Fishing in Lake Naivasha is becoming a hazardous venture due to constant attacks on fishermen by criminals.
Lake Naivasha Boat Owners Association chairman David Kilo said the gangsters who have been operating in the area for about a year have also been extorting the fishermen.
He decried rise in illegal fishing, warning that the sector could be set for a repeat of what happened in 2000 when it was slapped with an annual fishing ban.
“In 2000 the fisheries sector collapsed due to similar incidents, and if this happens it will mean massive job losses,” he says.
According to police, four bodies have been recovered, some with deep cuts, floating in the lake, pointing to violent clashes between the gangs and fishermen.
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Residents say the gangs armed with clubs, machetes and other weapons waylay fishermen on their way to the lake where they rob them of their fishing gear and motorboats.
The gangs also steal fish from nets set by fishermen during the night.
The security situation at the lake has been compounded by yet another gang of youthful men known as 'Ngoja' whose use undersized nets and hooks in the lake. Others use monofilament nets, where they move from one end of the beach to the other literally sweeping everything from mature fish to fingerlings.
Since the year began, scores of fishermen have been seriously injured, their nets stolen and their daily catch carted away by the ruthless gangs.
Early in the week, fishermen and traders from Kamere landing beach blocked the busy Moi South Lake Road for hours to protest the rising crime.
The protest came hot on the heels of another incident where tens of youths involved in the illegal trade around Kihoto estate engaged police in running battles for over six hours to protest the seizure of their nets and boats.
Some of the people who spoke to The Standard said the illegal trade at the lake has the backing of prominent business people and some corrupt government officials.
“These youths cannot afford the boats and rely on the traders who supply the vessels before night robbery is carried out,” one of the fishermen said.
The fisherman who has since abandoned the business said the market is flooded with illegally acquired fish stocks that the gangs steal at night.
“The fish is ferried by motorcycles early in the morning to the traders who in turn transport them to Nairobi. On a good day one criminal grouping can make over Sh20,000.”
Phillip Mbala, another fisherman at Kamere Landing Beach said the illegal activities had interfered with his daily income.
“I used to earn at least Sh2,000 every day but now I'm not even able to make Sh500 a day,” he says, adding that the lake has turned out to be one of the most dangerous places to venture into.
Nakuru Agriculture minister Immaculate Maina admitted that illegal fishing and use of undersized nets are a major threat to the sector. She said they are keen to ban the use and sale of the monofilament nets as one way of saving the sector that earned the county Sh300 million in the last financial year.
“Fishing will only be allowed between 6am and 6pm and 100m away from the shoreline while anyone dealing in the sale of fishing gear will have to be licensed by the county,” she said.
Naivasha sub-county commissioner Mutua Kisilu said there was an influx of gangs in the area last year but the government took action.
“We have embarked on kicking out these gangs and we have recovered nine boats, over 1,000 illegal nets and arrested five suspects,” said Kisilu.
Naivasha sub-county fisheries officer Nicholas Kagundu said the situation had been worsened by unemployment and the number of informal estates around the lake.