Assessment of fishing gears used by artisan fishers on fish species in River Sondu Miriu, Western Kenya
Waswala, Brian Marvis
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Artisan fishers of River Sondu Miriu, Western Kenya, utilize a wide range of fishing gears, which include long lines, weirs, beach seines, fish baskets, and gill nets of various mesh sizes. The fishing gears have both positive and negative effects on the fishery. The study was conducted between August 2006 and July 2007, during the wet and dry seasons. Four study sites were selected along the river where questionnaires were administered randomly to the artisan fishers. The major objective of the study was to assess the impacts of various fishing gears used by artisan fishers in the lower River Sondu Miriu and recommend measures for planning, and sustaining the rational utilization of the river fish species. The most predominantly used gear was the seine net followed by the gill. Beach seines preference was 42%, while other gears were gill nets (28%); long lines (14%); fish baskets (9%) and weirs (7%). The results indicated that the proportion of fish trapped varied among gears and caught fish were in different developmental stages. The juvenile fish caught in total catches by long lines, fish baskets, weirs, gill nets and beach seines were 2%, 11%, 16%, 24% and 32% respectively. The order of mature fish capture from the best to worst gears was thus long lines, fish baskets, weirs, gill nets and beach seines. Non-selective gears are fishing gears that catch both targeted and non-targeted species irrespective of sizes and developmental stages. Within Osodo Beach, these non-selective fishing gears were beach seines and gill nets. The gill nets involved were those lower than 4 inches in mesh size and 4 inches hang at a hanging ratio below 0.5. These gears caught gravid and juvenile fish which in the long term may have negative impacts on the riverine fish. These impacts include reduction of spawning biomass and lacustrine recruitment levels thus affecting the sustainability of the fish resource and economy of the area since fishing was the major economic activity. Lost and/or abandoned fish baskets and weirs were also non–selective though to a lower scale unlike the seines and gill nets. These effects may lead to the change in fish species composition, increased by-catch and ghost fishing. Construction and setting of weirs and baskets interfered with wetland refugia and increased sediments. Fish species in the seines were mostly comprised of Schilbe intermedius, Labeo victorianus Synodontis victoriae, Brycinus sadleri, Afromastacembelus frenatus, and Clarias gariepinus. In gill nets, the most encountered species were Schilbe intermedius, Labeo victorianus and Barbus. In baskets, Haplochromines and Schilbe were the commonest species caught. Weirs and baskets contained mostly Schilbe intermedius and Oreochromis niloticus while long lines caught Clarias sp. and Oreochromis sp. Fishing was done in calm water areas of the river and was more intense during the wet than dry season during which the fish spawned. This was attributed to the increased number of lacustrine fish that swim upstream to spawn. These fish were gravid females and milting males of large sizes. Fishing was also conducted in the flood plains, river course and river mouth. The river course and river mouth are fished all year. However, the river mouth is the most preferred since both the lake and riverine fish were present in the area. Fishing was the major economic activity in the area (64%) as compared to subsistence agriculture (36%). Economic gain accounts from fishing were 68% while from subsistence gain was 32%. The commercial fish were sold in the local markets. The most preferred commercial fish types were Synodontis victoriae, Schilbe intermedius, Haplochromines and Clarias gariepinus while Afromastacembelus frenatus was the least preferred, usually discarded dead into the river, though occasionally eaten. Fish reduced the communities’ dependence on other protein sources like meat and chicken, which are expensive. In the local markets, a collection of five fish goes for between ten and twenty Kenyan shillings (0.14-0.28 US$). This was mainly during fish abundance. When the fish were scarce, they fetched higher prices. The money generated though negligible, settled school fees, health care and other social amenities bills after long time accumulations. At the major markets, fish sold by middlemen fetched from thirty to fifty Kenyan shillings (0.43-0.71 US$). Unlike fishing, agriculture practiced in the area was mainly for subsistence purposes. The study concluded that the River Sondu fishery is under threat from increased fishing pressure and degradation of fish nursery areas by fisher folk. Recommendations from this study are: fishing effort should be reduced through regulated fishing by season and location, e.g. closed fishing during spawning seasons; participatory revision of existing fishing laws and regulations should be done; implementing awareness and sensitization programs to fishers should be done; and providing credit facilities to promote alternative livelihood e.g. agriculture should be encouraged.