Kenya's president Uhuru Kenyatta has suspended licenses of foreign trawlers as part of efforts to grow the country’s blue economy through value addition.
During the 54th commemoration of the country’s Independence, the president said the ban on foreign vessels would help increase fish processed locally seven-fold to 18,000 tonnes per year, from the current 2,500 tonnes.
“We have over 400km of rich coastline, and a share of the second-largest freshwater lake in the world. It is shameful that we exploit only a small fraction of these resources,” President Kenyatta said.
Maritime and Shipping Affairs Principal Secretary Nancy Karigithu said the licences for foreign fishing vessels would be renegotiated. Only international trawlers who meet the requirement of processing the fish in Kenya, will be given new permits.
The president also ordered relevant agencies including the navy to intercept illegal fishing vessels.
Mrs Karigithu added that experts from the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) would offer technical assistance to senior government officials on related policies and enforcement.
“We will train these officials in maritime transport policy making and adoption, which will be integrated because there are many departments that affect the sector, including forestry. The maritime sector has the capacity to contribute 10 per cent of the economy’s GDP,” she said.
The directive is aimed at diversifying the economy and creating jobs.
According to the Fisheries Department, Kenya’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the Indian Ocean has a capacity to produce over 300,000 tonnes of fish valued at more than Ksh450 billion ($4.5 billion) annually.
Despite the potential, fish exports account for only Ksh2 billion ($20 million) of the over Ksh100 billion ($1 billion) annual exports to the EU — with cut flowers, coffee, tea and vegetables taking the bulk of the exports.
In 2016, the country’s fish production dropped by 12.1 per cent to 128.6 thousand tonnes, from 146.3 thousand tonnes in 2015.
Each year, the country loses fish worth Ksh10 billion ($100 million) to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
The Fisheries Department recently set up a monitoring system for the country’s waters and the government also bought a Ksh3 billion ($30 million) patrol vessel that is expected to be commissioned soon.
Mr Ben Kiilu, principal fisheries officer in charge of compliance in Mombasa said in the past, they had helped arrest illegal fishing vessels that had operated in Somalia waters.
“At the moment we have enough capacity to monitor our waters and are waiting for the launch of the vessel. The system has the capacity to identify illegal fishing vessels,” he said.
Last month, Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinett launched boats to improve surveillance in the Indian Ocean with the view of setting up a coast guard.
Currently, local trawlers pay a fee of Ksh200 ($2) annually, which came into effect in 2013 after change of a law that required them to pay Ksh15,000 ($150) fee. Although it was introduced with the view of encouraging fishermen to venture deep into the ocean, this has not been effective.
In August, Fisheries Principal Secretary Prof Micheni Ntiba launched a fish laboratory in Mombasa, one of the three facilities that will be set up in the country at a cost of Ksh1 billion (10 million). The other labs will be located in Nairobi and Kisumu. At least KSh100 million ($1 million) has been released to kick start operations of the Mombasa facility.
The laboratories would ensure fish sold to foreign markets was of high quality, opening the European market to Kenyan fish.
The President’s directive comes on the backdrop growing concerns that cheap Chinese fish was flooding the Kenyan market, killing the local fish industry.
China’s fish exports to Kenya crossed $10 million in 2015, as fresh, chilled and frozen fish topped the list of Chinese imports targeting Kenyan consumers, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS).
In 2016, Kenya’s fish production dropped for second consecutive year, with total fish output dropping by 12.1 per cent to 128.6 thousand tonnes, from 146.3 thousand tonnes in 2015.
Additional reporting by Victor Kiprop.