KENYA: Vanishing fish income forces livelihood switch/correction*
Overpopulation and overfishing have forced fishing communities to look elsewhere for their income (file photo)
KISUMU, 11 June 2012 (IRIN) - Joseph Obiero, a 35-year-old father of seven, has been a fisherman on Lake Victoria since he was a teenager, but a decline in earnings in recent years means his family can no longer depend solely on fishing.
"When I was a boy helping my father in the lake, he could get five baskets full of fish in a night; now I struggle to get even one basket. I get very little money from fishing these days - there is no fish," he told IRIN.
"These days… I go to Kisumu town [the largest town in western Kenya's Nyanza Province] where I use my 'tuk tuk' [three-wheeled motorcycle taxi] to ferry people for money. If I don’t do that, I can't even take my children to school… I used to save money in the bank, but now it is not easy to feed or clothe my family. It is a struggle to make ends meet," he said.
When the fishermen return with boats almost empty after a night of fishing on the lake, fish trader Anastasia Magero has to supplement her income by selling vegetables.
"Selling vegetables doesn't bring enough money. I used stay at the nearby market centre where I used to pay rent, but I can't do that anymore - I have to walk to the beach from my rural home," she said. "With reduction in fish, I am getting to know what poverty means."
An estimated 65,000 people have already lost some income due to reduced earnings from fishing, and another 100,000 could be affected in the next two years, according to Nyanza's provincial planning office.
The Ministry of Fisheries Development says the fisheries sector supports about 80,000 people directly and about 800,000 indirectly. An estimated 60 percent of households in western Kenya rely on fish for food and as a source of income.
"Our statistics show that many people who used to sell their goods to fishermen can't do so because they have quickly lost their purchasing power... As fishermen lose jobs, others who depend on them to buy their stuff also do the same," Dickson Mutwi, senior planning officer in Nyanza, told IRIN.
Lake under pressure
Experts say rising population and overfishing are deepening poverty for millions of residents around Lake Victoria, the world's second largest fresh water lake. "Population explosion around the lake means many people turn to the lake and also destroy the environment around it, and in just a matter of years these people will experience poverty and hunger on a large scale," warned Charles Mboya, a fisheries lecturer at Western Kenya's Maseno University. "International and local demand for fish and its products is on the increase against a backdrop of reducing fish stocks, which might lead to a vicious struggle for it. We might witness fish wars soon," he said.
The ministry notes that cross-border fish and trade conflict is one of the industry's challenges; an estimated 3.5 million people depend on the lake for their livelihood, either directly or indirectly in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, the three countries that share the lake (Kenya’s share of the shoreline is 6 percent).
In 2009 a diplomatic row broke out between Kenya and Uganda over fishing rights on the tiny disputed island of Migingo, which is near a rich breeding ground for Nile perch.
In addition to overfishing, the effects of climate change - including prolonged droughts and increased lake salinity - are also contributing to the reduction in fish stocks.
"The biggest threat to Lake Victoria is the unsustainable use of its waters and the resources in it; excessive fishing devoid of any measures to replenish what is being used has seen fish diminish very fast, and particularly Nile perch," said Mboya.
Support for fish farming
"It is important to have alternative ways to ensure that not all our fish resources come from the lakes, and for that reason the government is promoting fish farming as an alternative sources of food and income," said Okumu Makogola, an official at the Fisheries Ministry.
The government has started a number of measures to boost fish production and provide employment to fishing communities; to date, 48,000 fish ponds have been constructed in160 constituencies across the country, creating 120,000 jobs, according to government officials.
At Dunga Fishermen Cooperative Society in Kisumu, local fishermen working on an International Labour Organization project are breeding thousands of fish which they later release into the lake. The cooperative is also discouraging fishermen from using nets that trawl smaller fish and deplete species.
"Through aquaculture, we have cages where we raise fish inside the lake, where they breed. Today we have some 20 cages each carrying 2,000 fish. We will breed more, and we will spread this initiative to other 285 fish landing beaches," said Maurice Ochieng, head of the cooperative.
The cooperative is also discouraging fishermen from using nets that trawl smaller fish and deplete species. "The use of chemicals to catch fish is also increasing but we have started to help the police arrest such people," said Ochieng.
*This article was amended on 13 June to remove comments by a fisheries expert, Paul Obade