Kenya: trawl fishery depletes stocks, spawns in Tana River
The Indian Ocean and the Tana River have long been centers of economic activity in Tana River County.
For decades, the inhabitants of the Kipini region have fed and educated their children by fishing in the sea.
But the border is slowly tottering to its deathbed with massive depletion of fish breeds and their breeding grounds due to trawling and the use of illegal nets.
“We are losing a lot because of these contract fishermen. They are killing the blue economy here and also ruining our business,” lobster trader Abu Said lamented.
The use of trawlers for harvesting removes both mature fish and bycatch, in defiance of fishing guidelines under the license issued to fishermen.
The waste is huge, as the vessel only brings home mature fish that are likely to bring in a lot of money in the market and as a result most of the dead bycatch is thrown back into the sea.
The fishermen of Kipini have no other choice but to go and collect the “waste” in order to sustain their activity, because the potential for capture continues to decline.
“We collect over 800 kg of fish waste every time the ship leaves the sea. They sell it to us at a lower price and if we can’t buy it, they throw it into the ocean,” Hassan Bwana said. .
What worries residents is that they have no choice but to watch vessel owners brag about the protection they get from the State Department of Fisheries.
Officials observe the massive waste and destruction of the fish industry in Kipini without saying a word, and sometimes resident fishermen say that officials in Malindi who are in the company of the vessels collect the money for fish waste. bought by locals.
“We have our fishery officers here, but there is nothing they can do because their bosses are the ones who coordinate the activities in the vessels, they have been rendered powerless,” Bwana said.
In early April, Tana River Fishery Officers, working with Kenya Wildlife Service rangers, seized a vessel containing tens of kilograms of bycatch consisting of juvenile fish and baby sharks.
During their large-scale patrols, KWS officials and members of the Kipini Beach Management Unit found two decomposing dolphins and several turtles on Shekiko Island.
The captain was arrested and released on cash bond of 20,000 shillings.
The vessel’s Italian owner would later dismiss the bycatch allegations, saying the Tana River Fisheries Department was blackmailing him after failing to extort him.
A disgruntled senior officer told Nation.Africa: “These are the owners of the land, what more can we do?
There is no doubt that the trawl fishery has depleted the lobster population in the sea, with fishermen saying their catches have declined by more than 60 percent from a year ago.
The giant shrimp population has also declined dramatically, with Kipini Beach Management Unit Ecosystem Secretary Twaha Muhdhar saying if urgent action is not taken there will be no shrimp. to be harvested along the 76 km of Kipini waters.
“You can imagine that by harvesting 800 kg of shrimp every week, we can barely reach 400 kg right now,” he said.
Although trawl fishermen are licensed by the government, he said, they work beyond their license and destroy habitat.
He said trawlers still fish at night despite concerns about the dangers of doing so and the many reports and evidence shared with officials.
The ships deployed their gadgets in Ungwana Bay, mainly known as a breeding ground for rare fish species.
“They know full well that they are supposed to fish beyond five nautical miles but have chosen to ignore the guidelines. They are harming young marine life and destroying breeding grounds in shallow water,” Mr. Muhdhar said.
Environmentalist Awadh Mbarak said vessel operators did not worry about the consequences of their actions as they enjoyed the protection of senior fisheries officials.
Fishermen and activists, he said, had channeled several complaints supported by credible evidence regarding trawling in Kipini waters since 2016, but nothing has been done.
“We have been on high alert, but our efforts have been in vain. We have written letters and even sought legal injunctions against the ships, but when you wake up you see them in the sea,” he said. -he declares.
Trawl fishing produces around 900 kg of waste per week. Illegal fishing and the use of prohibited gear create an additional 300kg of waste, Tana River Fisheries Director Evans Nyarango said.
While they have been able to control local fishermen with illegal fishing gear, he said, the biggest challenge lies with the trawlers.
“We have confiscated a lot of illegal fishing gear. Our challenge at the moment is the vessels which also have illegal fishing gear apart from the practice of illegal fishing,” he said.
He noted that trawling endangers rare fish species like saw sharks, dugong and lobster, as well as shrimp breeding grounds.
He called for better enforcement of the rules in Kipini waters to ensure trawlers comply with regulations.