Fishermen in Lake Victoria have clashed with cage fishing investors.
The fishermen said cage fishing should be suspended until investigations are done into illegal cages. They have threatened to take legal action against firms and individuals operating cages in the lake, who they claim are doing so un-procedurally.
Led by National Beach Management Units (BMU) Chairman Tom Guda, the fishermen said their reduced catch was due to the large number of cages in the lake.
According to the fishermen, some of the cages are on their transport routes and others are installed in fish breeding grounds which trap fingerlings.
"Some of the accidents that are witnessed in the lake are caused by cages which are installed unlawfully. Our fishermen do not operate their boats using GPS, therefore, they collide with the cages during their expeditions at night," said Mr Guda.
Speaking during a meeting that brought together all 183 BMUs from Homa Bay County, Mr Guda said the illegal cages threaten the existence of several species of fish.
According to him, the cages should be installed at a depth of 10m, but illegal ones have been put up on breeding grounds of fish.
Mr Guda called for an audit of the owners of fishing cages in the lake. "Most fishermen do not know the types and species of fish that are raised in the cages.
We believe that some cages threaten the existence of our local species," he said.
The fishermen want the fishing community around the lake to benefit from profits gained by firms operating the cages.
"Fishermen are not against the cages, however, some of them put our livelihoods at stake. We request the government to intervene in the matter," said Homa Bay County BMU Chairman Edward Oremo.
The National Environment Management Authority (Nema) has also decried the existence of excess cages in the lake.
Nema Homa Bay County Director John Maniafu called on the authorities controlling marine life to address the issue.
According to Kenya Marine and Fisheries and Research Institute (Kemfri), there were 3,696 cages as at November last year. This was equivalent to production of 3,000 metric tonnes.
Kemfri says cage fishing in the lake has employed 500 people directly and 4,000 indirectly.
The research institute has, however, expressed concern that the unregulated placement of cages in the lake may soon lead to introduction of non-approved species of fish.
Kemfri Assistant Director of Fresh Water Aquaculture Paul Orina on Monday said the institute has moved to regulate the number and standards of cages in the lake following an outcry from fishermen.
Dr Orina said the Kemfri is striving to maintain the lake's ecological integrity in terms of the origin of fish species. Kemfri is currently recommending the use of Tilapia Niloticus species for breeding because it exists naturally in the lake.
The Kemfri official said the introduction of unknown species by the cage investors may lead to ecological disorientation.
Homa Bay Governor Cyprian Awiti has also raised concern about illegal cage fishing gears in the lake.
Mr Awiti has directed the county Department of Agriculture and Fisheries to draft a bill to control the placement of fish cages. “There’s concern about irregular placement of cages. We encourage cage fishing, but it should be done in a controlled manner,” he said.