The Indian Ocean and the Tana River have long been economic centers in Tana River County.
For decades, the people of the Kipini area have been feeding and raising their children by fishing in the sea.
But the border is slowly staggering to its deathbed as the fish races and their breeding areas are massively depleted by trawler fishing and the use of illegal nets.
“We’re losing a lot through these contract fishermen. They’re killing the blue economy down here and ruining our business too,” complained lobster dealer Abu Said.
By using trawlers in the fishery, both adult fish and by-catches are removed in disregard of the fishing guidelines in accordance with the license issued to the fishermen.
The waste is massive as the ship only takes home adult fish that are likely to make good money in the market, and so most of the dead bycatch is thrown back into the sea.
The fishermen in Kipini have no choice but to resort to the “waste” to keep their business going as the catch potential continues to decline.
âWe collect more than 800 kg of fish waste when the ship leaves the sea. They sell it to us at a cheaper price and if we can’t buy it, they dump it into the sea, âsaid Hassan Bwana.
What worries local residents is that they have no choice but to watch shipowners brag about the protection they receive from the great and powerful at the Department of State’s Department of Fisheries.
The officials wordlessly watch the massive waste and destruction of the Kipini fishing industry, and sometimes local fishermen say that Malindi officials who happen to be with the ships collect the money for the fish waste that the locals buy.
“We have our fishing officers here, but there is nothing they can do because their bosses coordinate the activities on the ships, they have become powerless,” said Bwana.
In early April, Tana River fisheries officials, in collaboration with rangers from the Kenya Wildlife Service, confiscated a ship with dozens of kilograms of bycatch, consisting of juvenile fish and baby sharks.
During their intensified patrols, KWS officials and members of the Kipini Beach Management Unit found two rotting dolphins and several turtles on Shekiko Island.
The captain was charged and later released on Sh20,000 cash bail.
The ship’s Italian owner later denied accusations of bycatch, saying the Tana River Fisheries Ministry was blackmailing him after they failed to blackmail him.
One disgruntled senior officer told Nation.Africa, “These are the owners of the land, what else can we do”?
There is no doubt that trawling has decimated the sea lobster population, with fishermen saying their catches have declined by more than 60 percent year over year.
The population of king prawns has also declined sharply. Kipini Beach Management Unit ecosystem secretary Twaha Muhdhar said that unless urgent action is taken, no shrimp will be harvested along the 76 km of Kipini waters.
“You can imagine that we harvest 800 kg of shrimp every week, at the moment we can barely reach 400 kg,” he said.
Although trawler fishermen are licensed by the government, they work beyond their permit and destroy the habitat.
He said trawlers are still fishing at night despite concerns about the dangers involved and numerous reports and evidence shared with officials.
The ships have put out their gear in Ungwana Bay, which is best known as a breeding ground for rare fish species.
âThey know very well that they should fish beyond five nautical miles, but have chosen to disregard guidelines. They injure juvenile marine life and destroy breeding areas in shallow waters, âsaid Muhdhar.
Environmentalist Awadh Mbarak said ship operators are not worried about the consequences of their actions because they are protected from senior fisheries officials.
Fishermen and activists, he said, have channeled several credible evidence complaints about trawler fishing in Kipini waters since 2016, but nothing has been done.
“We were on high alert, but our efforts were in vain. We wrote letters and even filed injunctions against the ships, but when you wake up you will see them in the sea,” he said.
Fishing with trawlers produces around 900 kg of waste per week. Illegal fishing and the use of banned fishing gear create an additional 300 kg of waste, said Evans Nyarango, Tana River fisheries director.
While they have managed to control local fishermen with illegal fishing gear, the biggest challenge lies with the trawler vessels.
âWe confiscated a lot of illegal fishing gear. Our current challenge is the ships that have illegal fishing gear as well as illegal fishing, âhe said.
He found that trawling threatens rare species of fish such as saw sharks, dugong and lobsters, as well as breeding grounds for shrimp.
He called for better enforcement of rules in Kipini waters to ensure trawler vessels comply.