The fisheries sector in Taita-Taveta County is set to boom after the county government announced plans to revamp dormant fishponds to raise annual fish production to 800 tons.
An aquaculture project to be rolled out by the County will maximise the region’s untapped potential in Blue Economy and see enhanced fish production from Lake Chala and Jipe at the border of Kenya and Tanzania.
County Executive Committee Member for Agriculture and Fisheries Mr. Davis Mwangoma said the county had 350 fishponds that were being utilized by farmers while over 380 ponds were dormant.
The department of fisheries intends to operationalize the dormant ponds to bolster the annual fish production from a paltry 17 tons to 200 tons per year. Under the Go Blue Economy, the county will further promote sustainable fishing practices at the border lake of Challa and Jipe to enhance fishing production from the current 250 tons annually to 700 tons.
“We have a potential of hitting over 800 tons of fish production annually and this is what we aim to tap under the Go Blue Economy initiative,” Mwangoma said.
Data from the fisheries department shows the county has 530 farmers engaging in fish farming. Challenges like lack of fresh water for the ponds and the high cost of fish feeds have seen the sector take a slump that led to a decline in fish production.
Mr Mwangoma said that the immediate resolve by his department was to revamp the dormant fishponds. Several initiatives have gone towards this goal. They include awareness drives, mapping of zones where hatcheries will be installed and revival of palletization machines to address the challenges of fish feeds for artisanal anglers in the region.
One of the most ambitious projects the department has embarked on is to conserve the rare and endangered Lake Jipe Tilapia that is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
“This is a very rare fish species that is critically endangered. We plan to have hatcheries for breeding fingerings. They will be distributed to farmers and be vital to repopulate the lake,” the County Executive said.
Farmers in areas prone to prolonged spells of drought will be taken through water-harvesting training for use in their ponds. The department will also consider providing dam-liners that will be used to cover the base of the ponds.
The department has been working closely with Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (Kemfri) to map out the fish production potential in the two border lakes. To cut on costs, the county will produce her fingerings that will be distributed to farmers in the region.
In the past, fingerings used to be sourced from hatcheries in Sagana.
Mr Mwangoma said he was optimistic the county fish sector could reap massive benefits from Blue Economy noting that the next phase will be creation of fish hubs to be operated by groups engaging in fish farming.
The hubs will act as centers for marketing local fish. The department has also identified adequate markets in Mombasa, Kwale and Kilifi.
Mr Asman Kala, an artisanal fishmonger at Lake Jipe, said the decision by the county to invest in fish farming to bolster production and market was commendable.
He also urged the county to support fishermen in getting modern boats to navigate the lake to bolster their daily catch.
“We can do with support to buy modern boats and maximize on our catch,” he said.
Most fishermen at Lake Jipe and Chala use wooden canoes that are easily rocked by choppy waters.