Fishing capacity, markets crucial for smart use of territorial waters

The Guardian
Published at 09:44 AM Jul 06 2024
Photo: File

TOP officials in the Livestock and Fisheries ‘twin sectors’ are understood to be working on plans to use drones for surveillance of the country’s share of large water bodies to control illegal fishing, where deep sea fishing is a priority.

This is a matter that comes and goes in policy making or setting up procedure for the registration and licensing of fishing vessels, with experience showing that we have had scant little in that direction.

This new initiative has a specific tool it is exhibiting to beef up the monitoring aspect, even without much else.

This intention was aired at the host agreement signing ceremony ahead of a council of ministers’ session of the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) set for next month.

It is an illustration that drone technology is increasingly emerging as handy for various needs relating to cover wide spaces in a short while but its likely effectiveness differs from one targeted application to another.

Spraying insecticides using drones is one thing, and checking foreign fishing vessels with drones is clearly different.

What ails this technology that ministerial bureaucrats may figure out as ‘game-changing’ in efforts to control massive intrusion into not just exclusive economic zone but even territorial sea water is the ‘what next’ issue.

For once, the drone-using agency could indeed alert a police patrol boat or station harbouring such boats that blast fishing is taking place at a spot not far from wherever they are.

Also, presumably the boats will have fuel and the sort of equipment and staffing at that moment needed to apprehend the suspected wrongdoers. It is however altogether different regarding large fishing vessels within our exclusive economic zone.

There was a time, not less than 15 years ago, when a foreign fishing vessel was intercepted within territorial waters complete with its fish catch.

The crew ended up in court and the vessel was marooned at the harbour until the courts were done with the case.

It was a desultory result where the government lost the case in our own courts and was compelled to pay the vessel owners not just for the catch impounded and destroyed but also the civil damages arising from the matter. It is unlikely anyone at Livestock and Fisheries still has a stomach for that sort of adventure.

Thus, for the ministry to expect that drones will help the relevant authorities to know who is doing what and where looks credible in as far as survey documentation is concerned, but not what to do thereafter.

Local operators blasting seashore breeding grounds for fish could as well be nailed, but that depends entirely on the level of motivation and resourcefulness on the part of the monitoring staff. That diligence isn’t always exhibited.

There is therefore the danger of the ministry using millions or billions of shillings on a drone programme merely to write reports on what was spotted.

Regular enforcement in the wake of such observation would hardly be spot on, for reasons of weak legal premises as well as lack of readiness on the part of law enforcers.

As we lag in fishing capacity and the markets to readily dispose of any substantial increase in fish harvests, we should look to engage private fishermen whose records we can at least inspect and obtain taxes as in mining, or beef them up for their own welfare and access to cheaper fish for the public.