Tuna supplies for Kenya’s local fishing community are running out

VANGA, Kenya (AP) – “Tuna isn’t for everyone,” lamented 65-year-old Chapoka Miongo, a handline fisherman on Kenya‘s south coast, from his dugout canoe.

He is one of many artisanal fishermen in Shimoni, a bustling coastal town 82 kilometers (51 miles) south of Mombasa dotted with dhows, dugouts, outrigger canoes and skiffs moored at the beach landing pad. Numerous fishmongers, processors and traders line the coast, waiting for the fishermen to return.

“My canoe is only suitable for the nearby coast and only those with the big boats and the money have access to the tuna,” he said. Miongo explained that warming waters due to climate change forced tuna species to change their migration patterns, making it harder for local fishermen to catch them. Fish stocks have also declined due to a lack of sustainable fishing by larger vessels.

The Shimoni Channel, formerly a known tuna habitat, benefits from the north and southeast monsoons, which can result in significant catches, according to Kenya Fisheries Service records.

But the current monsoon has been unkind to Miongo. He can barely fill his bucket: his modest catch of the day includes a motley bunch of angelfish.

Yellowfin tuna in particular, which fetches competitive prices in the market, can feel like a “godsend” for fishermen, explained 60-year-old shrimp fisherman Mazera Mgala.

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After what appeared to be a fruitless five-day hunt that included fishing pads in Gazi Bay, the Shimoni Channel and the Vanga coast for yellowfin tuna, one weighing six and a half kilograms was finally caught by an outrigger canoe fisherman on the Shimoni channel caught.

Miongo and Mgala are among just over 1,500 fishermen who rely on the canal’s rich sea waters. In Miongo’s three decades of fishing, he says, large foreign vessels, more young men choosing artisanal fishing due to a lack of salaried jobs and college education opportunities, and a changing climate are depleting livelihoods.

Vanga fisherman Kassim Abdalla Zingizi added that most artisanal fishermen lack the skills, knowledge and financial support to compete with larger foreign vessels, mostly from Europe and Asia, who use satellite tracking technology to spot the various schools of tuna throughout to find the Indian Ocean.

The Kenyan government is implementing an economic strategy that addresses the impact of climate change on the livelihoods of people living along the coast, improving the skills of artisanal fishermen and promoting more sustainable fishing practices, said Dennis Oigara of the Kenya Fisheries Service.

Subsidies to large fisheries – long blamed for destructive fishing practices – have been a prominent issue in World Trade Organization talks for over a decade without resolution. Earlier this year, the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, which oversees the region’s tuna regulations, was criticized for failing to implement measures to protect several tuna species from overfishing at its annual meeting.

After catch limits for two tuna species were exceeded between 2018 and 2020, conservation groups berated the Tuna Commission for a “decade of failure” that made tuna stocks “increasingly endangered.” The World Wildlife Fund for Nature has called for a worldwide boycott of yellowfin tuna.

The Maldivian government, which unsuccessfully proposed that members of the Tuna Commission should reduce their catch by 22% from 2020, said it was “extremely disappointed” with the outcome of the meeting.

Christopher O’Brien, the commission’s executive secretary, said the number of active fishing vessels in the Indian Ocean was declining.

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“There are currently over 6100 vessels licensed to fish for tuna species in the Indian Ocean. In 2020, there were just over 3,300 active ships,” he explained. The Miongo and Abdalla dugout and outrigger canoes are not among those 6100 vessels registered by the Tuna Commission, which is dominated by industrial fishing fleets.

The fisheries commission also agreed to convene two special meetings in the near future to address concerns about yellowfin tuna stocks, with the first scheduled for early 2023.

But the commission also passed a landmark resolution examining the impact of climate change on tuna stocks in the region, which was hailed as one of the conference’s achievements. The study aims to understand the complex relationship between climate change, tuna fishing and tuna stocks to provide information for future adaptation and mitigation actions. It is the second regional fisheries organization to implement a resolution on climate change.

“We hope that the adoption of this proposal will help us achieve the long-term sustainability of stocks of tuna and tuna-like species,” said Adam Ziyad, director-general of the Maldives Ministry of Fisheries, Marine Resources and Agriculture.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says climate variability has led to declining marine resources, a shift of fish from lower to higher latitude regions, coral bleaching and an increased risk of conflict over scarce resources. These changes are already being felt by the local fishing communities.

“I used to start fishing early in the morning and three to four hours later I would be done as I had caught enough fish,” said Mazera Mgala, who started fishing in 1975 and in his youth dived in the sea, the coral was alive and plentiful Fish. “Today I stay longer at sea and still catch less.”

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