Fishing declines on Lake Turkana as traders flee fresh ethnic clashes

Wednesday November 2 2011

Fishermen in Lake Turkana. Commercial fishing has declined drastically in the lake after traders fled renewed fighting between the Turkana and Merriles from Ethiopia. Photo/WILLIAM OERI

Fishermen in Lake Turkana. Commercial fishing has declined drastically in the lake after traders fled renewed fighting between the Turkana and Merriles from Ethiopia. Photo/WILLIAM OERI 

By BARNABAS BII [email protected] and MATHIAS RINGA [email protected]     

Commercial fishing has declined drastically in Lake Turkana after traders fled renewed fighting between the Turkana and Merriles from Ethiopia.

On Tuesday, four Turkana fishermen were arrested for allegedly stealing fishing nets from their Ethiopian counterparts, heightening the tension.

“The tension among the two ethnic groups is ruining fishing, which is the main source of income on the lakeside,” Turkana North DC Jack Obuo said.

The Turkana fishermen were arrested as they fled Abalokwa beach following a fierce shootout with their Ethiopian counterparts, the administrator said.

Caught in the crossfire

“Some traders have moved out for fear of being caught in the crossfire,” Mr Obuo said.

Fishmongers said the renewed fighting was disrupting the commercial fish business that had started to thrive after relative peace returned to the area.

“It’s no longer business as usual in most parts of the lake shared by the two groups due to fear of revenge attacks,” a fishmonger, Mr Ekuam Edong’a said.

He said most fishmongers had moved out of Lake Turkana following recurrent attacks.

Last year seven people, including an Administration Police officer and a Kenya Police reservist, were killed at Lake Turkana by suspected Merrile raiders while fishing.

The attackers made off with fishing gear. That attack has resulted in recurrent clashes between the two ethnic groups.

Meanwhile, fish stocks at the Coast are being depleted by the rampant use of the outlawed ring net method by influential fishermen, it emerged on Wednesday.

Mombasa and Coast Tourist Association executive officer Millicent Odhiambo said that although the government banned ring nets two years ago, their use continues unabated.

She said influential fishermen use the illegal gear, devastating the marine eco-system.

Ms Odhiambo warned that unless the government strictly enforced the ban, the tourism industry would be affected and 12,000 fishermen would be robbed of their livelihood.

“The huge nets destroy coral reefs, fish breeding areas, sea weeds and even the endangered turtles. Massive quantities of small fish are discarded as they are of no value to these people,” she said.

Ms Odhiambo said sport fishing, which attracts tourists to the region, could be in jeopardy.

The sport, she said, “attracts tourists from all over the world as we have blue marlin, king fish, sharks and dolphins, among others.”

Kenya Wildlife Service assistant director Simon Gitau said the Fisheries Department was to blame as it issued licences to fishermen who use ring nets.

“The KWS has been waging a war against ring net fishing, but our efforts are hampered by the issuing of licences to unscrupulous fishermen,” he said.

But Coast provincial fisheries director Nicholas Ntheketha said the department was enforcing the ban.

Difficult to enforce

He, however, said it was difficult to enforce it as it has been on and off due to demands by local fishermen that it be lifted.

Last week, he said, Fisheries minister Amason Kingi reaffirmed that the ban was in place.

“Since the Fisheries minister reaffirmed the ban last week, we have launched a crackdown to root out the illegal activity,” he said.