Kenya produces 2,500 tonnes of tuna annually, accounting for less than one per cent of the total volume caught by other nations whose territory stretches into the Indian Ocean.
The revelations came out of a workshop in Mombasa where experts deliberated on issues affecting fishing along the tuna corridor in the West of Indian Ocean (WIO).
Kenya is one of the 10 WIO countries alongside Tanzania, Somalia, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, Comoros, Madagascar, Seychelles and Mauritius.
It also emerged that Kenya earned Sh500 million last year through the licensing of foreign vessels to fish for tuna. This is despite a 2018 report by the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute that said the country has the potential to land between 150,000 and 300,000 tonnes of fish worth between Sh21 to 42 billion.
“It is peanuts when you compare with what countries like Mauritius and Seychelles are getting,” said Edward Kimakwa, an expert in Southwest Indian Ocean fishing.
The sorry state of Kenya’s marine fishery, the experts said, was due to illegal fishing as a result of weak enforcement of laws, lack of fishing control mechanisms and outdated legal frameworks.
Other contributing factors include lack of modern fishing gear and the failure to set up a fish-processing factory and storage facilities, which led to post-harvest losses.
Tuna and tuna-like species are popular in Spain, Italy and France. Market analysts project that the global market for the fish will hit $14 billion (Sh1.4 trillion) in the next five years.
The experts also discussed ways to stop the overfishing of yellowfin tuna, whose numbers have reduced in recent years. Kimakwa said this could be attributed to poor fishing methods, high global demand and lack of monitoring and surveillance mechanisms.
“The yellowfin and southern bluefin tuna stocks are being overfished. It is a big concern. We cannot pinpoint exactly which countries are responsible,” he said.
James Kairo, a marine biologist, said it is estimated that over Sh2.3 trillion is lost globally due to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. The Kenya Government estimates it loses Sh10 billion worth of fish from its territorial waters in the Indian Ocean.