 1.6 million kilos in 2017 to 2.2 million kilos last year.
Ngila says the county is committed to supporting the lake and the fisher-folk, adding that funds have been set aside for restocking during the upcoming ban.
“The county has constructed a fish market near Central Beach, plans are underway for a fish hatchery in Karagita and funds have been set aside for institutions with fingerlings as part of supporting aquaculture,” he says.
He says the fishing ban will again be an annual event, during which period the county government will restock the lake.
According to Peter Muthui from Friends of Lake Naivasha, the Fisheries Department does not have an operational boat or even a vehicle to work with.
“Unless urgent action is taken, the fisheries resources in the lake may be depleted before the end of this financial year,” says Muthui.
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