Alien Ships in Its Waters Leave Kenya Angling for More Fish

  • Nation lacks deep-sea fishing ships, facilities to store catch
  • Only 6% of nation’s 167,000-ton annual haul is from ocean

Kenya is constructing fishing ports in three towns off its coast to attract investment into the under-exploited industry and encourage the registration of locally flagged vessels.

Of the 57 deep-sea fishing licenses issued in East Africa’s biggest economy this year, only one went to a vessel flying the Kenyan flag, according to Kenya’s assistant director of fisheries, Mwaka Said Barabara. While the potential catch from its Indian Ocean waters is about 150,000 metric tons annually, Kenya is landing between 9,000 and 15,000 tons only.

“What we have is mainly artisanal and semi-industrial fishing on our coast,” Barabara said in an interview in the coastal city of Mombasa. Artisanal fishing is concentrated within 5 nautical miles (9.3 kilometers) from the shore, she said.

The industry, which employs about 33,215 people directly, lacks facilities such as designated fishing ports, storage and processing plants, as well as deep-sea vessels, she said. The government is constructing fishing ports in Lamu, Kilifi and Mombasa, according to Ntiba Micheni, principal secretary for fisheries.

Fishing off Kenya’s 1,420-kilometer (882-mile) coast line is worth 2 billion shillings ($20 million) and accounts for only 6 percent of the 167,000 tons of fish landed. More than 70 percent of the national catch is from inland lakes and rivers and the rest from rearing fish in ponds.

The government wants Kenyans to apply for fishing permits, Micheni said in an interview in the capital, Nairobi.

Big Fish

Industrial fishing in Kenya’s deep-sea territory is currently the preserve of foreign vessels. Of the 49 ships with dragnets and seven long liners licensed this year, only one was Kenyan, according to Barabara. Most applications are from Taiwan, Spain, Italy and South Korea.

The nation plans to increase its fleet to 60 boats by 2017, Micheni said in July. Two months later, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said his government would beef up maritime surveillance to stop other nations exhausting its resources.

While the government has reviewed its maritime law to require all vessels fishing within Kenyan territory to land a portion of their catch on its shores, the law is yet to be implemented, Barabara said.

“It hasn’t been enforced,” she said. “But it is a matter of time.”

— With assistance by Samuel Gebre

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