Climate change affects individuals and their livelihoods differently. Fishermen are victims of direct climate change impacts on their lives and fishing.
To understand how fishermen are affected, how they respond to the apparent climate effects, and the ripple effect on fish traders, I had a roundtable discussion with some fishers and fish traders in Bamburi beach, Mombasa, Kenya.
The fishers in Bamburi practice mainly offshore fishing. Deep-sea fishing is practiced by a few. Offshore fishing is no longer appealing when comparing the two fishing methods because of climate change and socioenvironmental challenges. On the other hand, deep-sea fishing is a good option; however, the lack of equipment is a significant obstacle.
Based on the fishers’ perceptive observation, climate-associated changes have been noticeable over recent years, such as changes in wave strength and tides, higher temperatures and humidity, and erratic rainfall. It is not easy to predict the weather. For example, it was noted that the timings of the waves have changed, an occurrence that can complicate fishing activities. This is so because most of the fishermen sail; hence, they should be aware of the situation in the sea essentially for their safety.
‘Sea drought’ is another phenomenon cited by the fishermen to have persisted within their fishing grounds. Because of the erratic and minimal rains, drought occurs. Consequently, seagrass, which the fish feed on, disappears, prompting the fish to migrate elsewhere. The seagrass often attracts fish, making offshore fishing possible.
The effect of reduced fish quantities and quality caught by the fishermen trickles down to the fish traders who get few fish to sell. It also means the coastal people, most of whom consume seafood, and the tourism and hotel industry that relies on the fishermen to cement their business, are affected.
Climate change impacts on fishing are widespread and affect the social and economic activities within the coastal region.
Realising that climate change will likely be experienced in the foreseeable future, the fishermen noted that they had taken some adaptive measures. A fundamental reason is that fishing is their primary source of livelihood, and it is like a career they are unwilling to let go of despite the challenges they encounter.
One such adaptive strategy is learning different fishing types. The fishermen called it “all-weather” fishing as opposed to specializing in fishing only one fish type.
Continuous skills acquisition and improvement are vital aspects of the fishing industry currently. More than a single skill is required. Diversification is essential. The same applies to the fish traders, who noted that they had to start selling different types of fish and work with suppliers from other parts of the town.
Skills acquisition among the fishermen has been reinforced by the educative programmes offered by some organisations, such as Expertise France, which is implementing the Marine Security component of the Go Blue Project. Through Expertise France, the fishermen have been trained on maritime security, which includes the necessity of putting on life jackets, checking the weather forecast on the internet before heading into the sea as well as response measures during emergencies while in the ocean.
While climate change is seemingly the main issue, it was established that other social and environmental challenges, such as pollution and increasing pressure on corals, exacerbate the climate effects felt by the fishermen.
Pollution in the sea is attributed to the direct discharge of sewage from households, swimming pools, and hotels. Some of the discharges into the ocean affect the reproduction and normal functioning of the fish and other aquatic life. The fish tend to migrate elsewhere, which is a drawback to the fishermen.
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Caroline Kibii is an environmental researcher and consultant