Kenya strives to end illegal fishing, ramp up seafood production

Published on
August 22, 2019

Kenya has launched a new Coast Guard Service (CGS) to fight rampant illegal fishing and help the country increase its own seafood yields.

The CGS was launched by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta in November 2018 with the mandate of fighting illegal fishing in Kenya’s territorial waters in addition to supporting the war against terrorism, piracy, and human and drug trafficking. With intensified patrols of the East African country’s high seas, Kenya’s marine fish stocks increased by 155,000 metric tons by July 2019, according to government statistics.

Kenya is one of many countries in Africa that has yet to fully exploit its huge offshore fishery potential because of the significant losses occasioned by illegal, unlicensed and unregulated (IUU) fishing. The Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute, an agency under the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, estimates the country’s marine fisheries have the potential to produce of 150,000 to 300,000 metric tons (MT) of fish every year, but a mere 9,000 MT was produced in 2015, earning the country USD 13 million (EUR 11.7 million) in total fish exports. The institute estimates the country is losing an estimated USD 100 million (EUR 90.2 million) every year to transnational and organized criminal networks engaged in IUU fishing.

“IUU fishing undermines resource conservation, threatens food security and livelihoods, destabilizes vulnerable coastal regions and ecosystems due to limited law enforcement capabilities and is linked to other serious crimes including labor associated crimes, money laundering, fraud, human trafficking, drugs and arms dealing,” the institute said in a recent report.

The CGS is one of the latest course-changing moves Kenya has made since the 2009 signing of the agreement on the Ports States Measures Agreement (PSMA) to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing at the 2009 FAO Conference. However, Kenya has yet to ratify the agreement, as was initially expected by 2017, although the State Department of Fisheries and the Blue Economy has put together a team to oversee the country’s ratification of the agreement.

Prior to launching of the CGS, analysts warned overfishing from commercial, artisanal, subsistence, and recreational fishing activities remained a major threat to achieving a sustainable fishing industry in Kenya with artisanal fisheries listed as “a key source of pressure on finfish and shark populations along the Kenya coast.”

“Direct exploitation for local consumption of shark meat is substantial and shark oil products are processed locally from the liver, while shark teeth and jaws are sold to tourists,” Kenya Institute of Public Policy Research and Analysis (Kippra) said in a statement. “Kenya represents an important transshipment point for shark fins within the Western Indian Ocean thus, demand for Kenya’s shark fins, particularly from Asia, is a major driver of overfishing.”

Previously, Kenya had embraced other African fisheries management initiatives, including the South West Indian Ocean Fisheries Commission and the Indian Ocean Tuna Fisheries Commission, upon which the Coast Guard Service will build on to ensure sustainable development and enhanced governance of the country’s marine fishery resources, in addition to its work to curb IUU fishing.

Meanwhile, total fish output in Kenya increased from 135,000 MT in 2017 to 148, 300 MT in 2018. 

Kenya’s latest national economic survey indicates catches of fresh-water fish increased from 111,800 MT in 2017 to 124,100 MT in 2018, with Africa’s biggest fresh-water lake, Lake Victoria, accounting for 66.1 percent of the total fish landed, with an output of 98,200 MT in 2018.

Landings of marine fish increased by 4.1 percent to 24,200 MT with the government report attributing the continued low share of marine fish landings “to lack of technology and inadequate facilities necessary for fishing in deep waters.”

In his address launching the Coast Guard Service, President Kenyatta said he is committed to increasing the country’s investment in its seafood sector.

“Maritime resources contribute to only 2.5 per cent of our GDP, yet if they were fully exploited they would bring the country more than triple that amount, offer jobs and even livelihoods to thousands,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Kenya Coast Guard Service

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