Poor governance, government willingness to do business with foreigners, and inadequate fishing gear continue to harm local coastal fishing communities as foreigners fish for Kenya‘s stocks.
Experts blame outdated laws, poor infrastructure and the unfair implementation of coastal fishing laws as some of the main barriers to optimal fishing.
According to recent censuses, the six coastal districts of Kwale, Mombasa, Kilifi, Tana River, Lamu and Taita Taveta have a population of 4.3 million, whose livelihoods depend mainly on fishing.
But the impoverished locals have nothing to show for their troubles and feel that the government is dragging their feet to help them make more money fishing.
Kenya has a 1,000 km long coast from Vanga to Lamu with 20 species of fish. The coast includes a 200-kilometer Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) off the coast, according to a 2017 government report entitled: “State of the Coast Report II: Enhancing Integrated Management of Coastal and Marine Resources in Kenya by the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA).” The country’s territorial waters and its EEZ cover a total of 142,400 square kilometers.
EEZ is a marine area where an independent state or country has special rights to explore and use marine resources, including fish, water, and wind energy. This law was made mandatory by the UN Convention in 1982.
Data from the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) shows that Kenya’s EEZ in the Indian Ocean can produce between 150,000 and 300,000 tons of fish.
Dr. James Kairo, the chief scientist at KMFRI, said that marine and inland fisheries mainly from Lake Victoria are capable of adding $ 86 billion (780 billion shutters) a year to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). This emerges from the 2018 study on value chain financing by Kenya Capture Fisheries, which was carried out in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development (USAid).
However, the study shows that Kenya’s fish exports are only $ 20 million ($ 2.2 billion) of the over $ 1 billion ($ 100 billion) in annual exports to the European Union (EU) in the production of Tea, coffee, tea, cut flowers and vegetables make up the majority of exports.
According to the fisheries expert, Kenya loses $ 100 million ($ 11 billion) in fish every year to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing by foreign boats in the country’s waters.
“The marine fishery production is between 5,000 and 9,000 tons per year and only contributes 0.8 percent to GDP. This is offset by an annual potential of 300,000 tons, ”said Cairo.
Agriculture Cabinet Minister Peter Munya said the lack of an appropriate legal framework is hampering investment in marine fisheries.
He called for a comprehensive, modern legal and regulatory framework for fisheries management, since the status and progress of national laws are not reflected in international legal and institutional agreements.
“This creates conflicts in law enforcement and duplication of work in fisheries management. This severely limits surveillance efforts in Kenyan fishing waters, resulting in many cases of IUU fishing, ”Munya said.
The third medium-term plan (2018-2022) of the Kenya Vision 2030 for the blue economy sector states that there are currently no domestic fishing fleets in the EEZ.
Straddling and widely migratory fish stocks in the EEZ are used by Distant Water Fishing Nations (DWFN) such as Tanzania, USA, China, Italy and a number of other European countries. As a result, local communities do not benefit from the use of EEZ stocks.
The policy document also notes that the current licensing system for fisheries in Kenya’s EEZ does not promote or ensure the sustainable use of stocks and does not adequately benefit local people.
Foreign fishermen are drawn to Kenyan coastal waters because of their rich tuna belt, where around 25 percent of the world’s tuna are caught. According to the KMFRI, 90 percent of the fishing grounds are not used by locals and are left to IUU fishermen.
KMFRI data shows small artisanal and subsistence fishermen catch coral reef fish such as rabbit fish, parrot fish, emperor, small tuna, octopus, squid, shrimp and lobster.
“Sea fishing is mostly done by foreign fishing vessels and targets bonito, yellowfin tuna and bigeye tuna. These include the US, China, Italy and a number of other European countries, ”said Cairo, also a mangrove silviculture and management expert.
The foreigners catch large fish such as sharks, rays, snappers, grunts, groupers, emperors, sickle fish, jacks and mackerel, and smaller commercially important species of jacks and silver bellies.
David Mutugi, a fisherman based in Mombasa, said the low catches of the local fishing community are due to overfishing of the coast, which is due to the artisanal nature of fishermen who operate small boats powered by windsails and manual paddles .
“Only a few Kenyan fishermen can catch high-quality species such as tuna with ocean-going vessels in the EEZ. This enables foreigners who fish illegally in Kenya to catch thousands of tons of fish, which is left to small boat fishermen with a small catch of less than 5 kg per day, “Mutugi said.
Hamadi Mwinyi, who has been fishing octopus in the Shimoni area of Kwale for 25 years and is part of a 60-strong group that specializes in octopus fishing, and the 700-strong Shimoni BMU agrees.
“We sell a kilo of fish at Sh250 to our BMU. Those who sell directly to middlemen or exporters sell at a lower price. That only impoverishes us, ”said Mwinyi and sympathized with his group, which consisted of fishermen, fish traders, boat owners and builders and tour operators.
“We buy a kilo of fish from fishermen at Sh250 and sell it to hotel owners and exporters for the same price. But visitors to the hotels buy a kilo of fish for 1,000 Sh., While the exporters for at least 2,000 Sh. sell per kilo, ”said 67-year-old Rishad Hamisi, chairman of the Shimoni BMU.
In addition, the local fishermen are not allowed to penetrate more than four kilometers into the sea, which limits their fishing opportunities.
“With this inferior equipment, we were able to harvest an average of three million kilograms of fish in 2019, which earned us 750 million shutters. This can triple if we get modern fishing equipment, ”said Hamisi. He added that this was the average catch of the 10 active BMUs operating along the coast.
A government assessment of pelagic stocks by KMFRI in the Indian Ocean in 2018 showed that stocks of bigeye tuna, skipjack tuna, albacore tuna and yellowfin tuna are overfished and require strict management regulations.
A decline in annual catches in 1990 and 2005 is linked to the lack of appropriate fishing regulations, which leads to overfishing of the lagoon reefs beyond their maximum sustainable yields.
The data also shows that shrimp fisheries have declined from a high of 1,300 tons per year in the 1990s to a low of 150 tons per year in 2009.
The decline resulted in the cessation of shrimp fisheries due to conflicts between locals and semi-industrial fisheries, overfishing and environmental degradation from bottom trawling.
It also shows that sea cucumber catches have also decreased over the past 25 years, from a high of 227 tonnes in the 1990s to just six tonnes in 2016.
“This is attributed to overexploitation, habitat transformation, the effects of climate change and exports of live lobsters,” Cairo said.