Illegal fishing poses major threat to Kenya’s budding blue economy

State has been urged to address logistical challenges at Mombasa port and along the transport chain to make the country competitive
As the glamour and glitz of hosting the Blue Economy Conference and the side shows that went with it, including Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko’s strange accent, fade, Kenya has been left with a lot to ponder.

This includes its polluted waters, declining fishing industry and a warning call on the threat to fishing communities.

Last week, the World gathered in Nairobi. Huge commitments were made and accompanied by pledges worth trillions of shillings for the blue economy.

President Uhuru Kenyatta took the stage, rallied up the over 16,320 delegates and identified 35 projects worth Sh1.438 trillion ($14.38 billion) in the marine economy.

He said the projects would be spread across the 47 counties and urged the private sector to pursue them. “We together with our county governments have put together a portfolio of Sh140 billion ($1.4 billion) bankable projects in our blue economy across the width and breadth of our country,” he said.

But sifting through the glitzy presentations and colourful speeches of the high-level Kenyan team was the brazen admission that the country’s marine economy has over the years remained unimpressive.

Despite the country boasting of a 600km Indian Ocean coastline and a main port for the larger East Africa, fishing production has been on a sharp decline. Kenya has vast inland waters.

Fish production’s contribution to the economy, however, declined from 0.7 per cent in 2014 to 0.4 per cent last year. Data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics shows the value of fishing and aquaculture dipped from Sh40 billion in 2015 to Sh36 billion last year.

The data shows that the industry only employed 322 formal wage employees in marine fishing and 346 in freshwater fishing. Most of those engaged in fish production are informal traders who lack equipment and financial muscle to scale up and benefit from the value chain.

A concept paper on the maritime economy at the forum noted that despite Kenya’s strategic location along the Indian ocean coast its economic potential was poorly harnessed.

“Whilst Kenya’s strategic location along the Indian Ocean Coast and its inland waters bestows it with good prospects for becoming a great maritime economy, the full economic potential of Kenya’s over 600km of coastal ocean and the inland waters remain largely untapped,” it said.

The paper said if tapped, the sector would be a key driver for both sustainable growths in the economy and offer employment to millions of Kenyans.

The Port of Mombasa serves as the gateway to Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan, North of Tanzania, Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia.“The value of Kenyan waters need to be elevated and developed to support the transformation of the maritime sector and spur economic benefit for all,” it said.

It observed that the hinterland region served by the Mombasa port is the second-fastest growing region in the world economically but also the second most expensive region in which to do business. “With 33 shipping lines calling at the port, it provides connectivity to over 80 seaports worldwide. At today’s throughput, port utilisation is saturated at over 90 per cent of full capacity.”

The paper said that in the most efficient trade corridors, transports costs constitute only four per cent of the cost of goods. But impediments at the Mombasa port and along the Northern Corridor drive transport costs to an estimated ‘30 per cent of the cost of goods.’

“It is, therefore, necessary to address logistical challenges experienced at the port of Mombasa and along the Kenyan transport chain in order to make our country competitive for business within and beyond.”

“Kenya’s maritime regulatory framework and enforcement also need to be aligned with global conventions and standards to create an enabling maritime business environment that is competitive, compliant, cost-effective, efficient and dependable.”

The paper also called for a supportive regulatory framework to generate more wealth from sea-based activities.

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development report on global maritime transport, 80 per cent of global trade by volume and over 70 per cent of global trade by value are ferried by sea.

The larger Africa also has poorly tapped the marine economy despite having a coastline that covers over 26,000 nautical miles inclusive of its islands. According to statistics in the African Union’s integrated maritime strategy, the continent’s owned ships account for about 1.2 per cent of world shipping by number and about 0.9 per cent by gross tonnage.

Kenya which recently launched the Coast Guard in Mombasa has not been able to police its waters from foreign vessels trawling away tonnes of fish.

President Uhuru Kenyatta estimated that the country loses Sh10 billion annually to illegal fishing. Kenya exports tuna, octopus, Nile Perch, lobsters and mainly to European markets.

Crustaceans and mollusks are also caught in the Indian Ocean.

Kenya has an Exclusive Economic Zone which stretches 200 nautical miles and has stepped up measures to fully exploit catching fish in the area.

The country is also keen to boost the production of Tuna fishing along its Indian Ocean coast. President Kenyatta has been previously quoted saying that of the global tuna catch of 4.35 million tonnes annually, one quarter is fished off Kenya’s coastline.

CS Kiunjuri said Kenya recently submitted a Fishing Fleet Development Plan to the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission.

The Agriculture CS said that the country had been allocated a fish purse seiner and 54 longliners. The last two years have seen the Kenyan fishing industry shrink in value with cries being raised on the Chinese imports hitting the markets.

Kiunjuri promised to rope in the private sector to develop the domestic fleet for tuna fishing. “The State is promoting the private sector to develop the domestic fishing fleet targeting tuna and tuna-like fishery,” he said.

Processing Industries

The fish, he noted would help sustain local fish demand and also provide raw materials for manufacturing and fish processing industries.

Increased tuna is meant to ramp up local fish food demand and for raw materials to support the manufacturing and local fish processing industries.

But even as economies warmed up to the trillions that the marine economy offered, there are fears that communities along the coastline would pay the ultimate price of this heightened interest. “There are a great risk and a great danger that those communities will be marginalised,” said Joseph Zelasney, a fishery officer at UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.

This has seen the European Union set guidelines for funding of marine projects. The EU will further support Kenya’s blue economy through a new “Go Blue” programme of euros 25 million, (Sh2.9 billion) to accelerate sustainable and inclusive economic growth.

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