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Fishermen’s stocks hit hard as plastic waste pollutes lake

By Viola Kosome
Tuesday, March 2nd, 2021
In summary

When Jairus Ojanga received reports from fishermen that a large stockpile of dead fish had been washed ashore at Mahanga beach in Mageta Island, he was not surprised.

A few meters away from where the fish lay, a huge pile of plastic wastes including bottles of used chemicals were floating in the lake and had partially turned the color of the lake next to it.

For the Beach Management Unit chairman and a veteran fisherman who had seen it all at the isolated island which is located a few meters away from the Kenya-Uganda border, plastic pollution at the island is the source of the disaster.

He quickly mobilized fellow fishermen and they began removing the plastics from the water, an exercise they now undertake four times a week.

With no proper waste management system at the tiny island, the lake is the dumping site of all plastic wastes produced by residents and threatens aquatic life and the quality of water.

Fishermen too who use plastic containers to carry fuel for their motor boats also dump the used plastics at the lake with remnants of chemicals seeping into the fresh water lake.

“It is not easy for us. There are plastic wastes everywhere but at times we burn them and also encourage women to use them as fire-food,” said Ojanga.

At the island, more than 200 fishing boats and passenger boats rely on small bottles to carry their fuel with the bottles disposed in the lake after usage.

The situation has been worsened by a lack of a petrol station at the island which means that all fuel products must be ferried from the mainland in bottles.

When People Daily visited the island at the weekend, fishermen were busy weighing their last catch at a temporary structure being used to weigh and sell their fish to customers.

A few moments after weighing the last Nile Perch, they shifted their attention to another major collective activity-collection of plastics from the lake.

Daniel Omego, fishermen described the painful ordeal they have had to endure as a result of the plastics that are being dumped into the lake.

“The effects are clear. The catch has been dwindling in the last couple of years and now it is almost impossible to get even some species of fish,” he said.

According to the fishermen, unlike the past where one beach would produce even up to two tonnes of Nile Perch, the numbers have now dropped down with fishermen barely making a catch of 150 Kilograms.

They attribute the low numbers on pollution and plastic wastes which they claim have chemicals that kill fish in huge numbers.

“There are those who dump plastic containers with acid in the lake and this has contributed to the death of fish. It is a cause of concern but our people do not understand,” said Ojanga.

A spot check across the island also established that wastes have been dumped all over with temporary structures erected at the island also having huge heaps of wastes next to them.

The island does not have a tarmac road with the only means of transport on the land being motorcycles which also rely on bottles of fuel sold at several kiosks at the island.

In one of the kiosks, a fuel supplier had more than 150-two litre water bottles packed with petroleum used by motorcycles.

The supplier who wished not to be named told People Daily that he gets the bottles from the mainland in Siaya County on weekly basis.

“As a businessman, it is not my responsibility to know whether the boda boda operators have disposed off the containers safely after fueling their motorcycles,” he said.

He however admits that plastic wastes is a huge problem in the island and is a threat to the lake as a whole.

The threats of the plastics have caught the attention of the National Environmental Management Authority (Nema) and other government agencies tasked with protecting the lake and claim plastics is a disaster in waiting.

Away from Mageta Island, several islands and beaches in Siaya and Homa Bay counties are also struggling with huge piles of plastic wastes that threaten to cripple fishing activities.

Fishermen oblivious of the dangers they are exposing aquatic life to are also contributing to the plastic wastes through the containers of food they dispose in the lake during fishing expeditions.

It is estimated that Mageta alone produces about half a tone of plastic wastes on a daily basis which has prompted the fishermen to collect and burn some of the plastics after two to three days.

The situation is the same at Sifu and Mfangano islands where a lack of proper waste management systems has turned the lake into the dumping site for all manner of plastic wastes.

At Usenge beach, which is a major landing zone for boats from Uganda and nearby islands, a line of plastic wastes has dotted its shoreline.

The situation has been worsened by the rising waters of Lake Victoria which has also washed plastics from a dumping site located next to the lake into the waters.

Joseph Ogoo, a fisherman told People Daily that the problem of plastic wastes has existed since time immemorial.

“Most people consider it normal that why you will always see people throwing them in the water,” said Ogoo.

Director General National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) Mamo Boru admitted that plastic pollution is a major challenge in Lake Victoria which interferes with the marine ecosystems.

He said plastics will never degrade but will develop into tiny micro plastics which are later eaten by marine life like fish and other microorganisms.

According to him,the estimation by the UN Environment is that by the year 2050, there will be more plastics in our oceans and seas.

Boru told People Daily that the challenges they are facing are the water bottles.

He admitted that most beaches in the area including Kisumu are struggling with plastic wastes.

Some of the plastic pollutions in the lake he said are mostly from border posts.

"We have sent our officers at the border posts where we suspect some of the plastics are coming from, “he said.

He added, "We are sending our inspectors to the border posts of Busia and other border posts and we are also working with the office of the DCI”.

According to Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute although plastic pollution is a major concern for authorities, there distribution and factors that affect their distribution has not been established.

Christopher Aura, a researcher and the Deputy Director Freshwater System at the entity, some of the plastics break into micro-plastics and have adverse effects on aquatic life.

“Their presence in water leads to poor water quality and also threatens marine life,” said Aura.

But even as the debate continue to rage over the existence of the plastic wastes, it is the fishermen who are bearing the brunt.

For those plying their trade at Mageta, the economic impact is huge. The decline in fish stocks attributed to the plastic wastes now means that unlike the past where they would pocket up to Sh10,000, they now barely make Sh2,000.

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