Commonly known as accidental catch, bycatch is possibly one of the major causes of the decline of inshore marine species in the South West Indian Ocean, including marine mammals, fishes and sea turtles.
In an effort to identify the magnitude of fisheries interaction the KMMREC team, through Watamu Marine Association provided services for the Western Indian Ocean Marine Scientific Association (WIOMSA) funded regional Bycatch Mitigation Program “BYCAM” from 2015-2018 managed in Kenya. facilitated by Kenya Marine and Fisheries Institute. While there is historically considerable data reflecting the extent of fishing bycatch, there was little or no data in respect of marine mammal and fisheries interactions.
This is at odds with WMA and KMMN photo identification data which shows net damage and injury on the inshore endangered Indian Ocean humpback and the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin species pointing to a significant data gap in Kenya. Information obtained by KMMREC from Ungwana Bay on the north Kenya coast suggests marine mammal bycatch is significant, with inshore species affected, particularly the Indo-Pacific bottlenose and Indian Ocean humpback dolphins, and also migratory humpback whales. Reports of direct catch for bushmeat or shark bait have been recorded. However, such incidences have yet to be officially documented or recognised.
The Kenya data gap is a stark contrast to the wealth of bycatch information presented by neighbouring Indian Ocean countries at the IWC Bycatch Mitigation Initiative meeting in Nairobi. Kenya would benefit from using low cost bycatch data collection and mitigation models from Tanzania and other countries like Pakistan and India which could be implemented by WMA through the KMMN fisher network.
“Watamu Marine Association and KMMREC were encouraged by the IWC to conduct more in-depth studies in to marine mammal bycatch (and large whale entanglement) with a view to developing alternative economies, such as regulated whale watching in areas where there are high incidences of fishing activity coinciding with marine mammal populations and migration routes. During the period of intense marine mammal movements such as the humpback whale migration a no take fishing period was proposed”.
KMMREC recognises the urgent need for a rapid assessment on the extent of bycatch coastwide, and particularly on the north Kenya coast from Ungwana to Lamu archipelago and Kuinga.