On the sidelines of the blue economy conference, Fred Aminga spoke to Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute chief executive Prof. James Njiru (pictured) on the potential of Kenya’s marine economy. Exerpts: 

QUESTION: Concerns abound that Kenya has not fully exploited her marine and fisheries resources. Please explain.

KMFRI Director Prof. James Njiru

ANSWER:  Kenya is currently earning about Sh40 billion from fisheries and contributing about 0.7 per cent to the GDP.Fishermen currently exploit only 26,000 tonnes from water bodies but according to research done using RV Mutafiti we estimate that can exploit up to two million tonnes of fish from what is known as the exclusive economic zone estimated at 142,000 square kilometres or Sh100 billion per annum.

If fully exploited fisheries alone can pump Sh100 billion to the economy while maritime and shipping can inject between Sh70 billion and Sh100 billion to the economy. Tourism leveraging on the blue economy can unleash another Sh100 billion to the economy. That adds up to Sh300 billion. If well exploited, the blue economy can fund more than 10 per cent of the current budget. 

Q: How can the sector move to the next level?

A:  We must fomulate policies that will attract investors and consumption of these products. If fishermen and traders were empowered with the right vessels and technology, they would more than triple their catch. 

Q: How can we go about achieving this?

A: Given the demand, growing deficit and unexploited potential, this should attract more private investors into the fray. Fishermen can start by pooling resources through groups such as cooperatives and buy bigger vessels which will go deeper into the ocean to enhance harvests. More importantly, information is key. Players must also use innovative means to store stock. 

Q: Have you mapped the ocean resources to make this easier for the investors and stakeholders? 

A: We lost about 165 million in this financial year’s budget cut. Our hands are tied to an extent. We need state-of-the-art equipment to carry out ocean explorations such as bioprospecting. A trip costs about Sh15 million for 20 days. To do this four to five times a year gobbles up to Sh100 million on board our research Vessel the RV Mutafiti. 

Q:  Is there a reason there is a sudden interest in the ocean as a source of protein globally? 

A: Dwindling fish stocks in water bodies across the world has brought up increased interest in new sources of fish including aquaculture. 

Q: Aquaculture took off well with the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) in the last two decades. But there is very little to write home about since. 

A: There was a sharp decline in fish produced courtesy of the SAPs starting 2013. The sector currently produces about 18,000 tonnes despite a potential of 100,000 tonnes annually if fully exploited. 

Challenges include lack of interest in the business, inadequate input such as fingerlings, shortage of certified seeds and lack of adequate fish feeds. Recently, however, the government, coupled with big players like Unga Ltd, who are now producing fish feed, have shored up supply. 

Q: How is Kenya leveraging on the Indian Ocean Tuna commission?

A: Tuna is a very profitable venture along the Indian Ocean where Kenya has been allowed 72 vessels but we have less than five. More investors must come in and utilize this opportunity. The government recently reposed a landing bay which can be used to process fish. Licenses also requires that 30 per cent of the catch land in Kenya.