My take on the National Oceans and Fisheries Policy ongoing review process

The government of Kenya is currently reviewing the national oceans and fisheries policy with a view of aligning it to the Jubilee manifesto. A nice draft is already being debated on by stakeholders and I have attended a few of the consultative meetings. From what I could gather from the discussions, I fully support the National oceans and fisheries policy to the extent that it furthers the sustainable use and conservation of the underexploited high seas fisheries especially as per the National Tuna Fisheries Management Strategy.

However, I take exception on a number of issues – the first one being Open access as one of the key underlying issues that hinder optimal exploitation of offshore fisheries resources. This is especially due to land tenure problems affecting landing sites in most parts of coastal Kenya and the island areas. Another contributing factor is the obvious capacity issues that limit the artisanal fishers from accessing the high seas.

Secondly, under fisheries Management, most Beach Management Units (BMUs) are stuck in infancy and are yet to play their intended roles to their full potential as envisaged in the BMU Regulations of 2007. The sector also suffers from general lack of data and limited monitoring, control and surveillance systems. These coupled with other factors such as Inadequate legal and institutional framework for coordination and collaboration with other law enforcement agencies, has led to the high proportion of Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing.

Thirdly, the most important issue is quality assurance and marketing. Fisheries in Kenya has had serious problems arising from post-harvest losses, inability to comply with international fish quality standards and safety for human consumption, and inadequate sanitary and phy-to sanitary (SPS) measures. This has not only lowered the ability to enter international markets but has also lowered revenue both for the government and other players including artisanal fishers.

Fourthly, the role of infrastructure in any sector cannot be overemphasized. The sector has a lot to do in terms of infrastructure to realize its full potential. This is, in addition to areas mentioned in the policy document, with greater reference to sanitary and phyto sanitary facilities.

Effective Participation at International Level remains to be an important avenue for promoting equity and optimally benefiting the local economy from the resources in the country’s exclusive economic zone. There are still many areas that require work in order to benefit the local fishing communities; earn revenue for the government and; promote sustainability. A key issue is the quality of negotiations by the government in Economic Partnership Agreements and Fisheries partnership agreements and lack of data as well as mechanisms for the same especially as regards to deep sea fisheries.

 Given the foregoing issues, I recommend that under subtitle 2.1 (unsustainable utilization of fisheries resources), access to landing sites and offshore waters has to be acknowledged as a challenge under its own clause. The policy draft should better reflect better the government’s commitment to taking advantage of avenues for EPAs and FPAs to benefit the local people from the utilization of offshore fisheries resources. Clauses 4.2.3 and 5.6.3 should be revised to include benefiting the local community members as an objective in this regard. The policy should also specify its risk management strategies in these agreements.

In regard to quality assurance in subtitles 2.5 and 4.4, the government should place more emphasis on physical infrastructure such as laboratories as a means to enforcing quality standards. Marketing systems have also not been given due emphasis in some parts of the policy; we recommend that one of the objectives of the policy should specifically point to strengthening marketing systems in the oceans and fisheries sector.

The general lack of data is an important challenge in the sector and the policy needs to reflect this. Clause 4.1.1 should therefore have “data collection” in its last sentence; clause 4.1.2’s last sentence should end with “based on available data”. There is need to enhance the role of bridging institutions who link research centres to practitioners and other research information users who are, in most cases, non-governmental organizations. The policy, in addition to recognizing KMFRI as the lead agency in research, should also provide further for better coordination with other institutions involved in research.

The policy should be reviewed to reflect the new devolution governance system – for instance, the quality and value addition issues are mainly a concern of the county governments.

On the welfare of fishing communities and workers, we strongly recommend that clause 3.3.2 be rephrased such that the last sentence of the narrative should read, “The government will also ensure that fishers and those involved in supporting fishing activities enjoy improved livelihoods and good working conditions”. I also recommend that the government commits itself to further provide direct capacity support to small scale fishers in the matters of sea safety and encouraging collaborative action among different agencies and actors. The government should also, through this policy, contemplate more creative ways of building the capacities of BMUs to play their roles rather than just training.

Lastly, the Kenya Oceans and Fisheries Service (KOFS) should be retained in the policy and the legislation (the bill) abolishing it be revised to reflect this. Notably, the KOFS is a central player in the policy’s implementation.

While thanking the drafters of the policy for a fairly well thought-out document, I urge stakeholders and decision makers to consider my recommendations. This is in our shared efforts of not only realizing the national development objectives but also protecting the interests of all stakeholders and especially small scale fishers, future generations and other forms of life that deserve a place in our oceans and in our minds.

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