Why fishermen in Coast remain poor at mercy of foreign trawlers

According to data from the Kenya Fisheries Service (KFS), the marine fisheries contribute only 26,000 tonnes of fish annually, which is 17 per cent of the total national fish production. [Omondi Onyango, Standard]

In 2018, then President Uhuru Kenyatta said the country lost Sh10 billion annually to illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing along the EZZ.

Mvurya says research indicates that each Kenyan is supposed to consume 20 kilos of fish yearly as opposed to the three kilos consumed annually per person.

"As a nation, we are expected to eat at least four kilos of fish per person yearly, but we only eat three kilos against the recommended 10 kilos in Africa and the 20 kilos projection in 2030," he says.

Comparatively, 76-year-old Charo Mumba, a fisherman at Pirates Beach in Mombasa, says back in the 1980 and 90s, fishing was a lucrative venture and one could get enough income to feed the family, educate childreen and invest.

Mumba reminisces how he would come back with a huge catch in four baskets without even struggling to go deep sea.

"Right now the fishermen can come back with a kilo of fish or nothing at all, yet they have a family that depends on them. My sons can't fathom doing fishing considering the low price, ineffective equipment, coupled with competition from foreign vessels and dumping of fish by the Chinese," says Mumba.

He blames the government partly for the woes of the local fishermen, who have been restricted by the Coast Guard on the areas to fish.

Kwale Governor Fatuma Achani, who calls herself a child of a fisherman, advocates for funding and empowerment of the fishermen.

"I will speak like a child of a fisherman, and today, I stand proudly as your governor because it is fishing that took care of me," says Achani.

Kilifi BMU Chairperson Charles Nyale says foreign vessels have flooded the market with the fish they catch at the EEZ and compromised the market equilibrium price.

"Let the government sit with us since we are the ones in the midst of the resources and empower us to get the fish in the EEZ," says Nyale.

Lamu BMU Chair Abubakar Twalib says the foreign vessels usually encroach the shore waters, destroying the breeding grounds of fish because they are using illegal equipment that scrap and pick everything while killing the fish eggs and depleting the young stocks.

Twalib says Lamu fishermen will continue living in abject poverty despite being the largest producers of Tuna in the region because they lack funds to purchase powerful vessels to get to the EEZ.

He says with the ongoing dredging at Lamu Port, 4,734 fishermen have been affected and are still waiting for compensation of Sh1.76 billion by the government since 2018.

Twalib says artisanal fishermen have abandoned their trade on the safer channels and are now struggling and risking in the high seas.

Wavuvi Association of Kenya Chairman Mohamed Hamid Omar says that although there is no data indicating the number of foreign vessels doing IUU fishing, fishermen from Lamu, Kilifi, Kwale and Mombasa counties have encountered foreign vessels in Kenyan waters.

Omar says the biggest challenge facing fishermen is lack of landing sites, most of which he says have been grabbed.

He says in 1968, there were over 160 landing sites across the Coast region, but now, only 14 exist, despite a directive by President Kenyatta in 2018 to have all the grabbed landing sites reverted back to the communities.

"We can't promote the blue economy and empower the local fishermen if they have no landing sites, let alone toilets," says Omar.

However, Omar says, many fishermen, including himself, have remained in the dark on issues of data and spending of the Sh13.5 billion pumped into blue economy due to bureaucracy in the government institutes dealing with fishing.

"I am the national chair for fishermen but it is sad that I don't get involved in many aspects involving the fisherman at the Coast, including sharing of data on revenue collections, number of foreign trawlers in our waters or how much is set aside in the blue economy budget towards the local fisherman," he says.

A request by The Standard for data and interview with Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) officials was met with a long chain of bureaucratic red tape, despite writing formal letters, sending questionnaires and phone calls.

According to Fatou Pietche from Gambia, they are also grappling with the issue of foreign vessels that have encroached the Gambian waters and caused clashes with artisanal fishermen.

Pietche, who is a member of the African Confederation of Professional Artisanal Fisheries Organisations (CAOPA), says Gambia is now changing the Fishing Act and policies to ban foreign fishing vessels from accessing their EEZ.

"The artisanal fishermen and foreign vessels are always in a conflict because the foreign vessels come up to seven nautical miles, and end up catching even their nets during night time and they switch off their lights to conceal the registration numbers of the vessels," says Pietche.

Coast Guard Officer Commanding Shimoni, Kwale County, Lt John Ombongi, says although they have not encountered any foreign vessels involved in IUU during their patrol, they lack powerful boats that can enable them to reach the EEZ.

He says the vessels they have encountered are Kenyan research licensed and legally within the Kenyan waters.

Ombongi says they rely on the Mombasa Coast guard who have a big boat that access the deep waters and share information with their counterparts when there is an alert that needs intervention at deep sea.

"There are plans by the Director General Coast Guard to bring boats that will enable us to go deep sea. However, there is a big vessel in Mombasa that patrols the deep sea and we have a network across all the counties to monitor the activities at sea," he says.

Omar suggests that the government should put up fish processing plants at the Coast to add value on fish as is the case at the Sh140 million plant at Luanda K'otieno in Siaya County.

He says all fishermen should also join saccos to cut off cartels and better the price of fish.

Omar says Shimoni produces 10 tonnes of octopus each month but the local fisherman is yet to benefit because they are bought by a sea harvesting company at Sh300 per kilo and upon export to Spain and other foreign nations, the same kilo fetches Sh3,000.

"So I ask fishermen to get into saccos, through the ministry and BMUs, to eliminate cartels and deal directly with the market," he says.

Mvurya promises that the government will set up modern landing sites at Lamu, Ngomani and Kichwa cha Kati in Kilifi, Liwatoni in Mombasa, Ganzi in Shimoni, Kwale County, and Sunza in Vanga.

"We have also spoken with the ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defence to get the Navy and Coast Guard and instead of focusing on local fishermen, they go deep sea and ensure our fish isn't stolen," says the CS.

"But you know if we don't have our fishermen out there, we shall just be securing the zone for nothing. We want to partner with the private sector to be able to fish in such areas and build landing sites."

However, Twalib says although the government spent over Sh80 million in purchasing fishing boats, they are more of luxury vessels that can't go to the deep sea because the ministries failed to involve the fishermen to advice on the suitable vessels.