Experts: Reasons marine fishing in Kenya is suffering

A team from the state department of fisheries, Kenya Marine Research Institute and Kenya Navy patrols the Kenyan coast on April 19, 2016. [File, Standard]

Illegal fishing, post-harvest losses, poor enforcement of laws and lack of controls are the main impediments to Kenya’s efforts to revive marine fisheries.

Experts are now calling on county and national governments to develop a plan of action that will, among other things, prevent illegal fishing in the Indian Ocean.

Government estimates show that Kenya loses about Sh10 billion annually to foreigners who fish illegally.

“Some of these issues can be solved if we had fish inspectors on board the fishing vessels in Kenyan waters in the ocean to monitor fish stocks,” said Mr Andrew Mwangura, a maritime fishing consultant.

He added: “The work of the inspectors would be to record the volume of fish each vessel catches, sizes of the fish and areas where particular vessels operate as it happens in Seychelles and Mauritius.”

Mwangura said data collected by the inspectors would assist in monitoring fish stocks and in marketing Kenya to potential investors of fishing fleets, processors and storage.

“We must also have a strong legal framework to deal with illegal fishing. We must also ratify international conventions on fishing,” said Mwangura, citing Kenya’s failure to ratify the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Fishing Vessel Personnel (STCW-F), 1995, which came into force on September 29, 2012.

In 2001, the Food and Agriculture Organisation also approved the International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter, and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing.

Mr Mohamed Hamid, the chairman of Wavuvi Association of Kenya, a group bringing together several Beach Management Units, said environmental degradation was also a big concern.

He noted that while the country has enacted several laws to protect and positively exploit the marine fishing sub-sector, there have been no efforts to protect the ecological state of the ocean. “Some of the laws are silent on marine fisheries. The signing of the Fishery Management and Development Bill of 2016 into law gave an impetus to the revival of marine fishing,” said Hamid.

He said the blue economy conference held in 2015 and 2018 also opened the country to opportunities in the sector as well as the blue economy at the Coast.

“We have marine parks at the Coast because at independence, the Indian Ocean was only seen as a tourist attraction site and not for commercial fishing,” said Hamid.

Over exploitation and destructive use of the ecosystem and impacts associated with climate change have also affected marine fishing.

Illegal fishermen

He noted that the seasonal changes in the ocean’s conditions such as salinity, temperature, nutrients and wind patterns also influence the distribution of fish. Climate change also affects the flow of the rivers into the ocean, Hamid said.

As part of efforts to revive marine fisheries, the government, in 2018, established the Kenya Coast Guard Service (KCGS) to combat illegal fishing.

Last year, KCGS personnel intercepted two Chinese vessels that were being used by illegal fishermen.

Experts have also called on the government to address excessive fishing, especially near the shores.

This call follows a 2018 stock assessment by the Kenya Fisheries and Maritime Institute which revealed most commercial fish species are on the decline.

The assessment also showed that while the marine sub-sector had the potential of producing 350,000 metric tonnes of fish worth Sh90 billion in 2013, it only yielded 9,134 metric tonnes worth Sh2.3 billion.

Kenya’s marine fishing is done from the country’s territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone in the Indian Ocean, spanning approximately 230,000 square kilometres.

Mr Suleiman Omar, a fisherman from Old Town, noted that most Kenyans started understanding the importance of marine fisheries after the 2015 National Maritime Conference in Nairobi.

“After the conference, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government financed the repair of the fish facility in Old Town. Initially, the focus was on tourism and the port. However, whenever Uhuru comes to the Coast, his focus has been on marine fisheries and the blue economy as a whole,” said Omar.

Suspended licences

Until 2016, when President Kenyatta signed into law the Fisheries Management and Development Bill, Kenya lacked the legal framework to exploit the blue economy.

In 2017, Uhuru said his government would increase the amount of fish processed locally to 18,000 tonnes per year. He also suspended the licences of foreign trawlers blamed for poor fishing methods.

The ban on foreign vessels, the president said, was the first step to preserve and exploit fish resources.

A fortnight ago, Uhuru toured the ongoing construction of a modern fishing port at the Liwatoni fish landing site in Mombasa in his regime’s renewed push to revive marine fishing.

But Mwangura said KCGS, as currently constituted, cannot fight illegal fishing because it lacks professionals from the fishing sector and fishing vessel tracking systems.