New Kenyan coastguard to stop foreigners stealing ‘our fish’

Kenya loses nearly $100 million a year to foreign boats fishing without permission, but the new coastguard could cut illegal fishing.

The newly formed Kenya Coast Guard Service has been launched in Mombasa. Photo: Twitter/IrlEmbKenya

The launch of a coastguard in Kenya – one of a handful in Africa – could cut illegal fishing and boost the economy, experts said on Tuesday, although the service only has one boat so far.

Kenya loses about 10 billion shillings ($97 million) a year to foreign boats fishing without permission, President Uhuru Kenyatta said at the launch on Monday, vowing to crack down on drug, people and arms smuggling along Kenya’s lengthy coast.

“The role of the coastguard is quite pivotal,” said David Obura, coordinator for a coastal research organisation, Cordio East Africa. “Just like on land, until you establish security of tenure its very challenging to manage it.”

Africa’s fish stocks are being depleted by industrial trawlers which comb the oceans to feed European and Asian markets, experts say, threatening coastal incomes and diets.

Until the launch of the coastguard, Kenya’s navy has been responsible for maritime security but experts said it was overstretched.

Pirate attacks launched from Kenya’s northern neighbour, Somalia, were a major security issue until 2012 when ships tightened security and stayed further away from the coast.

Only half a dozen African countries have their own coastguard, Andrew Mwangura, a Kenyan maritime expert, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“We’ve been sea blind,” he said. “We’ve been relying on the navy too much. The navy are limited in what they can do. They cannot arrest someone and take them to court.”

The world’s poorest continent loses $42 billion a year to illegal fishing and logging, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa estimates.

“Fishing by foreign vessels has been a big problem to us fishermen,” said Mohamed Somo, chairman of the Lamu Beach Management Unit, a Kenyan fishermen’s association.

“They come near the shores and cut our fishing nets and once they are done, our fish stocks are depleted.”

About 2 million Kenyans depend on fishing but dwindling stocks in nearshore waters and a slump in tourism due to insecurity have worsened poverty along its palm-fringed coast, according to the World Bank.

Kenyatta said the government would improve ports and require fishing vessels to land 30 percent of their catch in Kenya, creating more than 10,000 jobs in five years.

“Never again will a foreign vessel steal our fish,” he said.

But the navy only has two vessels, said Obura of Cordio East Africa, while Kenyatta has unveiled one ship for the new coastguard.

“It is not enough and, from what I saw, it’s a relatively big vessel and will be quite slow,” he said.

“A big challenge will be the cost of running the vessels.”

This article was written by Kevin Mwanza and edited by Katy Migiro for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience.


  1. It was a foreign fishing fleet that hoovered up the fish off Somalia resulting in the rise of piracy. However a single expensive vessel like this one is not going to be able to patrol the whole of the Kenya coast. I proposed a number of years ago that the Government should have purchased a fleet of second hand trawlers, modified them, with a deck cannon and drones, and then have them patrol for a fixed period and then allow them to rotate and break off into deep water to fish and deliver to either a factory ship or cannery in the Seychelles. This income would pay for their running costs. A self financing coastal patrol service which in the first instance could have been a public private partnership to allow for skills transfer and management. Suitably incentivised management would ensure a minimum of corrupt activity and in time might even result in a cannery established in Kenya. Here is Big Z a purseine trawler. The helicopter is used for fish spotting but a suitable platform for drones. Kenya could have had 5 or 6 of these vessels for the cost of the single large vessel purchased.

Leave a Reply