Brokers and multinationals take us hostage: the fishermen

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Indian Ocean fishermen go about their business.

The fishermen of the coast are discontented and suffer from the alienation of the fruits of their labor. They say they have nothing of their own; not even the small fish they painstakingly catch in the stormy ocean.

The fishermen tell The standard they had been held captive by brokers, who bought their fish at a pittance but made huge profits selling the same fish on international markets. Worse still, brokers determine the price to pay for the fish.

To retain artisanal fishers, brokers took advantage of their poverty and provided them with basic fishing gear. This ensures that fishermen have no choice but to sell the fish to brokers. They are also unable to challenge the conditions that brokers and multinationals have imposed on them.

But that’s not all the thousands of fishermen on the 1,420km coastline from Kwale to Lamu have to endure, braving harsh waters to meet the demands of their masters. The government is reviving industrial sea fishing which collapsed in the 1990s and fishermen fear this will complicate matters for lack of suitable fishing gear to venture into deep-sea fishing as the multinationals.

The revival of industrial marine fishing will have projects such as the construction of the 1.8 billion shillings Liwatoni fish complex in Mombasa and the 20 billion shillings Shimoni fishing port in Kwale.

A modern pier is also planned. Offices will be renovated, a courtyard, cold stores and a fish market will be built. The construction of the 4.5 km road providing access to the port of Shimoni in Kwale has been completed.

However, The standard established that the project has not yet started, with no activity in the 3.8 ha allocated at Shimoni fishing port for the project. “Nothing is happening on the field. Stakeholders have collected our views on the project, but we have not yet obtained their comments,” said Mr. Mohamed Kassim, the Secretary of Wasini Beach Management Unit (BMU).

Mr Kassim says they are concerned the project will interfere with the Community Conservancy Area (CCA), where 280 Wasini BMU members make a living from fishing and tourism.

The 250 million shilling CCA was built with the support of international development organizations. “We earn at least 300,000 shillings a month from this CCA which is a tourist attraction and fishing spot. Dredging planned as the government builds the Shimoni fishing port will destroy coral reefs and seagrass beds,” Mr Kassim said.

The government estimates that over the next 10 years the fishing sector will generate 60,000 jobs and that fish production will increase to 300,000 tonnes per year during this period.

In the financial year 2021/2022, the government has set aside 1.8 billion shillings for the construction of the Liwatoni Fish Complex landing site. On April 7, the state unveiled a new contractor after the bid closed for Daniels Outlets Ltd.

Fisheries, Aquaculture and Blue Economy PS Dr Francis Owino said the new contractor, CEER Contractor, has been chosen from seven bidders and will have six months to complete and hand over the first phase of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s legacy project.

The Liwatoni fishing complex will have six quays, storage facilities and an auction. However, fishermen in Mombasa do not believe the project will benefit them. “The project is for industrial fishing, not for small fishermen like us. We have no equipment to venture on the high seas,” said Ms. Mercy Maghanga, President of Mombasa BMU.

Ms. Maghanga said it would take capital of up to 50 million shillings to purchase equipment to compete fairly with multinationals.

She said the fishing communities of Ngare, Mkupe and Kitanga Juu in Likoni were evicted after the area was declared a restricted area. This follows a November 2018 presidential order directing the state Department of Fisheries and the National Lands Commission to repossess all public fish landing sites in the coastal region. Ngare, Mkupe and Kitanga Juu, near the port of Mombasa, have been classified as restricted areas and local fishermen have been ordered to relocate.

Mr Andrew Mwangura, a seafarers and fishermen lobbyist, said five of the 51 sites had been mapped for repossession and titling. Of the 141 fish landing sites along the coast, there are 77 fish landing sites classified under Schedule 4 of the Fisheries Act. Kwale has 31, Kilifi seven while Tana River has one.

In Mombasa, there are 36 landing sites used by fishermen. Some 51 landing sites were seized, according to Mwangura, also a maritime analyst.

Mr Said Swaleh, a fisherman from Mombasa, said they had been left at the mercy of middlemen. “Many fishermen have been hired by international fishing companies operating in Kilifi and Mombasa. I’ve been doing this work for a while and I can tell you it’s modern day slavery.

“A fisherman receives a boat and a fishing target. The target must be delivered every day. The tragedy in all of this is that the owner of the boat decides how much he will pay for the fish,” he added.

Mr Swaleh said national and county governments, the Blue Economy Secretariat and Jumuiya ya Kauti za Pwani had made efforts to help the fishermen but nothing had been done as the efforts were disjointed.

“Most of these projects are also shrouded in secrecy and we don’t know why,” Swaleh said, adding, “The government has yet to address unreported and unregulated illegal fishing, even after the establishment of the Kenya Coastguard Service”.

It is estimated that Kenya loses about 10 billion shillings to illegal fishing every year.

But even a bigger challenge for residents, according to Mr. Swaleh and Ms. Maghanga, is dwindling fish stocks near the shore. “So this calls for empowerment of the locals,” Maghanga said.

Similar sentiments were expressed by fishermen from Wasini and other Kwale islands. County, where the government plans to develop the modern 20 billion shillings Shimoni fishing port.

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