Ruto picks team to address pollution, fishing in Lake Nakuru

President William Ruto has appointed a multi-agency team to address issues causing conflicts in and around Lake Nakuru National Park.

The team will be tasked with addressing pollution and fishing in the lake.

The team has membership drawn from state-agencies, including Kenya Fisheries Service, Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute, Kenya Wildlife Service, National Environment Management Authority, and Water Resources Management Authority.

According to a letter dated January 19 by the Mining, Blue Economy and Maritime Affairs Principal Secretary Betsy Njagi, the President’s directive seeks to address issues causing conflict within the park to conserve the lake.

“In this regard, and cognizant that protecting the lake and aquatic life is critical to the country's economy and international heritage, the President has directed that immediate action be taken to address the rising levels of pollution in the Lake,” PS Njagi said.

The letter is addressed to the State Departments of Environment and Climate Change, Wildlife and Water.

The decision to form a multi-agency team follows complaints of health risks associated with consuming fish from the lake.

Previous surveys undertaken on fish from the lake by Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (Kemfri) found traces of heavy metals, which the State Department for Blue Economy and Fisheries said warrants immediate attention.

“This coupled with the increasing waste from the pit latrines, the Nakuru sewerage treatment plant, and the Gioto solid waste dump, among others, continue to pose a threat to the aquatic life as well as to those who consume the contaminated fish,” Njagi wrote.

“As you are well aware, the presence of the biological, physical, and chemical food hazards in the lake is a cause for major concern for food safety and human health. Consumption of contaminated fish can be a major food hazard exposure route for humans. Furthermore, illegal fishing poses a significant economic and environmental risk," reads the letter in part.

Although Lake Nakuru is not gazetted under fisheries laws for commercial fishing, illegal fishing started in 2020 following the swelling of the lake.

Lake Nakuru surface area increased from 35km² in 2013 by 100% to 71km² in 2020, a situation that led to a spillover into the neighboring villages.

With Lake Nakuru being a salty lake, only salt-tolerant Magadi tilapia existed within the lake. Increased water volumes over time are however linked to the increase in freshwater fish.

“The Increasing water volume attributed to heavy rainfall in the catchment contributed to the dilution of the once saline lake to a more habitable environment for freshwater fisheries. Fish is likely to have escaped from flooded fish ponds and dams in the catchment to acclimatize in the lake,” reads the letter.

By March, 2020 fishermen started migrating from Lake Naivasha with their fishing equipment, and by August 2020, over 50 fishing boats were illegally operating on Lake Nakuru.

Eateries also started mushrooming along the neighborhoods despite warning by Kemfri that the fish within the lake had high concentrations of heavy metals including arsenic, copper, cadnium, iron and lead.

According to a 2020 survey undertaken by KMFRI, dominant fish species within the lake include Nile tilapia Oreochromis variabilis, Alcoapia grahami, and Oreochromis leucostictus.

There have been concerns over the safety of the fish within the lake, even as KMFRI warns about the toxic contaminants from the sewage system or dumpsite around the lake.

Concerns have also been raised on how illegal fishing activities within the lake pose a threat to the wildlife and tourism industry in the protected area.

“It is against this background that a multi-agency team is constituted at national and county level to develop a strategy to address issues related to the fishing activities at Lake Nakuru,” the ministry said.