Home OPINIONS Who is in charge of policing the blue economy?

Who is in charge of policing the blue economy?

Kenya, Tanzania and Somalia coastlines are listed in maritime circles as the most violated by IUU fishing.


As Kenya is grappling with the impact of heavy rains that have likely affected food security, another issue little known away from the coastline still persists unchecked.

The impacts of continued illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing activities have contributed to food insecurity and a loss of revenue for many low-income and least-developed countries as they affect existing human development and counteract efforts to improve livelihoods.

Data by Environmental Justice (EJF) reveals that vessels from rich nations in the Far East were linked to 86 unique cases (relating to 177 suspected or confirmed offences) of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing or human rights abuses within the South West Indian Ocean (SWIO) region between 2017 and 2023.

Kenya, Tanzania and Somalia coastlines are listed in maritime circles as the most violated by IUU fishing.

Half of the IUU cases involve vessels owned or controlled by state-owned enterprises or enterprises in which several Far East governments have partial interest. Of the 95 long liners currently believed to be authorised to target tuna in the South West Indian Ocean (SWIO), 47 percent are linked to cases of IUU fishing and/or human rights abuses.

For the 39 non-tuna fishing vessels currently believed to be authorised in the SWIO, the figure is 26 percent. Therefore, it has been the consensus of many experts that drastically reducing the ability for IUU fishing activities to persist is a key component of poverty reduction and an effort to achieve food security in the world’s most vulnerable coastal regions.

Data by Automatic Identification System (AIS) indicates that potential annual economic values associated with IUU fishing in both Kenya and Tanzania stand at $10,963 and $31,321 respectively. Some nations in the SWIO suffer potentially higher losses due to IUU fishing, such as Tanzania which represents roughly 45.8 percent of total losses in resource potential (around US$65.4 million). The greater losses to Tanzania are likely due to the higher export value of species from the area, as well as a high level of suspected unreported catch.

In Kenya, there are only 7 industrial longliners mainly targeting swordfishes within the economic Export Zone of Kenya catching about 300 metric tonnes per annum despite the huge potential.

The tuna catch limit allocation for Kenya is less because we are catching less compared to Island states such as Seychelles and Mauritius as we have a small tuna fleet mainly dominated by artisanal fishing vessels that rarely submit substantive data on their catches.

The private sector is essential in supporting the development of a blue economy in Kenya, however, the government has a huge role to play in creating enabling policies and strategies.

Chairman, South West Indian Ocean Tuna forum, Hadley Becha, breaks down the shortcomings of  the policing process in the two most affected East African nations, Kenya and Tanzania:

“When it comes to matters of policing of the blue economy, there are policymakers who are tasked with outing this matter in Parliament. Members of Parliament in relevant departmental committees have enough leeway to cause policy enforcement and call for stricter laws. between Kenya and Tanzania, there is a little difference. In Kenya, we have the Senate and National Assembly but in Tanzania it is one House” he says.

“One challenge with Tanzania is that the ruling party has high control of government and political individuals have their ways of running things and this involves creating new policies to implement. In both countries, the technical team formed from different departments in charge of fisheries will provide the content for the policy while politicians are only approvers. The state department for Fisheries, Aquaculture and the Blue Economy formulate and take it to the government so it can go to Parliament for deliberation. Sometimes the department can reach out to agencies to put in their technical information,” he adds.

The office of the Attorney General also is supposed to look at the draft for verifications in line with the law before it is sent to Parliament. Public participation plays a huge role, after getting the public input it is taken back to parliament for another reading. If they are content it is put into a motion so it can be approved.

“Because in Kenya we have two levels of parliament both senate and national assembly both have to approve these bills because they will affect county resources in terms of governance,” adds Mr Becha.

As it stands though, Kenya does not have a policy in the Blue Economy yet. A senior stakeholder in the industry, (anonymously) shares that every time he follows up, he has been told it’s in the final stage.

“It is in the final stages. It will then become a public document. But at the moment you can’t find it. There was a draft created in 2022, and since then, there have been gaps that need to be addressed it can’t go the way it is.  If you ask you are told that it is in its final stages. Every time I try to ask. The whole procedure might take time. It is a government document so when they say something will take one month, it can take up to a year. There were complaints from different departments that the drafts wasn’t very inclusive of the other department but mostly biasing towards fisheries,” he shares.

It is noteworthy that fisheries management in the region has traditionally been at national level, with little integration across the region. The sustainable management and utilization of blue economy resources should incorporate the provisions of several regional, and international fisheries frameworks including those of the; Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC), Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), Southwest Indian Fisheries Commission MTCs guidelines, and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (the Port State Measures Agreement, and the International Plan of Action on deterring IUU fishing), as well as the UN Sustainable Development agenda 2030.

The government hasn’t operationalized the Oceans and fisheries policy, the National Plan of Action- IUU fishing, the national blue economy strategy, as well as reviewing the national tuna fisheries management and development strategy.

In recent years, there has been increasing activity from artisanal and small-scale fishers. This expansion has caused conflicts with the trawl sector, which are exacerbated by the trawlers’ high levels of bycatch discarding, where some of those species form part of artisanal fisheries’ targeted catches.

In addition to high bycatch, the declining status of shrimp, and prawn amongst other stocks is of great concern, as these species are low in the food chain and directly impact the health of other species, including those of commercial importance such as tuna.


The writer is a communications consultant on Blue Economy

Joe Kimondo
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