Policy Background

In 2005, the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries Development released the draft Kenya Fisheries Policy. This document reported that fresh water fishing accounted for almost 96% of Kenya’s total fish production, with Indian Ocean Fishing making up the remaining 4%. The principal fishing area was Lake Victoria, notwithstanding the fact that the country’s share of the lake surface area is only 6% or 4,300 km2.

With a 640-kilometre-long coastline and an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) that extends 200 nautical miles into the Indian Ocean, the policy recognised the growth potential of Kenya’s marine fishing. It estimated the total production capacity of Kenya’s marine fisheries sector at 150,000 metric tonnes, which is the same as the total amount of fish produced in the year under review. Kenya has the richest tuna belt in the South West Indian Ocean, but its marine fishing sector is characterised by overfishing in nearshore areas and limited exploration of the wider EEZ. The document pointed to limited marine fishing gear and craft as a major obstacle to unlocking the potential value of EEZ fishing and associated value-adding activities.

The document set out national fisheries policy implementation matrix which seeks to engage the different actors in the sector to the actualization of the above objectives. It also raised a major economic concern: we are not actualising the full potential of our ocean. The estimated 150,000 tonnes of fish caught in 2004 had a producer value of KES 8 billion which could have been more than doubled by marine fishing. By 2012, the reported deficiency grew to KES 13 billion, which is almost 19 times the amount generated that year. Our inadequacy to actualise closer to our fishing potential could be equated to theft from our own pockets.

The overall objective of the policy was to create “an enabling environment for a vibrant fishing industry based on sustainable resource exploitation providing optimal and sustainable benefits, alleviating poverty, and creating wealth, taking into consideration gender equality.” The policy framework entailed ten broad policies that focused on management and regulation, sustainable funding, sustainable resource exploitation, infrastructure, regional and international cooperation, and the promotion of quality, consumption, trade and investment.

The 2005 draft policy was not adopted as consultations and amendments led to the development of the 2008 National Oceans and Fisheries Policy in its stead. This document estimated annual fish production at 150,000 tonnes with the fisheries sector contributing 0.5% to the national GDP and supporting the livelihoods of 2.3 million Kenyans. The 2008 policy also noted the perennial issue of nearshore overfishing and underutilised EEZ fishing, adding that most of fishing in Kenya’s EEZ is done by Distant Water Fishing Nations (DWFN).

The policy identified the overreliance on inland fishing, particularly Lake Victoria, as an area for improvement. Many inland sources were overfished while marine fishing and aquaculture remained underdeveloped. This illustrated the need for natural resource management policy directives that inspire a more sustainable distribution of fishing activity in Kenya. The policy stated the government’s commitment to improving Kenya’s fisheries by encouraging investment and providing the appropriate legal and institutional frameworks. It invoked the participation of the private sector and international organisations in the pursuit of its objectives.

Data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) 2013 Statistical Abstract revealed marginal performance improvements in Kenya’s marine fishing sector. According to the data, fishing in Kenya’s coastal counties accounted for 6% of the tonnage of fish landed in 2012 at 8,676 tonnes, compared to the over 146,000 tonnes of total landed fish. Fish caught in Lake Victoria alone made up 73% of the tonnage and 67% of the value in Kenya’s fishing industry.

The period between 2008 and 2016 saw considerable changes to the regulatory and institutional framework of Kenya’s fishery sector. These changes were aimed at improving the efficiency of both monitoring and administration in the sector.

The Dividends of Successful Policies and Regulatory Improvements

The 2016 Fisheries Annual Statistics Bulletin states that, in 2014 and 2015, the State Department of Fisheries and Blue Economy introduced new methodologies for the collection of catch data and estimation of fish landings. It attributes this change as one of the key explanations for the sudden jump in the reported tonnage for fish captured by artisanal marine fishermen. The extent to which this increased diversification of Kenya’s fish production is attributable to industry improvements as opposed to improved data collection is difficult to tell. In any case, it illustrates the importance of data to successful policies as a means to accurately identify problem areas and assess impact.

