June 14, 2024

New Hope For Tuna Fisheries As Government Invests in Value Addition

Tuna Fish (Photo/ Courtesy)

By Mazera Ndurya 

Email, thecoastnewspapaer@gmail.com

Poor fishing gear, lack of stable market, huge post-harvest losses and inadequate data flow have over the years been the major factors affecting tuna fisheries along the Kenyan coast.

The same can be said of most of marine fisheries that remain underexploited with some experts saying it is due to illegal fishing resultant of weak enforcement laws; lack of fishing control mechanisms; and outdated legal/policy frameworks.

Another big challenge in tuna fisheries and other fish stocks in Kenya, according to experts, is lack of accurate data on what the local and international fishermen catch within her waters.

But after many years of uncertainty in the production and marketing of tuna in Kenya’s coastline, a glimmer of hope is now evident with the government intervention to address the challenge through value addition.

Ministry of Mining, Blue Economy  and Maritime Affairs’ department of fisheries assistant director Collins Kembu Ndoro says tuna fisheries is yet to be robust because of the small-scale fishing community approach.

Optimistic he is about the future of the industry with the ongoing  rehabilitation of the Tuna Fish Processing Plant at Liwatoni within the Port of Mombasa, that will be a game changer to not only open the sector, but also provide the lacking market and value addition to the industry.

With a capacity to handle 1,000 metric tons, the plant will benefit many of the small-scale fishermen and related blue economy stakeholders who will have a place to make direct deliveries without falling prey to unscrupulous brokers or middlemen.

“There are so many benefits once this factory becomes fully operational especially for the small-scale fishermen. We will be receiving fish from the fishers and that is why we have introduced the fresh and frozen units with a capacity of 50 metric tons. In fact, in our master plan, we are planning to have our own trucks that will be going to buy fish from the fishermen directly, thus, cutting costs of transportation as well as locking out middlemen,” said an official from the factory who requested anonymity.

Once complete, the plant will be the main fish handling facility at the Kenyan coast region with all fishing vessels operating in Kenya’s territorial waters required to land their catch at the facility.

Said Mote Athman, the chairman of the Ngomeni Beach Management Unit (BMU) in Kilifi County says a lot of fish goes to waste due to inadequacy of storage facilities and capacity for value addition.

Speaking while taking round a team of delegates from Tanzania, Madagascar, Mozambique and Kenya under the sponsorship of the South Western Indian Ocean Tuna Forum (SWIOTUNA) for benchmarking, the chairman said Ngomeni had become a hub for tuna fishing in the region.

“When the tuna season is high, you will see fishermen from Pemba with big fishing vessels.

But even with this, the potential is still very huge and needs equipment and new techniques to harness it.”

Cognizant of the local fishermen’s efforts to improve their lot, trade and incomes, the national government is putting up a Ksh80 million facility that will house a cold storage, filleting, ice making and packaging infrastructure.

Through this nearing completion project, the Ngomeni fishing community will soon be able to complete the entire value chain of their catch and therefore, be able to earn more from their catch instead of earning peanuts from selling their raw fish at throwaway prices.

The cold storage facility being put up has the capacity to hold 70 tons of fish. It also has an ice making plant with a capacity of 20,000 litres as well as processing facility that does filleting to complete the value chain for the catch.

Edward Kimakwa, a blue economy expert says: “Our future as it is now is not very good and that’s why we are talking about the blue economy. I am sure the development you are getting here at Ngomeni is because you are contributing to sustainable fishing and that’s why the government and even non-governmental organizations are giving you priority for investment.”

He said this while leading a team of fishermen and civil society officials from Madagascar, Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya on a tour of fisheries facilities and conservation sites as part of the Blue Future project.

Doreen Simiyu, SWIOTUNA executive director says the facility at Ngomeni is a milestone and a major boost to the tuna fisheries and other fish stocks in the region.

“It’s not easy to go to many landing sites and get this kind of facilities. The fact that you have a fish market, ice-making and filleting facility will go a long way in addressing post-harvest losses,” she said.

Another good news for the fishing industry at the Coast is the construction of the multi-billion fishing port at Shimoni in Kwale County.

The project is part of government plans to maximize benefits from the Kenya’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the Indian Ocean, which remain untapped and unexploited of its marine resources.

The development of the industrial fishing port project started in April, 2023.

The multi-purpose berth is part of the wider Ksh20 billion Shimoni Fishing Port that will also incorporate fish and conventional cargo handling, cold storage facilities, reefer stations and processing plants for value addition.

Those in the fishing industry both locally and internationally are in agreement that Tuna is expensive and ‘goldmine’ because of its good quality meat apart from being the best among all fish species.

During the high season, fishermen land tens of tons of its catch without storage capacities, processing  or marketing facilities at their disposal.

According to fishermen in Lamu, they are landing 50 tons of tuna daily during the high season but like in most other areas there is nowhere to sell except the local markets which are already saturated with other fish varieties.

For many years the fishermen in Lamu have sold their catch directly to Chinese dealers in Mombasa who later sell to exporters and make exorbitant profits compared to the fishermen.

However, Farid Hussein, a fisherman in Lamu, says the Covid-19 pandemic brought with it devastating effect on the fishing industry especially the tuna fish where the biggest market remains the Chinese.

The fish dealers who used to buy in large quantities for the Chinese market could no longer export fish due to regulations set to contain the spread of the virus.

Like the other fishermen along the Kenyan coast where fishing is the economic mainstay, they are all looking forward to the reopening of lobster and tuna market in China.

One of the reasons for over-dependence on the foreign market is that Kenya’s tuna supply chain is largely underdeveloped, with production being done by rudimentary artisanal vessels not capable of going beyond 20 nautical miles.

The country does not have a commercial tuna fishing fleet and lacks even a single vessel capable of exploiting its EEZ.

The Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KEMFRI) scientists say tuna and tuna-like species play a vital role to the food security and livelihoods of coastal communities in the Western Indian Ocean (WIO).

According to marine scientists, the tuna fishery in the WIO region is becoming increasingly important as coastal nations endeavor to expand small-scale fishing fleets into offshore ranges as a blue economy development strategy.

This is more so because small-scale tuna fisheries produce the bulk of fresh tuna that is supplied to local markets demonstrating their importance in supporting food security and local livelihoods.

Hadley Becha, the Community Action for Nature Conservation (CANCO) executive director says the poor state of tuna fishery is a result of many factors.

“The majority of those fishing are small scale fishers fishing near shore because of poor equipment – vessels and gears which rarely go beyond 3 nautical miles. Meaning we are unable to exploit to the maximum both the territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).”

The commercial fishers using foreign registered vessels fishing in Kenya’s waters most of the time do not land their fish in the country and the data of the fish caught is not known to Kenyan authorities.

The data at hand is only for the countries whose vessels are registered and Kenya to date is not a flag nation. Therefore, it is losing the data of fish due to this issue (of flag).

Becha says there are several types of tuna but not all tuna species are over fished adding: “Overfishing is done by foreign nation’s vessels in our waters that we have no capacity to control, monitor and do surveillance.”

Furthermore, these vessels do transshipment at sea and untill the time when Kenya will have the capacity to control the entire territorial waters’ EEZ area, the problem will persist. 


The South West Indian Ocean Tuna Forum, (SWIOTUNA) is a regional marine-related network registered in Kenya as an international public benefit organization with its membership consisting of civil society organizations (CSOs), community fisheries collective action units such as beach management units (BMUs) and private sector from the coastal nations and island states of Madagascar, Seychelles, Mauritius, Comoros, Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya.

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