Taita Taveta is vying for a seat at the table of fish-producing counties in Kenya if plans to bolster the fishing industry led by the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) are anything to go by.
Endowed with two freshwater lakes Chala and Jipe at the border with neighbouring Tanzania, the County has been sleeping on a fortune that could transform its economic status and improve the living conditions of thousands.
“We agree that the County has a massive potential to become a fishing and aqua-tourism destination, but we’ve lagged in making it a reality. It is time to explore this nature-given opportunity not only for the betterment of livelihoods but also to contribute to food security and the national development basket,” said Davis Mwangoma, CECM in charge of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries, and Irrigation.
Mwangoma was speaking during an exercise to issue approved fishing nets and motor-powered fishing boats to the beach management units from both Lake Chala and Lake Jipe.
According to KMFRI’s Kisumu-based scientist Dr. Chrispine Nyamweya, both Lakes Chala and Jipe have a limitless potential to supply the county with enough fish with surplus going to other areas of the country as well as being exported overseas.
“It’s not a debate about the potential of Lake Chala and Lake Jipe. They can become a source for the local fish market as well as a supply source to other regions in the country as well as the export market,” said Dr. Nyamweya.
However, the potential has been hampered by overfishing, illegal fishing, and lack of modern fishing equipment; challenges that the national government in collaboration with the county government has collaborated to address.
“Of course, everyone sees the fishing potential of the two lakes but often overlooks the challenges ahead of us. As local fishermen, we are faced with the problems of overfishing, illegal fishing, and lack of proper fishing equipment. Without these being solved, it will only remain a pipe dream,” said Robert Shuma, a local fisherman at Lake Jipe.
With proper fishing regulations that ascribe to international standards, Lake Jipe and Lake Chala could produce at least 1.2 tonnes of fish annually and ease the overreliance on fish sourced outside the county.
Such a realization will go a long way to creating a source of livelihood, over 200 direct job opportunities for the locals, as well as contribute to regional and national economic growth.
On its part, the national government abides by Chapter 378 of the Fisheries Act which tasks the government to provide extension and training services, carry out empirical studies, promote cooperation among fishermen, coordinate the marketing of fish, invest in fishing infrastructure, and restock fish, among others.
“The government has in place policies to guide the fishing sector at all levels. What is lacking is the commitment from local players to abide by such policies for the good of all. We need all stakeholders to come together and chart the way forward to do business and uplift the locals from poverty,” said Juma Seva, the chairperson of Lake Jipe Beach Management Unity.
With the government keen on ensuring food security and the growth of local manufacturing, small-scale fishing is in the crosshairs to be part of an economic strategy to defeat abject poverty and set Kenya on a path of industrialization.
By Arnold Linga Masila