For the past eight years, a ban on night fishing has been in force in Lamu County, especially in areas prone to Al-Shabaab terror attacks.
As a result, fishermen in the border villages of Lamu and Somalia have been struggling to sustain their livelihoods and those of their families, not knowing when the ban will be lifted.
The most successful fishing happens at night.
The ban which forbids fishermen from conducting their activities in the Lamu Indian Ocean waters at night was imposed by the national government in 2011 following a spate of Al-Shabaab terror attacks where tourists and fishermen were often kidnapped and taken hostage.
This happened especially along the Lamu-Somalia border in Kiunga, Ishakani, Madina, Kiwayu, Mkokoni and the environs which are known to have a high population of fishermen.
In May 2017, the national government announced that the ban had finally been lifted much to the relief of the over 6,000 fishermen in the region.
The government has on many times also been making efforts to ensure fishermen in the affected villages continue with their activities without any restrictions.
In early 2018, the Lamu Security Department introduced the Mvuvi Card whose main objective is to help track all fishermen’s movements and activities while at sea.
The Mvuvi Card was also launched as a way of identifying all fishermen in the affected areas and also as a permit to allow them to go fishing at any given time, including during the night.
But despite all the efforts made and the various announcements that the national government has so far made both publicly and privately concerning the lift of the night fishing ban, no fisherman has so far been allowed to venture into sea at night.
BAN IN FORCE
Speaking to the Nation on Sunday, fishermen in all the affected villages reiterated that the ban on night fishing seems to be in force since they are still facing frustrations and harassment from security agencies manning the region especially if found going about their duties at night.
Mr Ahmed Islam, a long-time fisherman from Ishakani Village in Lamu East accused the government of playing mind games and only lifting the night fishing ban on ‘camera’ when they actually had no plans of doing so.
Almost 99 percent of locals in Lamu East depend directly on fishing for survival.
The prolonged ban has left many reeling in poverty.
In many occasions, those who try to venture out to fish at night are arrested and charged with some being treated like Al-Shabaab suspects.
Mr Islam wondered why the ban is still in force despite the fact that the security situation in the area has improved.
He called on the national government to come clean and explain why the situation is so.
“Most of the time the security department has been telling the public that security has been restored across Lamu County. They have also been announcing that the ban on night fishing has also been lifted. They even went ahead to distribute Mvuvi Cards as permits for us to conduct fishing at night. But why is it that they don’t allow us to fish at night? If you’re found in the ocean at night, you’re arrested and grilled like a terrorist. You’re asked why you are trying to go to Somalia while you know very well that you have no such intentions. It is unfair,” said Mr Islam.
Mr Omar Kupi called on the government to understand the fishermen’s needs.
He said the night fishing ban has completely stifled the sector which is now underperforming.
“We’re completely impoverished. Children no longer stay in school due to lack of fees. We are only depending on fishing for our survival and it is hard for us to manoeuvre especially since the ban was introduced in our area. We need it lifted so that we can restore our lost glory. The government should understand that we are just fishermen who need to work at night when it is more favourable to us,” said Mr Kupi.
A spot check by the Nation in various villages which are major fishing destinations in Lamu County also revealed that a good number of fishermen have already quit the trade and are now engaging in other activities in a move to sustain their livelihoods.
Many marriages have also broken as wives flee from the now broke husbands after the ban on night fishing left them penniless.
“Many wives here have left their broke husbands who cannot sustain their families anymore. Fishing is doing badly. Only if they lift the ban on night fishing will things would be better,” said Mr Ahmed Bahero, a Nyumba Kumi elder from Kiunga.