Locals take up aquaculture as Tana River fish numbers wane

Red snapper fish

Tana River County Fisheries Officer Sharon Galana displays a Red snapper fish from Kipini Landing site at their stand during the 4th Jumuiya Agribusiness & Blue Economy Investment Conference 2022 on December 8, 2022.

Photo credit: Wachira Mwangi | Nation Media Group

For many years , River Tana has provided adequate fish for both commercial and domestic use, but the catch has been dwindling, leaving over 300 fishermen staring at a bleak future.

The past three years have been characterised by a sustained decrease in fish numbers, threatening livelihoods. Mr Ali Selaze has watched helplessly as the river ran out of fish and its tributaries dried up.

“The river is no longer a reliable source of fish. Fishermen are frustrated because they hardly return with 10 fish from the river in a single day,” he says. He blames climate change for their woes.

A report by the county’s fisheries department shows that at least 300 fishermen depend on the river for their livelihood.

Locals have now embraced aquaculture as an alternative to bridge the fish deficit, with at least 1,000 people joining up.

Mr Selaze is one of them. At his Kone village home in Hola, he has put up a fish pond and bought 1,500 fingerlings. His pond is just 300 meters from River Tana.

“The fingerlings are two months old and will mature in five months’ time,” he says. Upon maturity , he expects to sell one fish at Sh500 shillings, but demand will determine pricing.

fish farms

Locals at one of the fish farms in Tana River County.

Photo credit: Wachira Mwangi | Nation Media Group

“I expect to fetch more than Sh100,000 in the first harvest,” he says. Mr Selaze invested at least Sh70,000 for the entire project —building the pond, buying fingerlings and connecting water from the river to the pond.

“I have laid 80 pipes from the river to this pond. We use a generator to pump water from the river,” he says. He also incur expenses in purchasing the feed for fish and for buying chemicals for treating the water inside the pond anytime he replaces it.

Mr Abdallah Mashaka is Mr Selaze’s farmhand. He takes care of the fish and the pond.

“I feed the fish thrice a day. I feed them on pellets because they are nutritious and contain a lot of proteins. They make the fish to grow faster,” he says. He has a house nearby to prevent people stealing the fish.

“I must be here all the time because of thieves and predators. The fish are still young hence likely to be eaten by birds,” he says. In Chakamba village, Mr Thomas Komor owns another fish farm.

“We keep tilapia. It fetches more money because most people like this type of fish,” he says.

Mr Komor is among 200 fish farmers who were trained by officers from the national government’s fisheries department.

He says lack of skills has been a challenge when it comes to managing the ponds.

“Some farmers gave up but majority of us soldiered on. It has not been easy managing the ponds because it requires money to buy fish food and treat water,” he says.

Ms Anie Zablon doubles up as a fish farmer and a fish monger. She turned to fish farming after prices shot through the roof due to the scarcity.

Faith Achieng

Farm Africa Fish Specialist Faith Achieng during the interview.

Photo credit: Wachira Mwangi | Nation Media Group

“After being trained, I ventured into fish farming and I have never turned back though there have been challenges,” he says.

Tana River Livestock and Fisheries Chief Officer Kanchoru Gilo says residents of Kinakombe, Ndura, Ngwano, Zubaki and Milalulu have embraced aquaculture and the county has been supporting fish farmers to build ponds.

“We have also supplied them with fingerlings,” he says.

The county, he adds, is contemplating constructing a shipyard at Kipini , where fishermen will repair vessels and fishing gears to facilitate deep see fishing.

Mr Gilo says fisheries rakes in Sh400 million in revenue annually for the county. Farm Africa, a non-governmental organisation, has been training farmers in Tana Delta and Tana River sub-counties.

“We have built over 1,000 ponds through the Economic Stimulus Programme,” says Farm Africa Fish Specialist Faith Achieng.

The organisation supplies farmers with male tilapia fingerlings.

In Tana River Sub-county, Farm Africa is supporting 30 farmers in terms of training and provision of materials.

The region boasts of a fish-rich 76km coastline, Mr Gilo says, which has the potential to produce up to 350,000 metric tonnes of fish annually. Some of the species in its waters are king fish, baracuda, tuna and sail fish.