Legislation is underway to facilitate Kenyan fishers catch at least 300,000 metric tons of fish worth Sh100 billion annually.
The Draft Marine Fisheries Access Regulation 2021 has been hailed as a game changer in breaking barriers that have inhibited the country from fully exploiting its 200 nautical miles Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Head of the Oceans and Blue Economy Office in the Executive Office of the President General (Rtd) Samson Mwathethe said if fully exploited, the EEZ has the potential of creating more than 60,000 direct jobs for Kenyans.
Briefing the Senate Committee on Delegated Legislation on the draft bill at the Whitesands Hotel, Mombasa, General Mwathethe said currently Kenya is only able to realize 5.6 percent of economic benefits from marine fisheries.
Mwathethe outlined challenges that have hindered the country from exploiting fully the abundant resources within the blue economy but which he said will be addressed through the proposed regulations.
He told the committee that the country lacks a regulatory framework that encourages long-term investment in marine fishing and on-shore processing, with sufficient time for investors to realize return on investment.
Mwathethe further added that the draft marine fisheries access regulation 2021 will address gaps including illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and trans-shipment of stock outside the country.
“To enhance earnings, industrial and other fishers in our EEZ must pay reasonably for the value of their catch. We must economically empower our 16,500 artisanal fishers to go fishing beyond our territorial waters in the EEZ. We must proactively and sustainably support our artisanal fishers through a creation of a revolving fund for their economic empowerment,” Gen Mwathethe added.
Fisheries, Aquaculture and The Blue Economy Principal Secretary, Dr Francis Owino, who was represented by the Secretary Administration Kassi Farah noted that the Regulation will operationalise the Fishing Management and Development Act 2016.
Dr Owino noted that the passage of the Regulation will empower the country to sustainable exploit food from the sea through controlled access.
“Regulations once accepted and approved will enable the country have a framework for giving the resource users access to fishing as envisaged in the Act and also give clarity on joint ventures between foreign investors and Kenyans at international, national or written agreements on fisheries access,” Dr Owino said.
Mwathethe further said it is the duty of the National Government to protect the livelihoods of the fishers and empower them to choose who qualified to be registered as an artisanal fisher within their Beach Management Units (BMUs).
Oceans and Blue Economy Office boss told the Senate Committee that the draft regulation will also address some of the current challenges Kenyan fishermen are facing and loopholes foreign fishing vessels use to exploit the country’s rich marine resources.
“By whatever name or means, this framework must quantify what every person, at every level, including artisanal and subsistence fishers, gets out of the natural resources, how they get it and what they pay for it, for the development of our fishers, and ultimately the benefit of the country,” Mwathethe noted.
He said the proposed laws will strengthen and protect the rights of local artisanal fishers from bottlenecks that would prevent them from accessing marine resources.
Mwathethe told the Senate Committee that the enactment and implementation of the Marine Fisheries and Access Regulations 2021 will unlock the country’s ocean rich fisheries resources to all Kenyans.
The Committee Chaired by Mombasa, Senator Mohammed Faki, told Mwathethe’s lead team that they will pass the regulations if necessary constitutional requirements are met.
Committee Vice-Chair, Agnes Muthama, members Samuel Pogisho and Farhiya Ali Haji reiterated the sentiments adding that the interest of fishers and the country should be paramount in formulation of the draft regulations.
The Senators told the Ocean and Blue Economy Office team that the regulation should provide a necessary legal framework that will stop or deter importation of fish into the country.
Mwathethe and his technical team told the committee that their views will be reflected in the draft regulation soon to be subjected to public participation in the five neighbouring Coastal counties of Mombasa, Kilifi, Kwale, Tana River and Lamu.
The team stated they have already met with Coast MPs and the National Assembly and would soon engage key players including Beach Management Units and sailors to air their views.
By Galgalo Bocha