The status of Kenya Fisheries

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Media Type: Report / Policy Brief

Date of Publication: January

Year of Publication: 2020

Publication City: Mombasa, Kenya

Publisher: Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI)

Author(s): Edward Ndirui Kimani, Gladys M. Okemwa , Christopher Mulanda Aura

Categories: , , , ,

Executive Summary

The fisheries resources of Kenya are distributed within the inland freshwater bodies and the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) within the Indian Ocean. The marine and inland water fisheries are distinct in geographical scope, operations and markets.
Inland fisheries are defined and managed based on ecosystems, water bodies and species, while the classification of marine fisheries is based on fishing gear and their operations, target species and geographic scope. Kenya’s fishing industry contributes about 0.5% of the national GDP and about 2% of the national export earnings. The industry employs over 60,000 fishers directly and an estimated 1.2 million people directly and indirectly within the fishing, production and supply chain. This income and livelihoods are mainly supported by the freshwater Lakes Victoria, Turkana, Naivasha, Baringo, Rivers Tana, Athi-Sabaki, Nzoia, Yala, and man-made dams, as well as the coastal and the open sea ecosystems.

National fishery catches increased to almost 200,000 mt in the 1990s followed by a subsequent drop mainly due to the decline of the Nile perch fishery in Lake Victoria. Marine fish production is from the territorial waters and the Exclusive
Economic Zone (EEZ), spanning approximately 230,000 km2. The fishing capacity is constituted of about 3,000 small scale fishing crafts and approximately 14,000 fishers. The small scale fishing crafts are dominated by wooden dugout canoes,
mashua and outriggers, of which less than 10% is motorised. There are 3 – 4 shallow water trawlers, while about 30 – 40 purse seiners and 4 – 9 longliners are licensed to fish in the Kenya EEZ annually. Marine fishery catch data indicates an annual production of 24,709 mt worth KES 4.6 billion. The status of nearshore fishery stocks varies from optimally exploited to overfished for some species and localities.


Fisheries that show definite signs of decline include sharks, the semi-industrial prawn trawl fishery and sea cucumber fishery. The offshore fishery potential is estimated to be between 150,000 – 300,000 mt worth KES 21 – 42 billion. Lake Victoria contributes about 80% of the fish production in Kenya, 1% of world capture fish and 8% of world inland capture fish and also supports the largest inland freshwater fishery on earth. However, only 6% of the lake is in Kenya. In 2016, 118,145 mt of fish worth about KES 9.44 billion was landed from Lake Victoria. The main commercial fish species from Lake Victoria include Rastrineobola agentea (Omena), Lates niloticus (Nile perch) and Oreochromis niloticus (Tilapia). The current number of fishers is estimated to be slightly over 43,000, and the number of fishing crafts to over 14,000 which are artisanal. The decline in the Lake Victoria fishery is driven by increasing demand for fish, leading to increasing use of illegal fishing gears, as well the proliferation of macrophytes, due to increased nutrient from runoff which has far-reaching implications on fish production and other water-based economic activities in the Lake.


The other lakes, dams and rivers produce approximately 10,000 mt worth KES 0. 926 billion. The fish is caught by an estimated 8,000 fishers operating 2,200 fishing crafts. The Lake Turkana fishery is mainly supported by the Nile perch (L. niloticus) and Nile tilapia (O. niloticus), while other species include Labeo horie, Alestes spp, Distichodus niloticus, Citharinus spp, Bagrus spp and Hydrocynus forskahlii contribute less. The Lake Naivasha fishery is based on seven introduced species namely; Cyprinus carpio, Oreochromis leucostictus, Orechromis niloticus, Tilapia zillii, Micropterus salmoides, Procambarus clarkii and clarius (Catfish) species.


Cyprinus carpio is the dominant fish species in the lake followed by Tilapia. The  changes in the lake environment include the decline in water quality and the proliferation of invasive plants namely Salvinia molesta (floating water fern) in the 1980s, and more recently, by water hyacinth, Eichhornia crassipes.

The Lake Baringo fishery is made of four fish species namely: Protopterus aethiopicus, Barbus intermedius australis, Clarias gariepinus and Oreochromis niloticus baringoensis. P. aethiopicus currently dominates the catches, while O. niloticus baringoensis used to dominate catches in the 80s and 90s. Fish production in Lake Baringo has been dwindling over the years driven by changes in water level.

The main challenges facing Kenya’s fishery sector include environmental change and variability, invasive species, overfishing, declining stocks and post-harvest loss. Management interventions developed over the years include introduction of co-management structures mainly the Beach Management Units (BMUs) and the Community Conservation Areas (CBCAs) mandated with the management of fishing operations and conservation of the local environment, and development and implementation of fisheries management plans at the local level.


The fisheries sector has the potential for increased production particularly in the marine fisheries and Lake Turkana. Reduction of postharvest loss, processing and value addition has the potential to significantly increase the value and the contribution of fisheries to the national economy and food security. Investment in land-based fish handling and value addition infrastructure as well as monitoring of the stocks and the water quality are key for enhanced growth in the capture fishery sector. Kenya is looking at national aquatic resources, in particular capture fisheries and aquaculture, as a frontier for economic development to support the Vision 2030 development objectives as well as the Sustainable Development Goals (MDGs) of food security and poverty reduction. The Blue Economy initiative also recognizes the important role of aquatic-based activities, to the economic development and food security of Kenya. For the purpose of development planning and to support the sustainable management of fisheries resources, timely data and information on the status of the fishery stocks and associated ecosystems is critical.

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