Why Kenya is still importing deep sea fishing experts
Kenya still imports labor mainly from West Africa and the Seychelles to work in the deep-sea fishing industry due to the lack of local skills.
The Chief Executive of the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (Kmfri), Professor James Njiru, said the country lacks the required skills, although the sector offers rewarding career opportunities.
“We are short of crew, which forces us to import labor from West Africa, Seychelles and other countries. Jobs at sea are important. Those crew members who board the ships earn $1,000,” Professor Njiru said.
Dr. Cosmas Munga from the Technical University of Mombasa (TUM) denounced the lack of capacity of local youths, the majority of whom avoid university courses in the maritime sector.
Dr Munga said the state was focusing on training low caliber workers, leaving a gap in science.
The university has had great difficulty recruiting students over the past five years.
“We lack experts because we focus on low caliber jobs. We have seen a downward trend in terms of admission of students pursuing marine and fisheries related programs,” Dr. Munga said.
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He challenged Kmfri and other players to do more to attract more students to practice on the pitch.
The government has commissioned Kmfri to train 1,000 Kenyans to venture into the sea, with 1 billion shillings set aside for the plan.
Professor Njiru said the institute has so far trained 300 fishermen.
“We are training young Kenyans so that the crew members on board vessels flagged or licensed in Kenya are locals. We plan to train more. The problem has been in terms of the ships we are licensing,” he said.
Last year, the government partnered with a Namibian company to train local fishermen in deep-sea fishing and is using two of the country’s flagged vessels to train its crew.
Another challenge is the lack of vessels as Kenya is allowed to license around 70 fishing vessels in its deep waters.
Kenya’s deep waters are currently exploited by foreign industrial fishing vessels due to the challenges faced by artisanal fishers, including limited fishing technology for semi-industrial and industrial deep-sea fishing.
“TUM has appropriate programs relevant to Blue Economy. We offer degree programs in Marine Resource Management, Fisheries and Oceanography, Maritime Courses and other related courses,” Dr. Munga said.
However, Prof. Njiru called for education, creation and education of students to venture into science.
“The blue economy will explode in Kenya, but we are still short of key people. It is incumbent on all stakeholders to convince our young people to pursue scientific degrees in fisheries and maritime to land employment opportunities” , said Professor Njiru.
The Kmfri boss said Kenya has the potential to export fishing experts if it comes up with the right strategies.
“If we have 5,000 young people recruited by the ships we are firing, we can only earn 6 billion shillings through employment. Ships are forced to import labor from other countries, but we have our unemployed youths,” Professor Njiru said.
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The Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Peter Munya, said all foreign vessels in Kenyan territorial waters must employ qualified local youths.
Currently, foreign vessels and trawlers fishing in Kenya’s Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) employ foreigners due to lack of local expertise.
President Kenyatta has given guidelines to train local fishermen in deep-sea fishing at the Bandari Maritime Academy before venturing out to sea to learn practical skills.
They are trained in fishing, safety and security of the sea. They will later be employed by foreign vessels fishing in Kenyan territorial waters as Kenya accelerates the building of its local fishing capacity to create jobs occupied by strangers.
“There are opportunities in ocean liners and fishing vessels that venture into our exclusive economic zone. Currently the ships have employed Sierra Leoneans and other West African crews because we lacked capacity. But it will now be compulsory to employ our fishermen,” he added.
Kenyan fishermen are used to venturing into shallow waters and using small boats.
Kenya’s annual fish production stands at 160,000 metric tons against a potential of 300,000 metric tons per year.
Kmfri research statistics show that there is currently a deficit of about 400,000 metric tons of fish in the country.