Tuna catches dry up for Kenya’s local fishermen
“Tuna is mainly caught by people who have advanced fishing gear,” says Chapoka Mohammed, a fisherman with over twenty years of experience.
He is one of many artisanal fishermen in Shimoni, a bustling coastal town 82 kilometers (51 miles) south of Mombasa, dotted with dhows, canoes, outrigger canoes and skiffs anchored at the landing site of the beach.
Dozens of fishmongers, processors and traders line the coast awaiting the return of fishermen.
Fishermen here say warming waters due to climate change have forced tuna species to change their migration patterns, making it harder for local fishermen to catch them.
Fish stocks have also declined due to a lack of sustainable fishing by larger vessels.
The Shimoni Channel, once a well-known tuna haunt, benefits from the north and southeast monsoons, which can lead to substantial catches, according to records kept by the Kenya Fisheries Service.
But the current monsoon has been unpleasant for many.
Yellowfin tuna in particular, which fetches competitive market prices, is “very profitable if caught in sufficient quantities,” says Leonard Loka, fishmonger at Majengo market in Mombasa.
“It’s very expensive and in high demand,” he says.
“If you manage to sell two or three kilos, you can comfortably feed your family. However, yellowfin tuna are not readily available. We only get the other small species of fish.”
Chapoka Mohammed is one of just over 1,500 fishermen who depend on the channel’s rich marine waters.
Experienced fishermen say large foreign vessels, increasing numbers of young men opting for artisanal fishing due to lack of white-collar jobs and higher education opportunities, and climate change are depleting livelihoods.
Kassim Abdalla Zingizi, a fisherman from Vanga, adds that most artisanal fishers lack the skills, knowledge and financial support to compete with large foreign vessels, mainly from Europe and Asia, which are deploying satellite tracking to track the various schools of tuna throughout the Indian Ocean.
“We have inferior equipment,” he says.
“The trawlers can catch many yellowfin tuna because they can access the fish habitat. We can only catch the fish after the trawlers have already taken their catch.”
Will McCallum, oceans manager at the environmental group Greenpeace, puts some of the blame on fish aggregating devices, which often catch young yellowfin tuna as bycatch.
“This is having a huge impact on the yellowfin population in the Indian Ocean, which again has a devastating or potentially devastating impact on the coastal communities that depend on them,” McCallum said.
The Kenyan government is implementing an economic strategy that will help tackle the effects of climate change on the livelihoods of people along the African coast, build the skills of artisanal fishers and promote more sustainable fishing practices, according to the report. Kenya Fisheries Service.
Subsidies to major fisheries – which have long been accused of destructive fishing practices – have featured prominently in World Trade Organization talks for more than a decade without a resolution.
Earlier this year, the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, responsible for regulating tuna in the region, was criticized for failing to implement measures to protect several tuna species from overfishing during its annual meeting.
After catch limits for two species of tuna were exceeded between 2018 and 2020, conservation groups blasted the tuna commission for what they called a “decade of failure” that has left tuna stocks “more and more in danger”.
The World Wildlife Fund for Nature has called for a global boycott of yellowfin tuna.
The Maldivian government, which unsuccessfully proposed that tuna commission members cut their catches by 22% from 2020, said it was “extremely disappointed” with the outcome of the meeting.
The Fisheries Committee also agreed to set up two special sessions in the near future to iron out concerns over yellowfin stocks, with the first scheduled for early 2023.
But the commission also passed a landmark resolution to study the effects of climate change on tuna stocks in the region, hailed as one of the successes of the conference.
The study aims to understand the complex relationship between climate change, tuna fisheries and tuna stocks with a view to informing future adaptation and mitigation measures.
It is the second regional fisheries management organization to implement a resolution on climate change.
Victor Boiyo, an environmental governance and management expert at Kenya Nazarene University, says there is a need to properly regulate yellowfin tuna fishing.
“In the sense that we fish in a way that gives them time to reproduce and to be able to continue to play their role as top predators and for that reason to maintain the balance of the marine ecosystem and with that we will be able to support business objectives and ensuring that our ecosystems are well taken care of.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that climate variability has led to reductions in marine stocks, including redistribution, movement of fish stocks from lower latitude regions to higher latitude regions, coral bleaching and increased risk of conflict.
These changes are already being felt by local fishing communities.
“It’s difficult because of climate change,” says fisherman Kassim Abdalla Zingizi.
“That wasn’t the case before.”