A row has erupted between fishermen in Kipini area of Tana River County and an Italian investor whose fishing vessel is accused of causing the death of two dolphins and a sea turtle recently.
While the Kenyan fishermen have accused illegal trawlers of destroying marine life and fishing gear along the shores of Kipini, the investor, Basta Alessandro, denied claims he had broken any Kenyan laws.
Alessandro’s vessel, MV Roberto, was impounded for allegedly doing illegal fishing in the shallow waters. Very small fish, including the endangered guitarfish, were found inside the ship, leading to the arrest of the captain and some crew members.
Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) officials and members of the Kipini Beach Management Unit (BMU) found the three decomposing sea creatures as they patrolled the Kipini beaches.
Dolphins are highly intelligent marine mammals and are part of the family of toothed whales found worldwide, mostly in shallow seas while sea turtles are water-inhabiting reptiles that glide through the coastal and deep-water regions of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans.
They are highly valued by conservationists, and that is why members of the community in Kipini have urged the government to ban trawling activities within Kenyan waters to save the endangered marine species as well as secure the livelihoods of the local fisher folk.
Fishermen in both Kipini and Malindi have also attributed the current acute shortage of fish along the Coast region to illegal fishing activities.
Awadh Mbarak Hassan a member of Kipini Beach Management Unit and environmentalist said they found the dolphins at Shekiko area but could not carry them because they had completely decomposed.
Hassan said KWS and BMU officials had patrolled Ras ya Mwana area where trawlers had been spotted doing fishing at Sadani fishing grounds where many turtles were found floating in the water but they only managed to get one that had been pushed to the shores of the Indian ocean.
Trawler fishermen are only interested in prawns, but they have been accused of wittingly or unwittingly catching other creatures, which they dump into the sea because they have no use for them.
Hassan said the law permits trawler fishing to be carried out five nautical miles and beyond, but lamented that many trawler vessels were fishing the prawns as close as two nautical miles from the shores.
The Secretary to the Kipini BMU, Mr Twaha Muhdhar Mohamed said the trawler vessels were carrying out prawn fishing activities during the night despite the local fishermen urging them to fish during the day to avoid destroying other creatures.
He said the local fishermen had no faith with the Prawn Fishing Management Committee, claiming officials had been compromised by trawler owners to look the other way as marine life was getting endangered.
“We urge the government to ban trawlers from fishing in the Indian Ocean or force them to fish in the deep sea only,” he said.
But on Thursday last week, Mr Alessandro dismissed claims that he was flouting Kenyan fisheries laws, saying had been properly licensed to carry out prawn fishing activities along the Kenyan coast.
He told journalists in Malindi that his company, Itika limited, owns two ships that carry out fishing activities within the Kenyan side of the Indian Ocean.
He claimed that those behind the arrest of his vessel’s crew members were people seeking attention and getting funding from international conservation and wildlife organisations.
“This is just a ploy to get funding from organizations in America and Germany among other international donors, but the truth is we are very keen on conservation,’’ he said. He said his arrested staff had done nothing wrong and expressed confidence that they would be vindicated.
He claimed that he had incurred losses amounting to over Sh 40 million since the vessel was impounded a week ago and threatened to take legal action against those responsible.
By Emmanuel Masha