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Lake Nakuru's changing chemistry breeds fish, health hazard


 Submerged buildings at Lake Nakuru National Park due to the rising water levels on October 5, 2022. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

A crackdown on illegal fishing in Lake Nakuru has netted over 2,000 kilograms of fish, with over 40 suspects arrested in the past two months.

The operation by the multi-agency team formed to look into the issues causing conflicts in the Lake unearthed a thriving business operated by a network of illegal fishermen and supply chain operators.

Besides finding their way into the lake within the protected park, the crackdown on illegal fishing has revealed how the fish from the lake, which are unfit for human consumption, find their way into food markets in Nakuru and Naivasha.

Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) Central Rift Assistant Director Joseph Dadacha says that although fishing Lake Nakuru is illegal as it is within a protected park, which is a sanctuary to endangered species like black and white rhinos, many fishermen sneak into the lake.

“Consumptive utilisation of the fish within Lake Nakuru is not allowed, but we have had cases of fishermen sneaking in to fish supplying to unsuspecting locals,” Dadacha says.

So far, the multi-agency team has confiscated several motorbikes and two vehicles used by the operators to supply the fish into the markets.

Dadacha says that in the past two months, the multi-agency team has netted 2074 kilogrammes of fish and 300 fishing nets. 

Among those arrested during the several crackdowns around the estates surrounding the lake is also a businessman operating a fish collecting point at his home.

“Interestingly, people have even rented houses and stocked them with deep freezers in the house to store the fish before they can supply to several joints,” Dadacha says.

But why are the multi-agency team against fishing and consumption of fish from the lake? 

According to the experts drawn from the team, water and fish found within the lake is unfit for human consumption. KMFRI  said that the fish within the lake had high concentrations of heavy metals that included arsenic, copper, cadmium, iron, and lead.

The multi-agency team currently undertaking the crackdown operations was formed in January this year to address issues causing conflicts at Nakuru National Park following a directive by President William Ruto. 

The team is drawn from agencies, including Kenya Fisheries Service, Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute, Kenya Wildlife Service, National Environment Management Authority, and Water Resources Management Authority.

The team is also tasked to look at health risks associated with consuming fish from the lake and create awareness in the communities.

According to the Nakuru County Chief officer for Livestock, Fisheries and Veterinary Services, several reports have been conducted to ascertain the health of fish in Lake Nakuru. 

He said that the official report in 2022 revealed that the fish found within the lake had high toxicity levels. The water within the lake, he says, also has a high concentration of pesticides. 

“Under all circumstances, the 30 samples of fish collected from different sites across the lake indicated that it was not fit for human consumption. The toxicity levels are beyond the recommended levels,” Dr Cheruioyot said. 

Testing of the fish found within the lake, he adds, has been conducted in several institutions, including Egerton University laboratories, KEMFRI, and Kabate Veterinary laboratories. 

“This is the reason we are raising awareness on the dangers of consuming this fish over a long time. Continuous consumption will lead to bioaccumulation of the heavy metals, which leads to chronic diseases like different types of cancers,” he added. 

The multi-agency team raised concerns that the fish from Lake Nakuru are circulated to eateries and joints where unsuspecting customers consume.

“This is a worrying trend, and we are mandated to let people know the health  hazards that come with consuming such fish. Science is not political, and that is why experts are involved,” he added.

Although Lake Nakuru is not gazetted under fisheries laws for commercial fishing, illegal fishing activities within the lake started in 2020 following the swelling of the lake located within Lake Nakuru National Park.

Lake Nakuru’s surface area increased from 35km² in 2013 by 100 per cent to 71km² in 2020, a situation that led to a spillover into the neighbouring villages.

With Lake Nakuru historically being a salty lake, only salt-tolerant Magadi tilapia existed within the lake. Increased water volumes over time are linked to the changing chemistry of the lake and have seen the alkalinity levels reduce.

Although concerns have been raised over the safety of fish within the lake, concerns have also been raised on how illegal fishing activities within the lake pose a threat to the wildlife, especially the endangered species.

“We are very concerned about those illegally getting into the park because they might not only be targeting fish but also wildlife like rhinos. Those who are found illegally fishing face several charges, including illegal entry into a protected area, illegal extraction of fish resources and illegal fish trade,” Dadacha said.

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