Shipping & Logistics

Why fishing in Lamu is on the verge of collapse

A fisherman prepares fish for sale at Shela
A fisherman prepares fish for sale at Shela beach in Lamu. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The fishing sector in Lamu County is facing a set of challenges threatening to bring it to its knees.

This is causing concern among the residents as fishing contributes more than 50 percent of Lamu’s economy.

For the past seven years, the sector has suffered immensely due to a night fishing ban imposed by the government following increased Al-Shabaab attacks and kidnappings of fishermen and tourists.

Although the State lifted the ban in May 2017, fishermen say they are still being harassed when they go to the sea at night.

Major fishing destinations and hubs such as Mkokoni, Kiwayu, Ndau, Kiunga and Ishakani on the border of Lamu and Somalia are the most affected.

Fishermen who talked to Shipping & Logistics on Monday said apart from being denied access to the ocean at night, they are subjected to security harassment even during the day — a move which they say has forced some of them to quit the trade.

Lamu East alone has about 6,000 fishermen. But due to the harassment, only 3, 000 fishermen have remained in the trade.

“Our sector is dwindling almost on a daily basis. We fear the sector will die if something is not done. They said the night fishing ban has been lifted but the truth is that they don’t allow us to go to the sea at night,” said Mr Mohamed Ali who is the chairman of the Faza Beach Management Unit (BMU).

“Once you are spotted you are always arrested, molested and harassed by security agencies.”

The fishermen are now urging the government to change strategy including escorting the fisher folk as they venture to the sea at night. Mr Ahmed Islam, a fisherman in Kiunga, says fish is easily caught at night when they are unable to see properly as opposed to daytime when they are eyesight is strong.

“Instead of banning us from fishing at night, they should organise us into groups and then escort us to the sea at night. Our appeal is for us to be allowed to fish at night since that’s the time you can make a good catch rather than during daytime,” said Mr Islam. Another key challenge facing the industry is the lack of modern fishing equipment by most fishermen. Local fishermen have for decades depended on traditional fishing methods and equipment.

The fishermen say for the trade to grow and expand, there is need for the county and the national governments to intervene and give them modern tools that will enable them match their competitors especially those from Somalia and Tanzania who have been invading the local fish market.

Mr Ali says modern fishing gears will enable them to carry out their trade on the high seas.

“We are concerned. Our fishing sector is now crumbling. We urge the county government through Governor Fahim Twaha to improve the fishing infrastructure in this region to boost the trade. They boat us few boat engines but those aren’t enough. Most of us still use the traditional tools and methods and that’s why there is nothing much in terms of profit,” said Mr Ali.

“We especially worry about Somalia fishermen who seem to have everything needed for deep sea fishing and we can’t match that and definitely we can’t compete in the same market and win.” In Lamu West, most of the artisanal fishermen have already been forced to abandon the trade following the ongoing dredging activities for the construction of the first three deep sea berths at the Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia Transport (Lapsset) Corridor Project.