Kenya lags behind in exploiting potential in sea fishing

What you need to know:

  • Kenya could catch up to 300,000 tonnes of fish from the Indian Ocean sustainably every year.
  • In 2014, President Kenyatta said that Kenya loses Sh10 billion from illegal fishing.

The extent to which Kenya is yet to exploit its marine fishing potential is now clear, with the country being among the worst in Africa when it comes to sea fishing, a review of global fisheries data by Nation Newsplex shows.

Of the 38 African countries that have a coastline, only six landed a smaller catch of sea fish, crustaceans and molluscs than Kenya did in 2015.

According to data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (Fao), Kenya landed a total of 8,496 tonnes from those three categories in 2015.


Even when the revised 2015 figure of 9,299 tonnes contained in the 2017 Economic Survey is included, Kenya’s ranking, which places it only ahead of Equatorial Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Eritrea, DRC, Djibouti and Sudan, does not improve.

The biggest sea fishing country in Africa was Morocco, which landed 1.35 million tonnes, 159 times more than Kenya’s catch.

It was followed by South Africa (564,000), Namibia (507,000), Angola (457,702), Senegal (393,867), Mauritania (388,776), Nigeria (372,457), Ghana (243,181) and Mozambique (193,567).

Together, these nine countries account for three quarters of all the marine fish, crustaceans and molluscs caught by African countries.

In East Africa, Tanzania caught 61,304 tonnes, which was more than six times Kenya’s catch of 8,496 tonnes in 2015, while Somalia, which has faced protracted instability, landed 29,800 tonnes of sea fish.

According to Fao, Kenya could catch up to 300,000 tonnes of fish from the Indian Ocean sustainably every year, about 30 times the current catch.


Although freshwater fish currently make up 93 per cent of Kenya’s total catch, recent years have seen declines in the amount of fish landed, partly due to the overfishing of some species.

For example, from 2012 to 2016, Kenya’s freshwater catch fell 18 per cent, from 145,150 tonnes to 119,550 tonnes.

Lake Victoria, the source of 75 per cent of Kenya’s fish, accounted for 98,666 tonnes in 2016, a 10 per cent drop from the year before and a 31 per cent increase from the 143,908 tonnes landed in 2006.

Lake Turkana is the second largest single source of freshwater fish in Kenya.

However, its catch has dropped 58 per cent from 2009, when 9,445 tonnes were captured to 2016, when only 3,693 tonnes of fish were landed.

Although catches at man-made fish farms surged by almost 400 per cent to 24,000 tonnes from 2009 to 2014, they then fell by nearly 38 per cent to 14,952 tonnes in 2016.

Increasing imports of freshwater fish, particularly from China, show that local fisheries may not be adequate for the country’s needs.

Increasingly, Kenyans have seen Chinese fish on local supermarket shelves.


From 2014 to 2015, imports of fish from China grew 60.2 per cent from Sh624.1 million to Sh1.02 billion according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS).

As it races to increase its bounty from the sea, Kenya faces challenges from foreign fleets that fish far from their home countries.

In 2014, President Kenyatta said that Kenya loses Sh10 billion from illegal fishing in its exclusive economic zone.

According to research carried out by the University of British Columbia in Canada, the largest country fishing in African sea waters is China, which in 2011 had a catch of 3.1 million tonnes a year.

African waters constitute the largest distant water source of fish to China, more than Asia, where China landed one million tonnes, Oceania (980,000 tonnes), Central and South America (182,000 tonnes) and Antarctica (48,000 tonnes) the same year.


Earlier this year, the New York Times reported that China has a distant-water fleet of at least 2,600 boats, the largest search fleet in the world, and 10 times the United States’ own distant water fleet. Kenya has few boats capable of deep sea fishing.

Fishermen in Kenya’s Indian Ocean coasts are ill equipped to respond to the fisheries from overseas.

Fao statistics from 2014 show that a total of 2,913 fishing craft were used actively in marine fishing, of which nearly half (47 per cent) were dugout canoes.

Dhows that are flat at one end made up 22 per cent. Other crafts included hori (11 per cent), Dau (9 per cent), ngalawa (6 per cent), mtori (3 per cent) and rafts (1 per cent).

China is the world’s largest marine fishing nation, and landed 15,314,000 tonnes of fish in 2015, according to official Fao figures.

That accounted for 19 per cent, or nearly one in five of all the fish caught worldwide that year.

China caught more than double the next largest fishing country, which was Indonesia, at six million tonnes.

The United States, Peru and the Russian Federation round out the top five marine fishing countries in the world.

For purposes of statistical analysis, Fao divides the world’s seas into zones called fishing areas.


Kenya’s fishery is located in the Western Indian Ocean fishing area, which landed 4.66 million tonnes of fish in 2015.

However, much of that fish did not go to African countries.

For example, Kenya, which landed 9,929 tonnes according to revised data, and Tanzania which landed 61,304 tonnes, together constituted only 1.5 per cent of the total in the entire western Indian Ocean fishing area.

In the 2017-2018 budget, the government allocated Sh400 million for the development of designated ports where deep water vessels can land their catch, and the commissioning of an offshore patrol boat to deter illegal fishing.

According to a report by the National Treasury, the government also plans to create the Kenya Fisheries Service.

Mombasa County has also begun a boat construction programme through which it aims to construct 14 10-tonne boats for deep sea fishing.

According to an April 12 2017 report by Baraka FM, the first boat, MV Mombasa 001, had landed 6.1 tonnes of fish from eight voyages since its maiden voyage on November 24.