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Fishing gear exchange program to reduce unsustainable fishing


Coast fishermen display their catch of a Ray fish. [Maarufu Mohamed, Standar]

Fishermen in the Coastal County of Lamu are set to benefit in an exchange program that will see them get new and sustainable fishing gear in exchange of the destructive beach seine nets.

The new program targets fishermen in the Kiunga Marine National Reserve (KMNR). It was launched by the Kiunga Community Wildlife Association (KICOWA) in collaboration with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), the County Government of Lamu, Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI), and other partners. It is supported by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) Africa, Basecamp Explorer Foundation (BCF-Kenya), Fauna and Flora International (FFI), and the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT).

Covering an expansive area of 270 square kilometres, the Kiunga Marine National Reserve is home to a diverse range of fish species and critical habitats such as mangrove forests, seagrass beds, and coral reefs.

“Fishing is an important source of livelihood and food security for the fishing communities, especially at the coast where poverty is high and incomes are low. Yet in many cases, these coastal fisheries, such as in Kiunga Lamu, receive fewer resources and attention, creating capacity and fisheries scientific data limitations that lead to over-fishing, use of illegal and damaging fishing practices, degradation of coastal ecosystems, and place fishing-dependent livelihoods at risk,” reads a statement from The Nature Conservancy.

In 2021, the government launched a crackdown on illegal fishing gear and methods across the Indian Ocean, particularly, Lamu County. The crackdown saw several fishermen arrested and charged in court. The farmers were using monofilament and seine nets which are harmful as they sweep away everything from mature fish to fingerlings.

Beach seines consist of long nets made of nylon fibre of varying mesh sizes and lengths ranging from 200 to 300 metres. The nets have floats along the top and weights at the bottom.

“They are usually placed in shallow waters and dragged by the crew to herd fish into a smaller pocket (or cod-end). The beach seines are known to catch everything they encounter, increasing the risk of overfishing. They also catch high volumes of juvenile fish and damage coral reefs and seagrass habitats,” reads the statement.

According to the most recent frame survey report, Lamu County has over 50 per cent of the total number of beach seines along the Kenya coast. To facilitate the voluntary exchange of beach seines nets in the County, the Gear Exchange Program is supporting 176 beach seine fishers in the Kiunga Marine National Reserve with more sustainable fishing gears.

The fisher community in Kiunga and partners have embarked on this ambitious initiative to address one of the biggest threats to fisheries in Kenya, with a focus on the KMNR.

The Senior Assistant Director KWS, John Wambua, said they have adopted a community centred approach giving communities within protected areas the lead in driving sustainable solutions that improve protection and management of marine life.

"The program aligns with the KWS vision to sustainably manage Kenya's wildlife and its habitats for the benefit of nature and humanity. It is important that we build the capacity of Kiunga’s fishing communities as we strive to address the problem of destructive fishing methods by promoting alternative sustainable fishing practices to conserve our valuable marine ecosystems," said Wambua.

TNC Africa Fisheries Strategy Manager, George Maina, said the organisation is committed to working with fisher communities and other partners to implement complementary interventions that ensure fisheries are managed in a way that results in stable supplies of seafood, thriving coastal communities and ecosystem conservation.

The Chairman of Kiunga Wildlife Conservancy Association, Ali Shali expressed his appreciation of the engagement and consultation process that has gone into the Gear Exchange Program. The combination of local community and scientific expertise, as well as cultural understanding has helped in building trust and understanding among the fishers on the need to stop using beach seines.

The Coast Region Director, NRT, Hassan Yusuf said NRT is working at the grassroot level with local fisher communities to ensure that the fishers voluntarily exit from using destructive beach seines in KMNR. He further expressed the need for joint efforts among all stakeholders to support the communities in stewarding sustainable fishing practices that will encourage healthy marine ecosystems and livelihood benefits.

In support of the Program Issa Timamy, Governor of Lamu, said the County has set aside Sh40 million to develop the Blue Economy sector. The Governor, who is also the Chair of the Blue Economy Committee in the Council of Governors, added that the gear exchange program is a major step towards enhancing sustainable fishing practices in the County, which will significantly improve the livelihoods of the fishing community and grow their economic potential.

KMFRI, the research partner in this Program has been monitoring fishing patterns in the area to provide the scientific information needed for decision-making.

“Scientific monitoring before and after the gear exchange will help in understanding how the new gear types perform in terms of the catch volumes, species and sizes as well as the economic benefits. Incorporating the local knowledge of the fisher community has been very instrumental in securing buy-in and ensuring that the initiative meets community needs and environmental objectives,” said Dr Gladys Okemwa, Senior Research Scientist at KMFRI.

“As Kenya focuses on developing her blue economy, we must work collaboratively to protect our ocean and ensure that the resources therein are exploited sustainably. This initiative is a key component of broader efforts to achieve this goal of protecting at least 30 percent of lands, fresh water, and ocean by 2030,” said Munira Bashir, TNC Kenya Country Director.

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