The Highs and the Lows of the Seas

Most natives of a place where there are waters with fish at different concentrations must have engaged in fishing at some point in their lives. I wouldn’t quote a paper for that as is the habit for most natural resource management professionals and scientists. This is not only because I don’t know of any, but also for the basic reason that I don’t think I will need anybody’s authority to say that. It is common sense that people tend to exploit resources near them – and if fish happens to be available for free, many will jump in the waters for some.

This rings true for coastal Kenya. A significant number of people have foregone the many other economic options they could take to pursue fishing seriously, or specifically, on a fulltime basis. This is despite the many challenges that have faced the profession especially for the small time fishers trying to squeeze a living from the Indian Ocean. Notably, the International Labour Organization (ILO) lists fishing as the most dangerous profession in the world.

For the small scale fishers, it is a lot more dangerous than most people can possibly imagine. Sailing on to the oceans with a crude vessel is risky business. This is more so when dangerous winds and unforgiving tides rule the oceans. These tides would threaten to capsize canoes and even the few motorised boats every second of their life afloat the seas. It takes a brave soul (and sometimes a desperate one) to set out in the murky waters in the all-important quest for fish.

The conditions of the ocean determine the type and time of fishing. During the months of April, May, June, July, August, September the ocean is too dangerous and the small scale people can hardly access areas beyond the reefs, let alone the high seas. Fish in most coastal villages and homes tends to decline in what is commonly referred to as the low season.  This is because most of our small scale fishers can only venture into the creeks, where catches are small and limited to a few bony species.

During the rest of the year, fish is in plenty and our small scale people are happy. The ocean is calm and they can at least go beyond the creeks to more distant places. There are also migratory fishermen (mostly wapemba) who jam the landing sites with fish. The year-round canoe people only contribute a small percentage of the increased supply of fish compared to the migratory fishermen in most of the landing sites in Kilifi, Mombasa, Malindi and the south coast.

The increase in fish during the high season increases activities around fishing sector especially the fish trade. It is however disadvantageous to some small scale actors who depend on the scarcity of fish to make more money. These are mostly Mama Karanga.

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