Authorities at the County Government of Nakuru have expressed concern over new cases of illegal fishing in Lake Naivasha which have risen to worrying levels in the past one month.
The Livestock and Fisheries Chief Officer, Dr. Enos Amuyunzu, said fish poaching at the fresh water body was threatening stocks and hampering the devolved unit’s efforts to boost commercial fishing at the water body.
The poachers who are taking advantage of restricted movements at night following measures rolled out by the State to combat spread of Covid-19 disease, have been using illegal fishing gear which trapes immature fish, their eggs and fingerlings.
Dr. Amuyunzu said the County had intensified monitoring, control and surveillance activities in Lake Naivasha, adding that in the past year 48,542 illegal fishing gears had been confiscated from poachers.
“We have increased the County patrol boats at all fish landing beaches to crackdown on illegal fishermen. Improper fishing practices have led to destruction of fish breeding.
The County Administration has embarked on community sensitization programmes on the use of proper fishing gear and the importance of abandoning the use of banned fishing gears and methods to reduce pressure on the Lake”, stated the Chief Officer.
The County Executive Committee (CEC) Member for Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Dr Immaculate Maina, stated that the Devolved Unit had restocked Lake Naivasha with tilapia and catfish fingerlings, to curb depletion of the fish species from the water body.
The exercise that cost Sh. 4 million saw the lake restocked with 15,000 tilapia and 11,000 catfish fingerlings.
“We have also introduced closed fishing seasons and enforced stringent regulations on appropriate fishing equipment as a way of managing fish populations. The county has started training programmes for communities living around Lake Naivasha on sustainable fishing methods” said Dr. Maina.
Figures from the County Government indicate Lake Naivasha provides a direct source of income to more than 10,000 people, despite the competition they face from illegal fishermen.
Beach seining, mono filament and use of undersized nets are the most common illegal methods of capturing fish.
Beach seining involves tying a fishing net to two ends, few metres into the lake and then pulling it towards the shorelines.When using the mono filament method, invisible plastic nets are cast in the water.
Dr. Amuyunzu said the county was working with the Beach Management Units to ensure that the lake is properly managed to avoid depletion of stock as well as curb overfishing.
“The County has been making efforts to boost stocks in the lake, but unlicensed fishermen are a threat,” Dr. Amunyunzu said.
According to Section 43 (4) of the Fisheries Act, it is illegal to use nets of less than 127mm (hole size) when diagonally straight. It, however, sets a special size of not less than 10mm for omena fishing. The law also prohibits fishing 2km towards the shores”, explained the Chief Officer.
The Chairman to Lake Naivasha Boat Owners Association, David Kilo said illegal fishing was threatening incomes and source of food for more than 10,000 families that depend on the water body for fish.
“We are witnessing widespread uncontrolled fishing and destruction of breeding grounds by unlicensed fishermen. The County Administration must urgently put in place night patrols and deploy well equipped and trained enforcement officers to crack down on culprits.
Most of illegal fishermen are former employees of horticultural firms that have either closed shop or scaled down operations due to dwindling export markets. It is difficult to confront these poachers as they are usually armed with weapons” explained Mr Kilo.
Environmentalists have raised the red flag that poaching activities exert new challenges on the water body that is already reeling from pollution and invasion of alien plant and animal species that have adversely affected the fishing industry.
Huge sections of the water body have been covered by the water hyacinth dealing a severe blow to both the fishing and tourism industry.
As Fishermen and tour operators raise hue and cry over the rapid spread of the weed, most sections of the lake continue to be rendered inaccessible due to thickness and vast coverage of the noxious invasive weed.
In its report titled ‘The Ecosystem Health Scorecard for Lake Naivasha’ the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has singled out nutrient loading as the greatest form of pollution threatening to the water body’s existence.
Nutrient pollution is the process where too many nutrients, mainly nitrogen and phosphorus, are added to bodies of water and can act like fertilizer, causing excessive growth of algae.
“What is happening at Lake Naivasha is also known as eutrophication. Excessive accumulation of nutrients has promoted algae growth leading to low levels of oxygen dissolved in the water. Severe algae growth is further blocking light that is necessary for marine plant life” warns the report.
It continues. “When the algae and marine life die, they decay. In the process of decay, the oxygen in the water is used up and this leads to low levels of dissolved oxygen in the water. This, in turn, can kill fish, crabs, oysters, and other aquatic animals”.
The UN Environment nutrient pollution expert, Christopher Cox, notes in the Report that prevalence of nutrient pollution was caused largely by the overuse of fertilizers on farms, livestock runoff and untreated human wastewater releases.
“Nutrient pollution was identified among the most pressing pollution issues for Lake Naivasha. Smart agricultural practices and improved wastewater treatment can help solve this threat,” stated Mr Cox.
The lake is also battling siltation, pollution and degradation of the catchment area.
By Anne Mwale