Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KEMFRI) has partnered with Taita-Taveta County Government to conduct a scientific survey on Lake Challa and Jipe to explore modalities of sustainable fishing in the two lakes.
Lake Challa and Lake Jipe, both in Taveta sub-county, are trans-border lakes straddling the Kenya-Tanzania border.
Fishermen in villages neighbouring the lakes from both sister states exploit the lakes through fishing.
The joint research will take two-weeks and will establish amongst others, the fish species and population, lake depth, water currents and strength, levels of pollution and ecological threats facing the lakes.
Speaking to KNA on Wednesday, County Executive Member for Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Davis Mwangoma said the findings of the survey would form the basis for developing a fishing policy in the county.
He pointed out that lack of a comprehensive fishing policy had adversely affected the fishing sector. He added that issues bedevilling the sector included weak regulatory framework, funding for fishing industry and sustainability.
Mwangoma said the ultimate aim of the report was to form a roadmap for commercialization of the fish industry and introduction of aqua-culture.
“We have not fully exploited these two resources but with the research, we will find a ground for sustainably exploiting these lakes,” he said.
The research will further allow the county to establish proper breeding grounds for fish where breeding could be set up for fish farming.
The county targets to start producing fingerlings to populate over 200 fishponds in the four sub-counties of Voi, Mwatate, Taveta and Wundanyi.
Dr Joseph Kamau, a researcher with Kemfri, said the research would answer many questions about fish farming and sustainability in the county. He further disclosed that water levels in Lake Challa has been falling over the decades, a situation that might affect fish population and behaviour in the lake.
“By the time we are through, we will be able to tell you the amount of fish you have and how you can boost production,” he said.
The research will also establish the recommended annual fish harvest and best sites to set up breeding cages for local fishermen.
Preliminary tests done on the Lake Challa showed that high population of large families of fish existed within the depth of 20-40 meters while smaller fish live between 50-60 meters.
Most fishermen were, however, unable to effectively harvest fish from the lake due to lack of proper equipment that could reach those depths.
Lake Challa is a crater lake and home to Lake Challa tilapia. The fish is listed as critically endangered by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It is fed by underground rivers that originate from Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Since the 80s, the water levels have drastically reduced due to climate change and suspected degradation around Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
The effect has been blamed for the reduction of fish catch at the lake with the remaining fish population fleeing from the surface and existing at deeper levels where traditional fishing equipment could not reach.
Lake Jipe is considered more secure because the large part of the marine resource falls in Tsavo West National Park under Kenya Wildlife Service. The Northern edge of the lake falls in Mkomazi Game Reserve in Tanzania.