The Kenya Marine Fisheries and Research Institute (KMFRI), says the fish hatchery will be set up at Shimoni in Kwale County and is part of the blue economy initiative to address challenges of food security at the coast and across the country.
The investment signals a big boost for Kenya’s fishing industry.
KMFRI director James Njiru said the Government had so far injected Sh200 million ($2 million) into the fingerling production facility whose construction has started.
“The project has already started and the mariculture station is at the first floor. We discovered there are no hatcheries in the region that produces fingerlings for aquaculture so the project seeks to fill this gap,” he said.
Prof Njiru, who spoke on the sidelines of a meeting between KMFRI and a Belgian team that partners with the institute in marine and fisheries research, said the Government would release funds for the project in phases.
He pointed out that the mariculture station, will discourage farmers from using uncertified fingerlings that often lead to poor yields.
“The fingerlings farmers use are not certified. This becomes a challenge, especially for those who farm in ponds,” he said.
KMFRI has acquired a 25-acre piece of land that will be used to establish an efficient procurement system for seeds and feeds to ensure fish farming is sustainable. The research institute has previously cited a lack of quality seeds and feeds as the main setback which has denied fishermen the opportunity to create wealth through the enterprise.
“If tapped well, fish farming can have better economic and social outcomes for farmers. This is the reason we want to put up this project to fight poverty and food insecurity,” Prof Njiru added.
Local farmers in the area have welcomed the project saying lack of hatcheries continues to cause them big losses. Florence Mwangovya, a local farmer said that a hatchery would improve their productivity and will not limit them to keeping a particular species of fish.
“We have the challenge of getting fingerlings and that is why we only keep Milkfish which grow to be very big. However, if there is a hatchery that can produce better species that take less time to mature, then that will be very good,” she said.
Milkfish takes at least six months to be ready for harvesting and that farmers sometimes lose their stock when predators accidentally mix with fish.
“It is very difficult to tell which fish are predators when they are small. We do sampling every now and then to separate predators from the Milkfish,” said Ms. Mwangovya.
While Kenya boasts a total maritime territory covering 230,000 square kilometres and a distance of 200 nautical miles offshore, the country continues to drag its feet in investing in the maritime and blue economy.
Lack of sound policies, effective leadership, innovative technologies coupled with continuous underfunding has resulted in Kenya’s maritime sector continue to waste away.
About two million Kenyans depend on fishing but dwindling stocks in nearshore waters and a slump in tourism due to insecurity have worsened poverty along its palm-fringed coast, according to the World Bank.
Seaflower Pelagic Processing factory located in Walvis Bay, Namibia, has the distinction of being the biggest fish-freezing factory in Africa.
Awed by the facility which has already created 700 jobs, President Kenyatta instructed his Agriculture Secretary, Mwangi Kiunjuri and Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Munya to immediately take steps to learn from the Namibian experience so that Kenya could have a similar factory.
The partnership between Kenya and Belgium saw the country receive an oceanographic vessel "RV Mtafiti" which was handed over to KMFRI to conduct deep-sea research. Governor Carl Decaluwe of West Flanders Province represented the Belgian government at the meeting.
KMFRI says once operational, the project will ensure a steady supply of seeds and feeds for sustainable aquaculture, leading to an expansion of marine fish farming.
“The biggest challenge has been in the supply of seeds and feeds but with the project up and running, it will address the problem alongside efficient sorting out of fingerlings to weed out predators,” Prof Njiru said.