When local fishermen and fish mongers downed their tools at Tsunza in Mombasa in protest against construction drilling which scares fish. [Omondi Onyango, Standard] Kenya is among African countries whose potential in the blue economy remains untapped. This is even as illegal fishing and pollution pose a major problem in the management of marine and aquatic resources. According to fishers from the coastal counties of Kwale, Mombasa, Kilifi and Lamu interviewed by Shipping and Logistics, many fishermen lack proper gear to venture into deep sea fishing even as foreign trawlers have a field day. Marine experts argue that lack of reliable data poses a challenge in the management of fisheries and marine biodiversity. This argument emerged last week when experts and leaders gathered at a hotel in Mombasa County for a blue economy forum. The forum dubbed "Leveraging the blue economy through efficient small-scale fisheries management and aquatic biodiversity conservation to build the Africa we want," was organised by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad). Lamu Governor Issa Timamy said foreign trawlers are making a killing by fishing the highly prized tuna within Kenya's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) that measures more than 200 nautical miles; local fishers are unable to venture into the deep-sea due to lack of modern vessels. Timamy noted that it costs his administration Sh1 billion to buy a good ship to take local fishers to the deep sea where the foreign trawlers harvest tuna. "We have a county budget of Sh3 billion a year and we cannot afford buying trawlers for fishermen," he said. Benefits other countries Mr Timamy said almost half of Kenyan waters falls under the EEZ in the Indian Ocean but its fisheries potential particularly tuna has not been tapped and only benefits countries outside Africa. He also called for the promotion of sustainable practices in the blue economy noting that plastic pollution posed a challenge to fisheries at the coast. "I agree with experts that by 2050, our oceans will have more plastics than fish. We need to promote sustainable use of our resources," said Timamy. He called for support to promote the planting of mangroves in coastal counties to ensure communities benefit from carbon credits. He also called for increased investment in water transport. Chairman of the Beach Management Units (BMUs) at the coast Somo Mohamed Somo said attempts by government and partners to give boats to fishers under BMUs have been hit by conflicts. Kenya's representative to Igad Fatuma Adan said the blue economy has the potential to be the largest contributor to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) but was untapped. She said traditional sectors of the blue economy like fisheries, tourism, mineral extraction and marine and river transport are showing evidence of development in member states. However, attention is lacking on emerging sectors of the blue economy such as aquaculture, marine biotechnology and bio-prospecting, desalination and renewable energy. "Blue economy is therefore critical for the African continent and Kenya at this time when African countries are losing up to 15 per cent of GDP due to climate change," she stated. The blue economy is a phrase used to describe all sea-based trade and resources such as fisheries, tourism, mineral extraction, marine and river transport, emerging sectors such as aquaculture, marine biotechnology and bio-prospecting, desalination and renewable energy. Information system Secretary for the Blue Economy and Fisheries Rodrick Kundu said Kenya is planning to set up an electronic information system to enable capture accurate data on fish landed. He said this will inform national planning and funding for the fisheries sector. In a speech ready by Dr Kundu, Mining, Blue Economy and Maritime Affairs Cabinet Secretary Salim Mvurya cited insecurity, pollution, destruction of habitats, climate change, and IUU as major challenges in the blue economy. The CS said government is encouraging BMUs to join the cooperative movement to make savings to ensure they benefit from lower loan interest-rates. Mombasa Governor Abdulswamad Nassir said the county is pushing BMUs to form Saccos so as to benefit from a Sh200 million revolving fund.