Tuna catch is depleted for local Kenyan fishermen

VANGA, Kenya (AP) — “Tuna is not for everyone,” Chapoka Miongo, a 65-year-old manual fisherman off Kenya’s southern coast, lamented from his canoe.

He is one of many artisanal fishermen in Shimoni, a bustling seaside town 82 kilometers (51 miles) south of Mombasa, dotted with dhows, dinghies, canoes and dinghies anchored at the beach landing site. Dozens of fishmongers, processors and merchants line the coast waiting for the return of the fishermen.

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

Shimoni Channel, formerly a known haven for tuna, benefits from the north and southeast monsoons that can bring in substantial catches, according to records from the Kenya Fisheries Service.

But the current monsoon has not been kind to Miongo. He can barely fill his bucket: his modest catch of the day includes a mixed bag of emperor fish.

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

After a seemingly futile five-day search, scouting fish landing sites in Gazi Bay, Shimoni Channel and Vanga Boardwalk for yellowfin tuna, an outrigger canoe fisherman finally caught one weighing six kilograms in Shimoni’s canal.

Miongo and Mgala are among just over 1,500 fishermen who rely on the canal’s rich marine waters. In Miongo’s three decades of fishing, he says, large foreign boats, more young men turning to artisanal fishing due to a lack of white-collar jobs and higher 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, mainly from Europe and Asia, who deploy satellite tracking technologies to track the various schools of tuna throughout the Indian Ocean.

The Kenyan government is implementing an economic strategy that will address the effects of climate change on the livelihoods of coastal dwellers, as well as boost skills among artisanal fishermen and promote more sustainable fishing practices, said Dennis Oigara of the Service. of Kenya Fisheries.

Subsidies for large fisheries, long blamed for destructive fishing practices, have featured prominently in World Trade Organization talks for more than a decade without resolution. Earlier this year, the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, responsible for tuna regulations in the region, was criticized for failing to implement measures to protect various tuna species from overfishing at its annual meeting.

After catch limits were exceeded for two species of tuna between 2018 and 2020, conservation groups criticized the tuna commission for what they called a “decade of failure” that left tuna stocks “in peril every time.” elderly”. The World Wildlife Fund for Nature called for a worldwide boycott of yellowfin tuna.

The Maldives government, which unsuccessfully proposed that tuna commission members cut their catches by 22% from 2020, said it was “extremely disappointed” by the outcome of the meeting.

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

“Currently there are more than 6,100 vessels licensed to fish for Indian Ocean tuna species. In 2020 there were just over 3,300 active vessels,” he explained. The Miongo and Abdalla pirogues and dugouts are not among these 6,100 vessels registered by the tuna commission, which is dominated by industrial fishing fleets.

The fisheries commission also agreed to set up two special sessions in the near future to resolve concerns about yellowfin tuna stocks, with the first scheduled for early 2023.

But the commission also passed a landmark resolution to study the effects of climate change on tuna stocks in the region, hailed as one of the conference’s successes. The study aims to understand the complex relationship between climate change, tuna fisheries and tuna populations in order to inform future adaptation and mitigation measures. It is the second regional fisheries management organization to implement a resolution on climate change.

“We are hopeful that the adoption of this proposal will guide us in achieving long-term sustainability of tuna and tuna-like species populations,” 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 populations, the shift of fish from lower to higher latitude regions, coral bleaching and increased risk of conflict over scarce resources. These changes are already being felt by local fishing communities.

“In the past, I would start fishing early in the morning and three or four hours later I would finish because I had caught enough,” said Mazera Mgala, who started fishing in 1975 and dove into the ocean in his youth among vibrant corals and abundant fish. “Today, I stay longer at sea and still fish less.” ___

Associated Press climate and environment coverage is supported by several private foundations. See more about the AP climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.


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