Climate change and wrong fishing practices at the coast have led to reduced success for local fishermen who rely on fish for food and income.
Efforts to turn the tide against the dwindling fortunes of the fish-dependent residents of Kwale have been boosted by introduction of Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs).
Fads are objects used in the sea to attract fish and whose use was documented as early as the 17th century. This is good news for fishermen like Hussein Mwabori who depend on fishing.
Mwabori, from Msambweni in Kwale County, says they depend on the ocean for food, shelter and livelihood. Dwindling fish stock can only add onto the poverty locals are already grappling with.
“Sea fish has been part of our lives in Kwale. It is our food and source of livelihood. The ocean is our ‘farm’ and we are worried that pretty soon it will be difficult to venture into the waters and come home with a catch,” he says.
For three decades, Mwabori, 55, and a father of five, has been fishing in a five-kilometre-stretch along the ocean – running from Mwaepe beach towards Lunga-Lunga at the Kenya-Tanzania border.
It is clear though that the catch for individual fishers is declining fast, forcing many to abandon their traditional ways of fending for other income opportunities.
“The number of fish in the ocean has been going down for the last few decades. Ten years ago, I would catch between 70 and 100 kilogrammes of fish. Now I am lucky to catch three. This morning, I only managed an octopus weighing half a kilo. This will go to the family table,” Mwabori says.
His fear is confirmed by records from the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries. The Principal Fisheries Officer in Mombasa, John Wanyoike, sites exploitation of ocean resources “by a few” and changing weather patterns.
“Not only has fish catch per fisherman been decreasing alarmingly, we have also discovered that coral reefs – which serve as fish habitat – have experienced steady destruction in the last three decades,” Wanyoike told Smart Harvest at Msambweni.
It is a bleak prospect considering that marine fishing offers direct and indirect employment for nearly 50,000 residents.
He points out that destruction of fish population is also attributable to illegal fishing, which, in many occasions, “involves gears that are detrimental to fish thriving.”
“An obvious example of environment distortion is through the use of destructive and illegal fishing gears and methods. Beach seines, spear guns, chemical fishing (poison, dynamite, cyanide) and ring net, among others have continued to degrade the marine environment by disrupting food chains and removing critical habitats where fish thrive,” says Pascal Foya, an official of Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI).
Artisanal fishermen, like Mwabori, use traditional gears and vessels and are largely confined at lagoons – away from interior ocean waters where coral is found.
“Unlike in the 1980s, fisherman are struggling to catch as little as five kilogrammes of fish after a day’s outing,” Wanyoike laments. “Man has continued to distort the marine environment. The fishery will crush sooner than many think if corrective measures are not taken.”
If this happens, not only will fishers lose their income but coastal residents will be deprived of their single most important source of protein.
Fishermen like Mwabori are hoping the situation will be reversed with the installation of Fads, a project being carried out by the government in partnership with Coastal and Marine Resource Development (Comred) with funding from the EU.
Optimum fishing is expected to enhance the quality of the fishermen’s catch and in the process inspire them to avoid catching young fish; a habit experts worry will threaten biodiversity and species survival.
The project, funded by EU through IOC-Smartfish, is under implementation by a Mombasa-based institution.
According to Nyaga Kanyange, the project coordinator, “the use of FADs is considered a practical solution that matches both specialisation and needs of local fishermen.”
“These are a man-made objects used to attract ocean going pelagic fish such as marlin, tuna and mahi-mahi (dolphin fish). They consist of buoys or floats tethered to the ocean floor with concrete blocks. More than 300 species of fish can gather around the Fads to enable fishermen to visit the same zone every time,” Nyaga offered. A recent study conducted in Solomon Islands showed that Fads increased catches by 30 per cent in Mauritius, Madagascar, Indonesia and Papua islands.
Anand Venkalasami is a fisheries specialist with the Indian Ocean commission. He says FADs have yielded 30 to 40 kilogrammes of fish per day in the Caribbean islands.
The project will introduce five bamboo made FADs into the sea off the coast of Msambweni. The pilot FADs will be under the custody of Beach Management Units, the lowest level of fisheries management comprising of fishermen from the communities involved.
“Young people eke a living from fishing. We hope that these objects help us in our ambitions,” comments Abdalla Ngozi, a middle-aged man who also depends on fishing.
As authorities tackle the issue of destructive fishing and illegal gears, a long term solution has been to increase fishing capacity by providing fishermen with larger deep sea fleets.
However, this intervention is yet to register success largely because artisanal fishers are reluctant to venture into new areas.