By Paul Kimanzi

Tana River county government has partnered with the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) to unlock the county’s aquaculture potential, a sector which has been underexploited despite the region boasting a fish rich 76 km coastline.

To promote the uptake of fish farming across the Tana River, the county has sponsored its fishery extension officers for aquaculture training in Mombasa, facilitated by KMFRI aquaculture experts, with the view of transferring the knowledge to the locals.

Speaking during the conclusion of the three-day training, the County Executive Committee Member for Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries & Veterinary Services, Phares Buya, said the training will provide fisheries sustainability to the county.

“With our enormous aquatic resources, aquaculture will be the backbone of the county’s economy,”  said Buya.

He acknowledged the short-term support offered to promote aquaculture in the county such as the Kenya Marine Fisheries and Socio-Economic Development (KEMFSED) and Agriculture Sector Development Support Programme (ASDSP). However, Buya said those programmes come and go, leaving the sector unstable, hence the need to build the capacities of fishery officers for long-term resilience.

KMFRI Assistant Director in charge of Mariculture Dr. David Mirera, who was the lead trainer expressed optimism that aquaculture will do well in Tana River.

Accompanied by hydrographers and other research scientists, he revealed that he was among the KMFRI team that recently visited the county’s aquaculture sites of Kipini, Wenje and Bura to collect data and advise the county on its ambitious aquaculture plans. Kipini is a marine site while Wenje and Bura are freshwater sites.

Tana River waters are said to be heavily infested with crocodiles, hippos and other predators which might pose a serious impediment to setting up cage culture in freshwater systems, a concern that was raised by the trainees.

“We have done it before. We will work with the community to conduct a pilot experiment and soon we will advise the county on the way forward,” Dr. Mirera said.

“KMFRI is all rounded with a huge capacity of scientists, oceanographers, technicians and divers. It is the only institution in Kenya where you can find all these experts in one place.”

He revealed the possibility to use wire mesh to deter predators from obstructing the fish farmers as they access their cages.

“ASDSP approached us for support. We visited the sites and from the data we have, cage culture can do well. We also established lobsters can do better in Kipini if caged thus, boost productivity,” said Dr. Mirera.

The County Chief Officer for Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries & Veterinary Services,Gollo Kanchoro acknowledged the big aquaculture potential that has been underutilized because the county has low capacity.

“KMFRI will bring the new impetus. We have chosen the institute because of the high capacity it has, its availability and accessibility as well,” said Kanchoro.

Initially, the county had 355 ponds spread across the county but the initiative collapsed due to what Kanchoro termed as effects of climate change that forced the river to change course, flooding swept away the ponds and the county had little capacity to restore the project.

Despite a growing demand for seafood in the coastal region, the locals who farm fish and other species such as lobsters, crabs and shrimps have been unable to meet the demand.

KMFRI has offered technical support to coastal communities, some of whom have been doing well in seafood businesses including Umoja Self Group, in Kilifi county, and Dabaso Creek Conservation Group (DCCG), based in Dabaso, Kilifi, which majorly leverages culture systems and has diversified the business to ecotourism.