Kenya's bumpy road to salvaging fisheries sector

Research scientists aboard RV Mtafiti.The vessel had been sent on a study voyage in the Kenyan North Coast beyond Malindi to find out what exactly ails the Kenyan fisheries sector. [Robert Menza, Standard]

Sometime in March 2019, the government commissioned the Kenya Marine Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) to conduct a study on the untapped resources in our waters.

The institute sent the research vessel, RV Mtafiti, on an expedition in the North Coast beyond Malindi with dozens of researchers on board.

A year before, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri had revealed that the country was losing over Sh440 billion annually by failing to fully exploit the fisheries sector.

Following the expedition, a new study titled “RV Mtafiti Marine Research: Towards Food Security and Economic Development in Kenya” was published.

KMFRI reveals that Kenya produces 2,500 metric tonnes of tuna annually, accounting for a paltry 0.75 per cent of the total volume caught by other nations along the same tuna corridor in the West of the Indian Ocean.

Kenya has the potential of yielding 300,000 metric tonnes of fish worth Sh42 billion every year from the ocean.

Studies estimate that Kenya losses Sh10 billion to illegal fishing in the Indian Ocean every year.

The figures capture the sorry state of the country’s marine fishery plagued by post-harvest losses, lack of modern fishing gear and outdated legal framework.

Until the 1990s, Kenya had a vibrant marine fishing industry spearheaded by the defunct Kenya Fisheries Industry, which ran a training institute at Liwatoni in Mombasa.

The government is now reviving the Liwatoni Fisheries Complex at the coast of Sh1 billion. The facility will have six berths, storage and an auction yard. It has also awarded Sh20 billion tenders for the re-modelling of the Shimoni Port into a fishing port.

KMFRI says in the past few years, RV Mtafiti has provided a platform for oceanographic research and training for Kenya and the Western Indian Ocean Region

“RV Mtafiti allows scientists to undertake surveys to collect information for national and regional research on the aquatic environment,” KMFRI said.

“It has enabled researchers to access hitherto uncharted waters on the Kenyan Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).”

Two KMFRI marine scientists, Nina Wambiji and Edward Kimani, who were on the study voyage, said only proper research will save the sector.  

“The broad disciplines of marine science undertaken during the cruises include fisheries, biological, physical and chemical oceanography, sea bottom bathymetry, macro and microplastics pollution and benthic ecology,” said Mr Kimani.

“The research addresses the national and global concerns of a rapidly changing ocean environment driven by climate change, pollution as well as the use of fisheries and other non-living ocean resources.’’

Ms Wambiji said the vessel has been used by scientists and technologists from KMFRI and other institutions as a training platform.

In 2017, it hosted a regional training course by the Ocean Teacher Global Academy in collaboration with the Flanders Marine Institute in Belgium on marine biogeographic data management.

KMFRI explained that based on catch sampling at 12 of the over 100 designated landing sites along the Kenyan coastline, the fish landings from small scale nearshore fisheries are estimated at about 24,0000 metric tonnes worth Sh24 billion.

“This catch is landed by about 12,000 fishers, using about 3000 vessels,” said KMFRI.

The nearshore stocks are considered optimally exploited, while over-exploitation occurs for a few species within some easily accessible fishing grounds.

‘’The remedy is to control fishing effort and reduce the use of unsustainable fishing methods including monofilament nets, beach seines and spear guns,” said the institute.

“There is an opportunity to increase the value of this catch by using improved cold storage facilities and ensuring the products reach high-value markets.’’

Kenya, according to the research agency, exports raw fish without processing.

“There is immense potential to increase economic activities around fisheries by fish processing and value addition in land-based facilities.”  

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