Even as Kenya strives to achieve one of the Vision 2030 goals of improving food security, there is concern that fishing — one of the major sources of livelihood — is stagnating.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries is worried that production could decline if proper policies and conservation measures are not strictly enforced.
Kenya produces 181,516 metric tones of fish per year but has the potential to generate over 2,861,868.
According to the Principal Secretary in charge of Fisheries Micheni Ntiba, the bigger challenges facing the sector are climate change and declining fish stocks in the inland water bodies.
Others are limited domestic capacity for deep sea fishing at the Coast, poor road networks linking Lake Turkana to major fish markets, low aquaculture development, inadequate marketing infrastructure, low value addition, limited access to credit and high incidence of HIV/Aids among the fishing community.
Of the total production, inland capture fisheries produce 123, 861 metric tonnes, which is 68.2 per cent of the total production valued at Sh1.2 billion ($13.7 million) last year. Marine capture fisheries, on the other hand, produce 8,865 metric tonnes or 4.9 per cent of the total valued at Ksh1 billion ($11.4 million).
“Aquaculture currently produces 48,790 metric tonnes, which contributes 26.9 per cent to the total production valued at Ksh18 billion ($205.1 million),” said Prof Ntiba in a recent report.
To increase production, the Department of Fisheries has been implementing a fish farming economic stimulus programme in 219 constituencies countrywide, mainly helping residents establish fish farms.
“Under the programme, the government has invested Ksh6 billion ($70 million) in pond construction and associated activities such as provision of fish feeds to farmers,” said the Principal Secretary.
He added that since the programme started aquaculture production in Kenya has increased from a paltry 4,700 metric tonnes in 2007 to 22,135 metric tonnes in 2012.
There have been concerns over the decline in production in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, given the fact that fish is also a source of foreign exchange.
If the challenges are not addressed, environmentalists have warned, thousands will lose their source of livelihood and protein.
According to Prof Ntiba, fishing has created direct employment for 100, 000 fish farmers, short term employment for more than one million people and indirect employment for over 500,000 Kenyans along the aquaculture value chain.
Lake Victoria, for example, which is a major source of fish for Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania has seen its output decline in the recent past due to over fishing, changing weather patterns and pollution among others.
Recent data released by Department of Fisheries indicate that fish caught in Lake Victoria had sharply declined to 114,448 tonnes valued at Sh11.3 billion ($), in 2012, compared with 129,557 tonnes valued at at Ksh13.4 billion ($152.7 million) the previous year.
According to the report, there was a noticeable increase in production of Nile Perch by 12 per cent compared with the previous year; Tilapia recorded a reduction of 31 per cent in species contribution to the total weight of fish landed. Nile Perch, the data revealed, made the highest contribution at 45 per cent, Rastrienobola argentea (44 per cent) and Tilapia (4 per cent) among others.
To enforce fishing regulations, Prof Ntiba says, the Fisheries Department has procured six patrol boats for Lake Victoria and other surveillance equipment to strengthen monitoring, control and surveillance.
“The department has also procured four fishing vessels for Lake Turkana fishermen to enhance fishing and address food security issues in the region,” said the Principal Secretary.
At the coast, the government has also acquired a 56.6 metre long scientific research vessel RV Mtafiti, to be operated by the Kenya Marine Fisheries Research Institute, to conduct fisheries research and help manage Kenya’s 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone.