Rusinga fishermen clash as Lake Victoria catch dwindle

Fishing boats at Litare Beach in Rusinga Island in Homa Bay County on October 6, 2022. Fishermen from the beach engaged in running battles with their counterparts from Wanyama beach over fishing territory.

Photo credit: George Odiwuor | Nation Media Group.

Tension is building around Rusinga Island in Homa Bay County as fishermen scramble for dwindling fish stock in Lake Victoria.

Three men were reported injured on Wednesday night when two groups of fishermen clashed over the delicacy, whose supply is plummeting by the day.

Some fishing boats were reportedly detained as the groups fought to protect their fishing territories.

Kenya Coast Guard Services officers were called to quell tension that locals feared could spill beyond the island.

Preliminary investigations established that fishermen from the Wanyama and Litare beaches disagreed on boundaries on the lake, resulting in a physical confrontation.

The two beaches are adjacent to each other but men from either side do not want to share the lake because of reduced catches.

Some fishermen are alleged to have put floats on the water to act as boundaries with a warning that whoever crossed from one side to the other would be in trouble.

Mr Felix Abonyo, who owns boats at the Litare beach, claimed the boundaries were marked by beach management unit officials who had held a secret meeting a few days earlier.

“They wanted fishermen from both beaches to have their own space for fishing. However, they did not involve fishermen who use the lake,” he said.

Waters demarcated

A group of men from Litare set sail at 5pm unaware that the waters had been demarcated.

They encountered another group of fishermen who had “reserved” a section of the lake as their own as soon as they crossed the boundary.

Mr Abonyo said the group was attacked after darkness fell.

“They were accused of ‘encroaching’ into other territories. It led to a physical fight between the two groups,” he said.

As one group attacked, the others defended themselves from their boats.

Three men were reportedly injured and rushed to a hospital.

By Thursday morning, the dispute had spread throughout the two beaches.

Affected fishermen were called for a meeting to resolve the crisis.

Rusinga West Chief Denis Okello said he was called to mediate between the two groups.

He said his office was not involved when the so-called boundaries on the lake were demarcated.

“All fishermen can be anywhere in the lake. Nothing bars them from moving to other beaches,” he said.

By midday Thursday, the teams had not agreed on how to work on the lake without confronting each other.

The lake in Kenya has no boundaries and whoever is blocking some fishermen from the waters is committing an offence, said Mbita sub-county Police Commander Stanley Atavachi.

“The only known boundary on the lake is the international boundary between Kenya and its neighbours. Any other boundary within Kenyan territory is illegal,” he said.

Mr Atavachi added that the attack on the lake will be handled as assault and suspects will be arrested.

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