In the last three decades, Kenya has experienced a sharp decline in artisanal fishing.
Marine scientists attribute this to the continued use of illegal and destructive fishing methods.
According to Nyaga Kanyange, a programme co-ordinator at the Coastal and Marine Resources Development, the use of beach seines, spear guns, chemical fishing (poison, dynamite, cyanide) among others have continued to degrade the marine environment by disrupting food chains and removing critical habitats where fish thrive.
"Not only will fishers lose their income but also the coastal populace will be deprived of their single most important source of protein,” he says.
To address these challenges, the government and non-governmental organisations have introduced use of fish aggregating devices to increase fish production.
The FADs will be under the custody of beach management units, which comprise community members off the coast of Msambweni in Kwale.
A FAD consists of floating buoys (floaters), a rope or strap, aggregators, a flag and concrete which acts as an anchor.
The buoys are attached along the rope at intervals to make it float while the rope is tethered on the concrete at the seabed.
Plastic straps — referred as aggregators, on which phytoplankton and algae which fish feed on — then colonise part of the rope in the sea. At the tip of the floating part, a flag is attached to mark the FAD since the device is normally deployed in deep sea.
The algae are fed on by small fish while the big fish feed on the small fish providing a soft spot for fishers. Aggregators also form hiding places for smaller fish which attract bigger fish.
Installing the devices in deep sea ensures coral reefs, normally found closer to shores, are protected as they attract tourists and are also home for most sea creatures.
Four anchored FADs of varying depths ranging from 43 to 63 metres have been deployed to four fish landing sites namely Mwaembe, Munje, Gazi and Mkunguni.
"This is the ideal place to pilot the project. The geography of Msambweni is good for the FADs,” says Pascal Thoya, a research scientist with Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute.
Thoya says the FADs also provide a safe and secure fishing environment, reduces pressure on other fishing grounds and cuts cost on fuel on fishing boats.
According to 2014 Marine Artisanal Frame Survey, 13,000 small scale fishermen along the coastal strip using 3,000 boats produce between 7,000 and 9,000 metric tonnes of fish annually, with about 600,000 beneficiaries in the value addition chain.
"Fishermen will start enjoying the fruits of FADs after a three-month lapse from the deployment time while the current devices may be changed after a period of three to four years,” Thoya says.
The devices mostly catch fish like tuna, kingfish, sailfish, dorado, tengesi and other pelagic fish.The nine-month project, which started late last year and ending in May, is funded by the European Union through Indian Ocean Commission’s Smartfish project and the World Bank Global Environment Facility through Kenya Coastal Development Project.