The Old Town Fish Market in Mombasa

Old Town Fish Market

I wonder whether those in the first world brag about the third world after visiting it.

Where I come from, if someone visits say America, America is all they will talk of for the next few months after coming back. America this, America that, America everywhere! Others will even acquire a fake American accent. I guess exposure affects us differently.

Let me expose you to some bewildering facts that might affect you.

More than 90% of Kenya’s fish come from inland lakes, rivers and fish ponds as opposed to the 1,420 kilometer coastline of the Indian Ocean that sits on its east. It lands approximately 15,000 tonnes of fish annually from the Indian Ocean yet, there is an immediate potential of 15,000 tonnes per month. The current 15,000 tonnes annually is providing direct jobs to approximately 33,000 people. Can you now begin to imagine what amount of direct employment the monthly 15,000 tonnes of fish will create? A focus on the fishing industry in Kenya will undoubtedly change the unemployment scene in Kenya as a whole.

These figures got me thinking why not visit the Fish Market in Old Town, Mombasa? I would frequent the place a lot as a young boy, back when the world’s exposure to computer games was almost nonexistent. Countless boys in Mombasa, myself included, learned how to swim here. The rear access door which is for bringing in fish from the boats leads you downstairs to the dock.

The Old Town Fish Market in Mombasa

So, I toured the Old Town Fish Market with my cousin Nagib Bhalo.

The facilities got a face lift late 2015 but a lot still remains undone in getting it looking and operating like it is in the 21st century. There are promises by the government to improve it further such as having a seafront for a walkway and a park to attract tourists. I think the walkway idea is spectacular. I hear there is such a place in Zanzibar which I can’t wait to visit someday soon.

The Old Town Fish Market in Mombasa

Fishing in Kenya is largely artisanal and semi-industrial. Activities at the Old Town fish market perfectly suit this description. Fishermen here either lack engine operated boats hence rely mostly on sails or their boats’ engines are small. This forces them to concentrate within 5 nautical miles (9.3 kilometres) from the shore. Mind you, Kenya has 200 nautical miles of Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ). EEZ is a sea zone prescribed by the United Nations Convention on the law of the sea over which a country has special rights regarding its exploration.

Lack of sufficient post harvest equipment such as cold stores pose another challenge. The traders here target to sell all their stock the same day it arrives.

Here is another thing.

Of the 57 deep-sea fishing licenses issued in East Africa in 2016, only one flies the Kenyan flag. The rest were given to South Korea, Spain, Italy and Taiwan. See where the over 140,000 tonnes of potential catch are going to?

The Old Town Fish Market in Mombasa

The limitations cripple the industry further from another front. A good number of fishermen result to illegally fishing with long nets tied between two boats dragging anything in its way. This leads to breaking of coral hence destroying breeding grounds and catching of small fish hence destroying breeding cycles.

To curb harmful fishing methods as well as protection of Kenyan waters from invasion, there has been the introduction of The Fisheries Management and Development Act 2016. The legislation aims to provide for the conservation, management and development of fisheries and other aquatic resources. The Act gives guidance on the import and export trade of fish and fish products, fish quality and safety among other provisions. It also establishes the Kenya Fisheries Services and the Kenya Fisheries Advisory Council. However, enforcement by these bodies is still invisible.

Fish arriving at the market at any given day is a few kilos against the huge demand in Mombasa. This in turn drives the prices of fish upwards.

I hope my shots are enough to showcase the old town fish market in positive light. Of interest to me are the scores of jobless youth in Mombasa, I pray that they see this potential. The government will at some point focus on the fisheries industry, the best time to tap into the opportunity is now.

The Old Town Fish Market in Mombasa


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