Dwindling fish stocks in Tana River worry fishermen

Fish farmers at a pond in Chakamba Village, Tana River County. Changes in climatic conditions have undermined the catches in River Tana, with more than six tributaries having dried up.

Photo credit: Stephen Odour I Nation Media Group

For decades, fishermen in Tana River County have depended on the River Tana and the 76km coastal strip of Kipini to eke out a living.

More than 300 fishermen earn a living from the two sources that are estimated to generate more than Sh200 million a year, according to a report from the county department of fisheries.

However, for the past two years, the catch has been dwindling, leaving fishermen in despair with poverty staring at them.
Changes in climatic conditions have undermined the catches, with more than six tributaries having dried up.

Mr Thomas Komora, a fisherman in Chakamba village, notes that families that depended on fishing are facing tough times.

"We are living along the river because this has been our livelihood since the days of our fathers, but not anymore. It is becoming more difficult to even catch fish for a meal," he says.

Mr Komora and his wife used to pay school fees with money from fish sales but for the past 13 months, it has been difficult to meet that responsibility.

They have had to take on farming to supplement their income from fishing.

But farming is not paying off either and they have resorted to fish farming.

"Officers from the fisheries department showed us how to dig fish ponds and gave us fingerlings. But it has not been easy to manage the ponds as we do not have the skills," he says.

More than 200 farmers were given fingerlings but a majority gave up on the enterprise, he said.

He notes that they did not know how to feed the fish and manage the pond.

"We had limited knowledge – just dig a fish pond and throw in the fingerlings. Many farmers waited to harvest but when the fish ponds collapsed, the fish ran into the river," he says.

Anie Zablon, also a fish farmer in the same village, notes that the sudden fall in catches from the River Tana affected her business and the lives of her children.

She said she had to raise the price of fish.

But this proved difficult because the fish size was not commensurate with the prices.

"Fish that sold at Sh50 started selling for Sh150 due to scarcity but clients would hear none of it. Business has been tough as the fish declines," she narrates.

But their gains have started improving following further training by Fish Farm Africa.

The organisation has embarked on training more than 120 fish farmers in Tana Delta on pond management and strengthening aquaculture value chains.

"[The] capture fisheries have dwindled. There is no fish in the river and very little is coming from the sea. We can't ignore the climate change in the county, hence it is important for farmers to venture into fish farming," says county Project Manager Mercy Sabina.

The fish farmers, she said, require more empowerment and capacity building before they can start earning from the ponds.

Other than equipping them with enterprise skills, Ms Sabina notes that Fish Farm Africa creates market linkages for them and connects them with input suppliers.

"If you look at the equipment they use in harvesting fish at sea, it is not up to standard. We show them standards and link them with relevant dealers," she says.

County Fisheries Officer Israel Siso notes that the county administration is focused on training fish farmers on value addition skills and supplying them with fingerlings.

"Our efforts are to ensure that the farmer gets value from their catch. Fish farming is the way to go, and we are in full support of this initiative from our partners," he says.

The fisheries department has invested more than Sh20 million in distributing fingerlings to farmers and feeding local lakes. 

But poor fishing habits, he says, are to blame for the dwindling fortunes.

"Most fishermen harvest the by-catch. They do not give the fish the chance to breed properly. Some have even invaded the breeding grounds and that will eventually affect the population of fish in the river," he says.

He appealed to fishermen to act more responsibly in the river and lakes.