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Heavy siltation cuts fish stocks in Lake Turkana

TurkanaFish

A fisherman secures his catch on a bicycle at Kalokol, Lake Turkana on September 19. Most BMUs are already recording a reduced catch. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NMG

WhatsApp Image 2020-09-22 at 13.20.40

Summary

  • Commercial fishing activities in Lake Turkana face a blink future due to dwindling stocks caused by heavy siltation and intrusion of fish breeding zones.
  • The scramble for fish share is driving Beach Management Units (BMUs) of Turkana community and their Merrile counterparts from Ethiopia to venture into deep lake waters.
  • Environmentalists and civil society groups in the region attribute miseries ensuing commercial fishing activities at Lake Turkana to construction of Gibe III dam built on the Omo River in Ethiopia.

Commercial fishing activities in Lake Turkana face a blink future due to dwindling stocks caused by heavy siltation and intrusion of fish breeding zones.

The scramble for fish share is driving Beach Management Units (BMUs) of Turkana community and their Merrile counterparts from Ethiopia to venture into deep lake waters, mainly gulfs, in pursuit of superior catch resulting in often deadly confrontations and loss of fishing gears.

Environmentalists and civil society groups in the region attribute miseries ensuing commercial fishing activities at Lake Turkana to construction of Gibe III dam built on the Omo River in Ethiopia, which supplies 80 percent of Lake Turkana’s water in Kenya.

The remaining water to the world’s largest alkaline lake is supplied by Turkwell River.

The groups argue that the dam has interfered with fish breeding zones at River Omo and subsequently led to the drop in the fish stocks in Lake Turkana.

“Water volume in Lake Turkana that is source of livelihood to more than 20,000 families through commercial fishing activities is likely to decline by 60 percent in the next five to seven years as a result of construction of the Gibe dam by the Ethiopian government,” said Eliud Emeri, Turkana Civil Society group leader.

“Construction of the dam will interfere with marine life, especially breeding zones at Todonyang area,” added Mr Emeri.

River Omo drains 90 percent of its water into Lake Turkana and the Ethiopian government is almost completing the construction of the dam to generate electricity and for irrigation purposes.

But while the dam powers Ethiopians development, the civil rights groups argue that thousands of indigenous families downstream who depend on fishing and pastoralism among others stand to lose.

“The Kenyan and Ethiopian governments need to come up with proper management plan to save Lake Turkana from extinction as a result of meddling of the ecosystem in pursuit of development,” appealed Mr John Mame, Chairman, Impressa BMU at Kalokool.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) has listed national parks at Lake Turkana among world heritage sites in danger and called for urgent corrective action to save them from extinction.

The World Heritage Committee has added Lake Turkana National Park to the list of 54 endangered sites, citing threats posed by Ethiopia’s Gibe III dam and Kuraz Sugar project.

Proper management plans

Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lakes joined the World Heritage List in 1997.

According to Kenya Marine Fisheries Research Institute, Lake Turkana has a potential of generating Sh3 billion annually if proper management plans are put in place.

It, however cites inference of fish breeding zones, siltation, use of improper fishing gears and poor handling processes as some of the factors that contribute to waning quantity of fish and revenue generation.

River Omo basin forms important source of pasture for the Merille and Nyong’atom communities but the transformation of several hectares of grazing fields into crop production due to the technological revolutions is driving pastoralists from Ethiopia to invade parts of Turkana North sub-county for pasture and water.

“Most parts of Omo Valley in Ethiopia are under massive crop production under irrigation system that has resulted in scarcity of pasture for members of the pastoral communities,” explained Mr Eric Wanyonyi, former long serving sub-County Commissioner.

He disclosed that some members of Merrile community have abandoned pastoralism and embrace agricultural production which they consider to be more lucrative, hence the scramble of land for agro-pastoralism.

They grow such crops as maize, sorghum, millet, rice, and fruits apart from investing in commercial fishing activities in Lake Turkana.

Continued meddling

According to the administrator, population pressure is causing conflict among pastoralists from the two countries.

“The scramble to expand land size for human settlement, crop production and grazing field are some of the emerging issues that have resulted in protracted armed conflict among the pastoralists,” explained Mr Wanyonyi.

However, fish remains main source of food and income to the Merile, Dasanach, Turkana and El Molo communities and the continued meddling with River Omo breeding zone poses major blow to their socio-economic livelihood.

Most BMUs are already recording reduced catch, which affects their market share.

Fish from Lake Turkana is sold in most markets in Kenya with Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda forming external market.

Mismanagement of Kalokool fish processing plant and frequent attacks on fishermen by militias are other factors the environmentalists named as derailing fishing activities in Lake Turkana.

“The processing plant has not operated to its maximum capacity due to interfering by politicians who have vested interests,” claimed Mr Hosea Akoru, fish trader at Kalokool beach.

He appealed to the government to beef up security along the lake shores to facilitate commercial fishing and boost income generation.

“The frequent attacks by militias have scared away potential investors from engaging in commercial fishing activities and improve income generation and livelihoods of the locals,” added Akoru.

The government has, however deployed additional Kenya Marine Police to patrol the Lake following the recent signing of a peace agreement between Kenyan and Ethiopian leaders to contain armed conflict between Turkana and Merrile communities.

The marine police are posted to patrol Kalokool to Todonnyang’ to counter attacks by armed militia and promote trade.

Fishing activities at the lake had drastically declined after most traders moved out following recurrent attacks by raiders from the two communities.

Turkana County Government recently procured equipment worth Sh51 million and an offshore patrol motor boat to enhance income generation from the fishing that has for long remained unexploited.

“Income generation from fish around Lake Turkana has increased from Sh12 million to Sh16 million while the production has improved from 31 tonnes to 35 tonnes in the last six months,” said Leah Napokol Epat, the Impressa group treasurer, one of the beneficiaries of the scheme.

County plans

An average of 15,000 kilogrammes of fish was exported to Nairobi market and 6,000 to Kitale from Impressa beach alone last month.

Among equipment the County government acquired include 12, 661 fishing nets and 15,000 floaters that was distributed to fishermen in the 30 landing BMUs along the Lake Turkana.

The county also plans to procure an extra motorboat to be based at Kerio and fibre glass boats to access deeper water for big fish as 97 per cent of fishermen in the lake are still restricted at the periphery.

The county government also released Sh31 million for reviving Turkana Fishermen Cooperative Society that was active in early 1990s.

The cooperative society will process fish, buy fish from members and establish ready markets to boost fishing sector in Northern Kenya.

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