Marine Fisheries Performance 2012-2016. Source: Fisheries Annual Statistics Bulletin 2016

The Bulletin also showed that total fish production reached 148,000 tonnes that year, which is comparable to the volumes produced in 2005, 2008, and 2012. Marine fishing, however, grew to account for 17% of fish landed in 2016. Octopus and marine shell exports were among the main fish products exported that year. Aquaculture, boosted by the nationwide fish farming campaign under the national Economic Stimulus Programme, grew to contribute 10% of the tonnage of fish landed.

Under the aquaculture programme, farmers provided land and the government aided them by constructing 48,000 fishponds between 2009 and 2013, providing subsidised inputs, and constructing four fish processing facilities in Kakamega, Meru, Migori, and Nyeri. In 2013, devolution transferred fish farming from the national government docket to the county governments. Some counties abandoned the programme and chose to invest in other areas, leading to a decline in aquaculture fish production from a high of over 24,000 tonnes in 2014 to less than 12,500 tonnes in 2017.

For marine fishing, there was a reported increase in the value produced due to an increase in deep-water activities. The Bulletin reported that there was only one Kenyan vessel carrying out industrial marine fishing (long lining) in Kenya’s EEZ, reigning in roughly KES 75 million in fish. Improved oversight by the State Department of Fisheries however increased the number of legal DWFN fishing in Kenya’s EEZ. These legal activities provide useful data on Kenya’s unexplored EEZ fishing zones, create opportunities for value addition, and generate revenue through access fees. The Department still needs to improve its monitoring, control and surveillance capacity as it is possible that some foreign vessels continue to fish in Kenya’s EEZ illegally.

Lessons for Future Policy Interventions

Developing Kenya’s fisheries sector has been a long-standing goal of the government. Successful initiatives have had positive effects on job creation, the sector’s contribution to the national GDP, and have decreased overreliance on Lake Victoria fish. These social, economic, and ecological benefits—when properly captured by data—help assess the value of interventions and identify new challenges and opportunities. Marine fishing has the greatest potential for growth seeing as it has been chronically underdeveloped in Kenya yet it could potentially double Kenya’s annual fish production.

The solution is, however, not as simple as the problem presents itself. The data shows that we simply do not have the capacity to catch or process so much fish. The fishing sector is majorly artisanal which, in itself, is not bad for the majority small-scale fishermen, but certainly bodes poorly for large-scale commercial fishing. It also poses an ecological challenge as most of Kenya’s fishermen compete over rapidly depleting inland and nearshore fishing sites while the EEZ is mostly exploited by foreign fishermen. Marine fishing is stymied by inadequate cold storage and transportation facilities that can allow small boats to venture further out to see. The sector is also rife with middlemen driving up the price of fish and discouraging small-scale fishermen from fishing more than they can sell on their own.

Measures have been taken to address these systemic challenges, such as introducing Beach Management Units (BMUs). The BMU framework has however failed to realise its expectations due to technological challenges and poor management. Other initiatives, such as encouraging aquaculture under the economic stimulus programme, have run down due to a lack of prioritisation. A general lack of data and, as revealed by the Bulletin, improper data collection and reporting, frustrate the process of developing solutions and monitoring improvement.

As Sera Afrika we seek to Grow Africa’s Blue Economy, stating with the transformation of Kenya’s fisheries sector through data driven policy that is accurate, verifiable and is able to give actual concrete results and meet their objectives. Kenya has seen some good fisheries policies, but inadequate implementation and a lack of follow through means that little actual development has happened. The lack of data is a confounding factor as it is difficult to identify and act on priority areas without an accurate picture of the situation on the ground. A vital amendment to Kenya’s fisheries policy, then, should be the implementation of effective data collection and processing methodologies.

Sera is carrying out pilot projects to test technologies that improve data collection and provide accurate and timely fish landing reports. We are also working with BMUs to improve their capacity and operations. Through partnerships with major players in the industry, we are able to have data collection, data analysis and can propose solutions of which when implemented is able to be tracked and monitored to see the effect in the market.