Hassan Mwamtoa learnt fishing from his father. It is the only economic activity the 70-year-old has known all his life.
For decades, Mr Mwamtoa plied his trade at Shika Adabu beach management unit, Likoni. Not once did he imagine that the landing site that he had almost called his home would one day be rendered inaccessible.
Most of the site has now been grabbed.
Saddened by the situation, the septuagenarian recently joined hundreds of other fishermen and industry players at Bamburi public beach to protest the continued grabbing of landing sites.
“When I went into fishing, there were many landing sites. Traders would buy fish at the sites. What has happened is shocking. Unfortunately, our leaders do not act even as the sites vanish,” he said.
Father Gabriel Dolan, the executive director of Haki Yetu — an NGO — says the delay by State officials in implementing an order by President Uhuru Kenyatta has hit the fishing industry in Mombasa and surrounding areas hard.
“The President was very clear about reclaiming these sites. Unfortunately, they are still being held by grabbers, making it difficult for fishermen to do their work,” Fr Dolan said.
“Only five per cent of the fish produced is from locals, and this is because the landing sites have gone to private holdings.”
A 2015 Haki Yetu study titled Nowhere to Land showed that there are 50 landing sites in Mombasa, with 14 having been gazetted but yet to be formally recognised.
“None of the sites gazetted or otherwise had a title deed or any form of documents and this resulted in grabbing by parastatals, hotel owners and opportunists who had encroached on the plots and evicted the poor fishermen,” Fr Dolan said.
He added that most of the problems facing fishermen — from Lunga Lunga in Kwale County to Kiunga in Lamu — are similar.
Wavuvi Association of Kenya has registered 20,000 fishermen on the Kenyan Coast, with more than 50,000 households relying on the business.
Mr Ruwa Mwangolo, a fisherman at Tudor/Shimanzi beach management unit, says the site has also been grabbed.
“Only a small portion of the landing site remains but it is surrounded by high rise buildings. It is just a matter of time before the remaining land is taken,” he said.
Mombasa County Beach Management Units chairperson Mercy Wasai says fishermen recently found out that only five landing sites have been given to them by the government.
“When the President gave out the order, we attempted to make a follow-up but were informed that only five sites remain in Mombasa,” she said.
Ms Wasai added that investigations by her unit and other organisations last year revealed that the county has 49 landing sites.
“This is a serious issue. We want to know what happened to the remaining sites. How will the five accommodate more than 3,000 fishermen? The President should ensure our sites are reclaimed,” she said.
Ms Wasai said the law decrees that a building or any other development can only be put up 60 metres from high watermarks.
“The structures must be demolished to give allowance to the boats,” she said, adding that beach management units are recognised by the government.
Haki Yetu official Furaha Charo said fishermen were not involved in identifying the five sites.
“We have written to the National Land Commission and the Fisheries Department but have not received any response,” Mr Charo said.
Wavuvi Association of Kenya chairman Hamid Mohamed said grabbing of landing sites has piled more misery on fishermen.
He said that for the government to realise the gains of the blue economy, the President’s order must be implemented.
“Records in our possession indicate that Mombasa had 68 landing sites in 1968 and 15 had been gazetted by 1975. There is no landing site at the moment. It is a big problem,” Mr Hamid said. He, however, added that land grabbing is just one of the many problems facing the fishing industry at the Coast.
According to a document titled The Status, Potential and Contribution of Coastal and Marine Fisheries Resources Towards Blue Growth in Kenya, the country’s share of the Indian Ocean has the potential of producing 444,000 tonnes of fish, with an estimated revenue generation of Sh15 billion every year.
The exclusive economic zones can produce about 1.9 million tonnes of fish with an estimated revenue of Sh119 billion, it said.