Tuna catch dries up for local fishing community in Kenya

VANGA, Kenya (AP) – “Tuna isn’t for everyone,” said Chapoka Miongo, 65, a handline fisherman on Kenya’s southern coast, from his canoe.

He is one of several artisanal fishermen in Shimoni, a bustling coastal town 82 kilometers (51 miles) south of Mombasa, dotted with dhows, dug out boats, canoes and skiffs anchored at the beach landing site. Numerous fish processors, processors and traders line the shoreline awaiting the return of the fishermen.

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

Formerly a well-known spot for tuna, the Shimoni Channel benefits from the northeast and southeast monsoons that can lead to significant catches, according to data maintained by the Kenya Fisheries Service.

But the current monsoon has been unkind to Miongo. He can barely fill his bucket: his modest catch of the day includes a motley crew of emperor fish.

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

After a seemingly pointless hunt for five days, exploring fish feeders in Gazi Bay, the Shimoni Channel and the Vanga coast for yellowfin tuna, a six and a half kilo was finally caught by a canoe fisherman on the Shimoni channel.

Miongo and Mgala are among just over 1,500 fishermen who depend on the channel’s rich marine waters. In Miongo’s three decades of fishing, he says, large foreign ships, more young men opting for artisanal fishing due to a lack of white-collar jobs and higher education, and a changing climate have depleted livelihoods.

Vanga fisherman Kassim Abdalla Zingizi added that most artisanal fishermen do not have the skills, knowledge and financial support to compete with larger foreign vessels, mainly from Europe and Asia, which are deploying satellite tracking technologies to monitor the various tuna schools across the Indian Ocean. to trace.

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

Subsidies to large fisheries — long blamed for destructive fishing practices — have featured prominently in the World Trade Organization talks with no solution for more than a decade. Earlier this year, the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, which is responsible for tuna regulation in the region, was criticized at its annual meeting for failing to take measures to protect various tuna species from overfishing.

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

The Maldivian government, which unsuccessfully proposed that members of the tuna commission cut their catches by 22% from 2020, said it was “extremely disappointed” with 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, more than 6,100 vessels are licensed to fish for tuna species in the Indian Ocean. In 2020 there were just over 3300 active ships,” he explains. Miongo and Abdalla’s dugout and outrigger canoes are not among these 6100 vessels registered by the Tuna Commission, which is dominated by industrial fishing fleets.

The Fisheries Commission also agreed to organize two special sessions in the near future to address concerns about yellowfin tuna stocks, the first of which is scheduled for early 2023.

But the committee also passed a landmark resolution to study the effects of climate change on the region’s tuna stocks, which was hailed as one of the conference’s successes. The study aims to gain insight into the complex relationship between climate change, tuna fisheries and tuna stocks with a view to informing 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 help us achieve long-term sustainability of stocks of tuna and tuna-like species,” said Adam Ziyad, the director general of the Ministry of Fisheries, Marine Resources and Agriculture. of the Maldives. †

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says climate variability has led to reduced marine stocks, fish shifts from lower to higher latitudes, coral bleaching and an increased risk of conflicts over scarce resources. These changes are already being felt by local fishing communities.

“I used to start fishing in the early morning and three to four hours later I would be done because I had caught enough fish,” said Mazera Mgala, who started fishing in 1975 and would dive into the ocean among vibrant corals in his youth. and abundant fish. “Nowadays I stay at sea longer and catch less.” †

Associated Press climate and environmental awareness receives support from several private foundations. Read more about AP’s climate initiative here† The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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