Get the free mobile apps

Get the latest news from us on our apps.

Download app from Android Download app from Apple

Ocean more turbulent than decades ago, says Tanzanian fisherman

Get monthly
e-newsletter

Ocean more turbulent than decades ago, says Tanzanian fisherman

The waves are bigger and stronger, pressure is piling on fish stocks
From Africa Renewal: 
8 June 2022
Fishermen off the coast of Tanzania.
Gloria Michael
Fishermen off the coast of Tanzania.
If you can't read now, just listen to the audio version: 

Rashid Maneno, 56, sat alone, watching the sea pensively. It’s a fine, warm morning on the sandy beach in Bagamoyo some 79 kilometers north-west of Dar-es-Salaam, the port city of Tanzania. The beach is a beehive of activity.

Walking along the sand, I observe men in groups waiting to embark onto small wooden boats to start their fishing expedition. My attention is drawn to the wide variety of vessels, big and small, swinging majestically as they launch on the calm blue Indian Ocean. They’re carrying 10 to 20 fishermen each. They’re like an armada unleashed on the sea. Some will return with catch, others empty-handed. Fishing is the main source of income for many who live in Bagamoyo, an old trading centre and port town. Some also farm - growing mostly cassava, a local staple, and pineapples. I spot Mr. Maneno from a distance and approach him. When we finally sit down for a chat after a hearty exchange of greetings, his gaze remains transfixed on the sea— a phenomenon he has watched and been a part of, for five decades, living each and every of its twists and turns. Women nearby sit in groups, buckets in hand, waiting for the mid-morning boats to return. They then make their daily purchases of sea food, which they sell in their makeshift business stalls not too far away offshore. A stone’s throw away, a huge sea vessel is being loaded with construction sand and logs of timber ready to be shipped to some distant ports. Adjacent to it, another equally large seafaring vessel is offloading drums of cooking oil. There are many things going through Mr. Maneno’s mind as we move to shelter under a tree, away from the scorching sun. After many years watching and fishing in this very ocean, Mr. Maneno, now a fish middleman, seems quite worried.

Fishing boats on the coast of Tanzania.
Fishing boats off the coast of Tanzania.
Photo: Gloria Michael

Watching the sea change

In 1984, when he started fishing soon after completing primary school, Mr. Maneno says there was just one fish storage facility on location. The shore was almost 150 meters away and the entire sea front was covered with mangroves.

“You didn’t have to venture far into the sea to catch fish. In the 80s, it was a short boat ride. There was plenty of fish. You returned to shore quickly, the boat halfway submerged with an overload of catch,” Mr. Maneno reminisces. “All around there were clean, virgin beaches with lots of fish and seafood.”

Over the years, however, a population surge, evident from around the year 2000, gradually pushed up demand for sea food. Coupled with the introduction and use of advanced fishing gear, Mr. Maneno says, he has helplessly witnessed pressure pile on fish stocks. To gain access to wider fishing fields, people have resorted to harvesting the mangroves.

 “The sea has also become dangerous, wild. The waves are bigger and stronger,” Mr. Maneno says, searching the distant horizon with his gaze.

At this point of our discussion, the tide is beginning to rise, and our common shade is shifting. We move with the shade. I can see a few surfboarders frolic in the cascading waves.

“Nowadays you need a lot of experience to sail out there and catch fish,” Mr. Maneno gesticulates at a couple of shore-bound boats on sails.  The strong winds now linger and whip up raging tides, making navigation even for those used to the sea, quite difficult.

Offshore on the banks of the sea, Mr. Maneno says, uncharacteristically heavy and prolonged rains have over the years washed tonnes of sand and mud into the sea, burying the coral reef underneath.

“Coral reefs are the breeding grounds for marine life. Fish lay their eggs there. The caves are habitat for octopuses. Now, they have become sand fills,” observes Mr. Maneno, adding: “The run-off is piling up at the bottom, raising the sea floor.”

Diesel fumes and spillage from small, generator powered boats operating in the area have compounded the pollution problem. Their sharp night lights and vibrating rotors disturb the natural marine environment and scatter the fish, says Mr. Maneno.

A shallower sea is prone to stronger, near-surface currents, according to Mr. Maneno. This, he says, poses a grave danger to fishermen out at sea with their boats.

“The changing sea environment has forced fish to move further away and swim deeper,” notes Maneno.

He also says he has observed some mangrove trees wilt, dry up, decay and fall into the sea. It’s unclear to him what may be harming the trees.  

Failing rains, he says, have forced many more people in nearby villages to abandon farming in recent years and turn to fishing as a means of survival.

The fishermen are also turning to more unconventional methods to catch fish and harvest a variety of seafoods. According to Mr. Maneno, they throw bags of sand, assorted vegetation, shells of scrap vehicles, and trash into the ocean. The vegetation helps create false shading, which attracts fish, while the trash and sand raises the floor of the sea.

Working to protect the ocean

Tanzania has reeled out a raft of legislation to protect its ocean and biodiversity.

Anthony Mbega, a marine life expert in Mafia Island, a part of Tanzania’s Indian Ocean Archipelago, says increased demand for fishing infrastructure while justifiable, come with its own consequences, some negatively impacting biodiversity.

The massive harvesting of mangroves and sand, in particular, has been cited as adversely affecting ocean and marine health.

Consequently, the government has enacted pieces of legislation which include Article 6(1) of the Mining Act of Tanzania and its Amendment in 2017 to protect the sea and its environment. For example, cutting mangroves, extracting sand from the beach, are against the law.

Separately, the Environmental Management Act of 2004 Article 55(2) and 3 expressly prohibits erecting, altering or removal of a structure in or under the ocean or natural lake shorelines, riverbank or water reservoir. It also prohibits the introduction of plants, whether alien or indigenous to the ocean or other water bodies and wetlands.  

About the 2022 UN Ocean Conference

WHEN: 27 June to 1 July 2022

WHERE: Lisbon, Portugal

WHO: Hosted by governments of Kenya and Portugal

WHY: To mobilize action, the Conference will seek to propel much needed science-based innovative solutions aimed at starting a new chapter of global ocean action.

  • Solutions for a sustainably managed ocean involve green technology and innovative uses of marine resources.
  • They also include addressing the threats to health, ecology, economy and governance of the ocean - acidification, marine litter and pollution, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and the loss of habitats and biodiversity.

For more information on the Ocean Conference and registration:

https://www.un.org/en/conferences/ocean2022

According to the new fishing regulations of 2020, the use of ring nets near the shore is an offence. The government also prohibits the use of ring nets during the day, and in an area of the sea that is less than 50 meters deep.

Research has shown that ring nets catch fingerlings and also destroy fish breeding grounds, leading to sharp decline in fish stocks, says Mr, Mbega.

The new fishing regulations 2020 also prohibits the use of generators in fishing activities. “The amount of lighting generated can affect the growth of fishes and associated aquatic organisms,” according to Mr. Mbega.

These pieces of legislation are important, but more needs to be done to secure the livelihoods in a sustainable way, and to seucre Mr. Maneno's ocean for decades to come.

These are some of the issues that will be discussed at the 2022 United Nations Ocean Conference to be held from 27 June – 1st July 2022 in Lisbon, Portugal, under the theme “Scaling up ocean action based on science and innovation for the implementation of Goal 14: stocktaking, partnerships and solutions”

Convened under the auspices of the UN and co-hosted by the governments of Kenya and Portugal, the conference aims to support the implementation of SDG 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.  

More from this author
Campaign