• The majority of the so-called foot-fishermen are former flower farm workers and tens of youths who are home following the closure of schools.
• The minors are from the nearby informal settlements of Kihoto, Karagita, Karuturi, Kamere, DCK and Tarambeta and the lake is their new employer.
From the main Nairobi-Nakuru highway, the scenery around Lake Naivasha is memorable due to the sparkling water and tens of boats that cruise from one end to the other.
Nearby, tens of greenhouses covered in polythene papers spread around the lake, whose water levels have risen sharply.
All looks well until one gets closer to the lake where tens of semi-naked men and minors armed with hooks and illegal nets line along the shores in search of fish.
The presence of hippos does not deter them as they go for the ‘free and readily available’ catch around the troubled lake that is currently under the mercy of illegal fishermen.
The majority of the so-called foot-fishermen are former flower farm workers and tens of youths who are home following the closure of schools.
The minors are from the nearby informal settlements of Kihoto, Karagita, Karuturi, Kamere, DCK and Tarambeta and the lake is their new employer.
High levels of poverty coupled with lack of funding for various agencies mandated to patrol the lake have been blamed for the current crisis of child labour and illegal fishing.
Currently, fish production in the lake is unstable, swaying from one month to the other, with weather patterns and illegal fishing playing a part in production.
According to John, not his real name, he is now the bread winner for his family despite his tender age of 15 years. He has been fishing for the last two years now.
“My mother used to work in one of the flower farms and when she was sacked, I had to drop from school and join my colleagues in fishing and this is the best move I have ever made,” he says.
He says that on a good day, he can make over Sh1,000, which he shares with the mother to feed his two younger siblings.
“There are risks around the lake, which include drowning and attacks by hippos, but we do not have any other solution but to seek daily bread,” he says before retreating back to the lake.
Fisherman Joshua Wambugui says poachers, including the minors, have taken over the lake and are earning more than the licensed fishermen.
He says that due to their numbers, they are intimidating them and government officers, adding that they fish anywhere and anytime they want.
“The poacher’s daily catch is 10 times larger than ours as they use undersize nets, fish anytime and along the shorelines and breeding zones, which is illegal,” he says.
According to David Kilo, Lake Naivasha Boat Owners Association chairman, the crisis started in 2013 when the county lifted the annual ban and failed to control illegal fishing.
He says seining (fishing along the shorelines) has become the order of the day, with illegal fishermen and the minors netting more that the licensed ones.
“The Fisheries department does not have the capacity to control poaching in the lake and there is need for more funding and personnel from the county,” he says.
He confirms that 90 per cent of illegal fishermen are former flower farm workers living in nearby informal settlements and who have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus crisis.
“The former workers and the minors are fishing on the shorelines and breeding grounds which is illegal and this has affected the fisheries sector in a very big way,” he says.
Chairperson Maendeleo ya Wanawake Naivasha branch Esther Nyokabi terms the situation as a ticking time bomb.
Nyokabi, who hails from Karagita estate, says they have raised the issue with the necessary arms of governments but little has been done.
“The rate of school dropout in estates around the lake is on the rise due to the amount of money the minors are getting from the free fish every day,”
Nyokabi says the allure of quick cash has seen minors and youths troop to the lake as it’s the only source of bread for them.
“Parents who cannot afford school fees or a meal for their families are sending the youths to the lake, while the unemployed are heading to the same water body,” she says.
Karagita chief Hussein Guyo points an accusing finger at the department of Fisheries for the crisis.
He says when the issue of child labour around the landing beaches was reported, they moved in and ordered the traders involved to stop the trade.
“We no longer have minors working in the landing beaches but many have moved to the shores of the lake where they are fishing and its only fisheries officers through their patrols who can stop this,” he says.
He admits that cases of lawlessness among the youths involved in the illegal fishing have been reported in various estates, with many turning to liquor during their free time.
A senior Education officer who is not authorized to speak to the press says they do not have statistics on the number of minors involved in the trade but admits it’s high.
He says the issue has been raised with their offices and that they cannot work alone but need the support of other lead government agencies.
“There is a lot of cash generated from this lake and peer pressure has played a part with students from the informal settlements joining their colleagues for the quick buck,” he says.
Naivasha subcounty commissioner Mathioya Mbogo says a meeting between the department of fisheries, the Kenya Wildlife Service and the beach management has been held over the issue.
He says the poachers have formed ‘human-shields’ and cartels around the lake, forcing security personnel to intervene.
“We shall definitely deal with this menace as well as with cases of drug use and cartels,” he says.
Peter Muthui from Friends of Lake Naivasha notes that at the current rate, fishing in the lake will be a thing of the past by the end of the year rendering hundreds jobless.
He notes that already, the Common carp species that counted for over 50 per cent of fish catch in the lake is facing extinction due to the illegal poaching.
“In 2000, we faced a similar crisis when the fisheries collapsed due to over-fishing and I am not a prophet of doom but we are headed the same way if no urgent measures are taken,” he says.
He says there is a crisis in the lake, and that the fisheries department does not have an operational boat or even a vehicle to work with.
“Unless urgent action is taken, the fisheries resources in the lake may be depleted before the end of this financial year,” he says.
Edited by EKibii