Kenya is still importing labour mainly from West Africa and Seychelles to work in the deep sea fishing industry due to lack of local skills.
The Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (Kmfri) director-general Prof James Njiru said the country does not have requisite skills despite the sector having rewarding career opportunities.
“We lack crew members forcing us to import labour from West Africa, Seychelles and other countries. Jobs in the sea are important. These crew members who board the ships earn $1,000,” said Prof Njiru.
Dr Cosmas Munga from the Technical University of Mombasa (TUM) decried lack of capacity among local youth, majority of whom shun degree courses in the maritime sector.
Dr Munga said the state is concentrating on training low-calibre workers leaving a vacuum in the science field.
The university has had a lot of challenges recruiting students for the past five years.
“We lack experts as we concentrate on low calibre jobs. We have been seeing a decreasing trend in terms of the intake of students pursuing marine and fisheries-related programmes,” said Dr Munga.
He challenged Kmfri and other players to do more to attract more students to train in the field.
The government has tasked Kmfri to train 1,000 Kenyans to venture into the sea, with Sh1 billion set aside for the plan.
Prof Njiru said the institute has so far trained 300 fishers.
“We are training young Kenyans so that the crew members aboard ships flagged or licensed in Kenya are locals. We are planning to train more. The problem has been in terms of the ships we licence,” he said.
Last year, the government partnered with a Namibian company to train local fishers in deep-sea fishing and is using two of the country’s flagged vessels to train its crew
Another challenge is the lack of vessel as Kenya is allowed to license around 70 fishing ships in its deep sea.
Kenya’s deep waters are currently being exploited by foreign industrial fishing vessels due to challenges facing artisanal fishermen including limited fishing technology for semi-industrial and industrial fisheries in deep waters.
“TUM has appropriate programmes relevant for the blue economy. We are offering degree programmes in marine resources management, fisheries and oceanography, maritime and other related courses,” said Dr Munga.
However, Prof Njiru called for awareness, creation and sensitisation among students to venture into the science field.
“Blue economy will boom in Kenya but we still miss critical people. It’s upon all the stakeholders to convince our youth to take science degrees in fisheries, and maritime to land job opportunities,” said Prof Njiru.
The Kmfri boss said Kenya has the potential to export experts in fisheries if it came up with appropriate strategies.
“If we have 5,000 youth recruited by the ships we license, we can earn Sh6 billion only from employment. Ships are forced to import labour from other countries yet we have our youth who are jobless,” said Prof Njiru.
Agriculture, Livestock, and Fisheries Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya said all foreign vessels within Kenya’s territorial waters must employ qualified local youths.
Currently, foreign vessels and trawlers fishing in the Kenyan Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) have employed foreigners due to lack of local expertise.
President Kenyatta gave directives to train local fishermen in deep-sea fishing at the Bandari Maritime Academy before venturing into the sea for practical skills.
They are trained on fishing, safety and security of the sea. They will later be employed by the foreign vessels fishing within Kenyan territorial waters as Kenya expedites building of the capacity of its local fishing capacity to create jobs taken by foreigners.
“There are opportunities in the fishing liners and vessels venturing in our exclusive economic zone. Currently, the vessels have employed Sierra Leoneans and other West African crew because we lacked capacity. But it will now be mandatory to employ our fishers,” he added.
Kenyan fishermen are used to venturing into the shallow waters and using small boats.
Kenya's annual fish production stands at 160,000 metric tonnes against the potential of 300,000 metric tonnes annually.
Statistics from the Kmfri research show that currently there is a deficit of approximately 400,000 metric tonnes of fish in the country.