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Tuna supplies are drying up for Kenya’s local fishing community

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WANGA, Kenya (AP) — “Tuna is not for everybody,” lamented Chapoka Myonga, 65, a fisherman on Kenya’s southern coast, from his canoe.

He is one of many artisanal fishermen in Shimoni, a busy coastal town 82 kilometers (51 miles) south of Mombasa dotted with dhows, boats, canoes and boats anchored on the beach. Dozens of fishmongers, processors and traders lined up along the shore, waiting for the fishermen to return.

“My canoe is only suitable for near shore, and only those with big boats and money can access the tuna,” he said. Miongo explained that warming water due to climate change has caused tuna species to change their migration patterns, making it more difficult for local fishermen to catch them. Fish stocks have also declined due to the lack of sustainable fishing by larger vessels.

According to Kenya Fisheries Service records, the Shimoni Channel, formerly a known harbor for tuna, benefits from the northerly and south-easterly monsoons, which can produce significant catches.

But the current monsoon has not been kind to Miong. He can barely fill his bucket: his modest catch of the day includes a motley batch of emperor.

In particular, yellowfin tuna, the price of which is competitive on the market, may seem like a “lucky case” for fishermen, explained 60-year-old fisherman Mazera Mgala.

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After a seemingly futile five-day hunt, scouting fish landing sites in Gazi Bay, Shimoni Canal and Wangi Embankment for yellowfin tuna, one weighing six and a half kilograms was finally caught by a canoe fisherman in Shimoni Canal.

Mionga and Mgala are among just over 1,500 fishermen who rely on the canal’s rich marine waters. He said in three decades of Miong fishing, large foreign ships, more young people opting for artisanal fishing due to lack of jobs and higher education opportunities, and climate change are draining livelihoods.

Wangi fisherman Qasim Abdullah Zingisi added that most artisanal fishermen lack the skills, knowledge and financial backing to compete with large foreign vessels, mostly from Europe and Asia, which use satellite tracking technology to track the various shoals of tuna across India. the ocean.

Kenya’s government is implementing an economic strategy that addresses the impacts of climate change on coastal livelihoods, as well as upskilling artisanal fishermen and promoting more sustainable fishing practices, said Dennis Oigaro of the Kenya Fisheries Service.

Subsidies for large-scale fisheries, long blamed for destructive fishing practices, have been at the forefront of World Trade Organization negotiations for more than a decade without a solution. Earlier this year, the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, which is responsible for regulating tuna farming in the region, was criticized for not taking action to protect several tuna species from overfishing at its annual meeting.

After two tuna species were exceeded between 2018 and 2020, conservation groups accused the tuna commission of what they called a “decade of failure” that left tuna stocks “increasingly at risk.” The World Wildlife Fund has called for a global boycott of yellowfin tuna.

The Maldivian government, which unsuccessfully proposed to members of the tuna commission to cut tuna catches by 22% from 2020, said it was “very disappointed” with the outcome of the meeting.

Christopher O’Brien, executive secretary of the commission, said the number of active fishing vessels in the Indian Ocean was declining.

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“Currently, more than 6,100 vessels are licensed to fish for tuna in the Indian Ocean. In 2020, there were slightly more than 3,300 active courts,” he explained. Myonga’s and Abdallah’s canoes are not among the 6,100 vessels registered by the tuna commission, which is dominated by commercial fishing fleets.

The Fisheries Commission also agreed to hold two special sessions in the near future to address concerns about yellowfin tuna stocks, with the first scheduled for early 2023.

But the commission also adopted a landmark resolution to study the impact of climate change on tuna stocks in the region, which was hailed as one of the conference’s successes. The research aims to understand the complex relationship between climate change, fisheries and tuna stocks in order to inform future adaptation and mitigation measures. It is the second regional fisheries organization to implement a climate change resolution.

“We hope that the adoption of this proposal will help us achieve long-term sustainability of tuna stocks and tuna-like species,” said Adam Ziyad, Director General of the Ministry of Fisheries, Marine Resources and Agriculture of the Maldives. .

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says climate variability has reduced marine stocks, driven fish from lower latitudes to higher latitudes, bleached corals and increased the risk of conflict over limited resources. These changes are already being felt by local fishing communities.

“I used to start fishing early in the morning and after three or four hours I would finish because I had caught enough fish,” said Mazera Mgala, who started fishing in 1975 and dived into the ocean as a young man amid bright corals and abundant fish. “Now I stay at sea longer and still catch less.”

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