CHALLENGES OF A KENYAN FISHERMAN By Albert Mwangeka.
The ocean is a vital geographical feature in the eco system since it covers three quarters of the earth’s surface. It plays an important role in supplying oxygen and is a natural habitat to various creatures like turtles, octopus and various breeds of fish. Kenya is geographically blessed by being in the Indian Ocean since the country can reap benefits of this water bodies. It would have been expected that Kenya economy be driven by marine economic activities like fishing. But this seems to be a dream in the horizon.
‘I am a small scale fisherman. We face very many challenges in this industry. We encounter many dangerous situations. We may be out in the deep sea and encounter a storm. This ultimately causes our small boats to change course. Since there are no towers that can guide we get lost. Due to this we at times find ourselves in Tanzania against our will. Our people get arrested by the Tanzanian authorities and the Kenyan government does nothing about it. When the Tanzanian vessels enter our borders our authorities do not do much. Many fishermen have died at sea,’ laments Anwar Abae.
This situation has adversely affected the fishing industry; a sector that should be lucrative because of the natural inland and marine resources Kenya has been blessed with. The sea covers a larger area of this country has been covered with the ocean as compared to inland water bodies that include rivers and lakes. However more metric tons and revenues come from rivers and lakes as compared to the ocean.
‘Various studies show that marine fishery is highly underexploited in Kenya. Yet despite being the larger fishing ground in the country our ocean maritime fisheries contribute only 5% of the 174,000 tones of fish produced in the country annually. These numbers should give us reasons to pause,’ says President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Kenya loses billions of revenues yearly as a result of foreign vessels entering our countries illegally. This has caused a stir amongst local fishermen and the foreigners since the locals feel bullied in their own land. They complain that sometimes the big trawling ships cut their nets in the deep seas and this greatly reduces their catch. On such a day a fisherman is bound to bring nothing forth on the table; an unfortunate situation that may leave a family starving.
‘We lose up to 10 billion shillings every year from illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing,’ explains Kenyatta.
An annual loss of 10 billion shillings is detrimental to an ailing economy. Such an amount of money could be placed in various development projects and laying infrastructure to assist fishermen like setting up financial institutions where they can access loans, building a state of the art tertiary institution that offers marine science classes, the government can also use such an amount of money to set up a shop where these workers can purchase fishing equipment at a subsidizes rate.
‘At first we did not know how to fully utilize our marine resources and protect ourselves from foreigners who are exploiting us. They come into our waters, they stamp our fish give them tags and stamps from their country. This makes people know that these foreigners caught the fish in their own waters. They do not even pay us. They later import the fish to this country and we literally buy something that belongs to us. I would not like to mention which country is doing this,’ laments President Kenyatta.
Senator for Mombasa Hassan Omar says,’ Why should we let Japan vessels and take our fih the way they wish. Why shouldn’t we empower our youths by giving them fishing vessels so that they earn a proper living through fishing. And if it means hurting a few interests we will do so to get a better society.’
Anwar, the small scale fishermen says that he is not pleased with how the government is handling this situation. He says that Kenyan authorities issue licenses to Japan, Korea and France yet they do not inspect their catch. Anwar adds that local authorities do not check which type of fish are being caught, the equipment they and there are chances that they surpass they required amount of fish they are required by law to catch. The fisherman this had led to some species of fish being extinct. He reiterates the president statement by saying foreign countries sell the fish they caught locally back to Kenya. This is because they repackage the same fish and import it back to this country at a much higher price.
‘The government should take into great consideration our safety. We need to get boats that have emergency button alerts. The government does not have enough rescue boats that can help us during emergencies,’ says the fisherman.
Tanzania boasts of a robust fish market. This is because the fishermen have co-operatives that help them fetch good prices in the market. However their Kenyan counterparts are normally harassed by middlemen and they sell products to them at throw away prices.
30 years ago the Food Agricultural Organization FAO said Kenya has a potential to harvest 150,000 tons of fish annually from the ocean. Recent research shows that this amount can be doubled. If proper strategies are laid this country would have good food security.
‘Environmental change is catching on with us. We depend on various seasons to get a good catch. However the seasons are becoming unreliable due to environmental change. This greatly affects our catch and in the long run our revenues,’ says Anwar.