Kenya could inject additional Kshs. 90 billion into the economy should the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the Indian Ocean be properly exploited according to blue economy experts.
Scientists from the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KEMFRI) estimate that with proper investments, the country could benefit from 150,000 to 300, 000 metric tons of fish available in the EEZ annually.
However, the small-scale fishing that has been taking place around our fishing zones over the years has largely benefitted foreigners, whose technological advancement has made them benefit more from the stocks than local fishers since they can fish in deeper waters.
Kenyan fisherfolk cannot do deep-sea fishing due to poor tools and lack of technical know-how.
However, KEMFRI Director-General Prof. James Njiru said they are in talks with their Norwegian counterparts through the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) to help them exploit the blue economy.
Njiru said the Norwegians, better known for their expertise in oceanography have the requisite skills and tools to research and exploit the deep seas.
He said KEMFRI was committed to the management of marine and aquatic spaces, resources and the environment to drive a blue economy involving maritime transportation.
“Blue economy involving all those economic activities that take place in the ocean is the new frontier for African renaissance and in Kenya, we hope to tap into the ocean,” he said.
In the meantime, Kenya has a deficit of deep-sea fishers and has largely relied on fishing near the shore, which has depleted stocks at the moment.
Most of the commercial vessels which come to Kenya normally have to import deep-sea fishers from Sierra Leone and other countries across the globe.
“This means jobs are going to other countries yet our young Kenyans can take them up with proper training,” said Prof. Njiru, while addressing the media during a tour of the KEMFRI Gazi station in Kwale County.
To address this, in early 2021 the government initiated a project that will see 1,000 Kenyan fishermen trained on deep-sea fishing annually for five years.
The training at Bandari Maritime Academy is conducted jointly by KEMFRI and Kenya Fisheries Service (KFS).
Already, 500 Kenyan youth have undergone training on deep-sea fishing in the first half of the 2021/2022 fiscal year, with another group of 500 expected to start training at the beginning of the next fiscal year.
The government has also set aside another Kshs. 1 billion for the training of the next batch of 1,000 Kenyan fishermen in the 2022/2023 fiscal year.
At the same time, in order to further ensure that citizens benefit from local deep waters, the government has made it a requirement that for one to get a fishing license in the country, they should pick Kenyan fishermen on board as crew members.
Such deep-sea fishers earn an average of Kshs. 92, 500 monthly, while a fishing trip goes up to six months in the waters.
Additionally, another Kshs. 1 billion has been set aside for stock assessment, which will determine the exact amount, type, species and variety of fishes that exist in the country’s territorial waters.
The last stock assessment was done in 1982 by the Food Agricultural Organization (FAO). “Since then we are not able to know what is in our waters. Right now, through KEMFRI and government support through President Uhuru Kenyatta, we have received about Kshs. 800 million for the hiring of commercial vessels,” said Prof Njiru.
Consequently, the researchers have been able to cover the entire EEZ, about 42% of the 242 square kilometres of entire waters.
“With this concept of what is known, we can then start asking investors to pump resources into our fisheries,” said Njiru who has a wealth of experience in Fisheries Research and Academia.
He said the stock assessment will be able to open up the blue economy in fisheries alone. “We are not talking about value addition yet. This will have a very big ripple effect in terms of the livelihood of Kenyans along the Coast,” added the DG.
Other aspects of the blue economy like bioprospecting have barely been scratched. Bioprospecting is the search for plant and animal species from which medicinal drugs, biochemicals and other commercially valuable materials can be obtained.
He said this is where the partnerships with the Norwegians come in handy as the European country has a highly developed aquaculture industry, from breeding to the harvesting of fish to value addition and marketing.
“We are not capable of doing some of these things so far on our own. The Norwegians are more technologically advanced than us so we need them and other partners on board,” said Njiru.
Other scientists including Dr James Kairu said Kenya has for a long time also been missing out on the fish caught by foreigners in Kenyan waters.
According to the Kenya Fisheries Management and Development Act, 2016, 30% of the fish caught in Kenyan territorial waters have to be landed in Kenya.
However, the lack of landing facilities has meant that Kenya has been losing out on this.
The national government is working to address this by developing the Liwatoni Fishing Complex, the Shimoni Fishing Port and the Lamu port, which will provide adequate landing sites.
Dr Kairu, who is a chief scientist at KEMFRI said 80% of fish in Kenya are from the freshwater bodies, meaning the ocean still remains largely unexploited.
He said with proper management of the ocean and fisheries, Kenya would not over-rely on tourism for GDP.