By Kevin Mwanza
NAIROBI, Nov 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The launch of a coastguard in Kenya - one of a handful in Africa - could cut illegal fishing and boost the economy, experts said on Tuesday, although the service only has one boat so far.
Kenya loses about 10 billion shillings ($97 million) a year to foreign boats fishing without permission, President Uhuru Kenyatta said at the launch on Monday, vowing to crack down on drug, people and arms smuggling along Kenya's lengthy coast.
"The role of the coastguard is quite pivotal," said David Obura, coordinator for a coastal research organisation, Cordio East Africa. "Just like on land, until you establish security of tenure its very challenging to manage it."
Africa's fish stocks are being depleted by industrial trawlers which comb the oceans to feed European and Asian markets, experts say, threatening coastal incomes and diets.
Until the launch of the coastguard, Kenya's navy has been responsible for maritime security but experts said it was overstretched.
Pirate attacks launched from Kenya's northern neighbour, Somalia, were a major security issue until 2012 when ships tightened security and stayed further away from the coast.
Only half a dozen African countries have their own coastguard, Andrew Mwangura, a Kenyan maritime expert, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"We've been sea blind," he said. "We've been relying on the navy too much. The navy are limited in what they can do. They cannot arrest someone and take them to court."
The world's poorest continent loses $42 billion a year to illegal fishing and logging, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa estimates.
"Fishing by foreign vessels has been a big problem to us fishermen," said Mohamed Somo, chairman of the Lamu Beach Management Unit, a Kenyan fishermen's association.
"They come near the shores and cut our fishing nets and once they are done, our fish stocks are depleted."
About 2 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.
Kenyatta said the government would improve ports and require fishing vessels to land 30 percent of their catch in Kenya, creating more than 10,000 jobs in five years.
"Never again will a foreign vessel steal our fish," he said.
But the navy only has two vessels, said Obura of Cordio East Africa, while Kenyatta has unveiled one ship for the new coastguard.
"It is not enough and, from what I saw, it's a relatively big vessel and will be quite slow," he said.
"A big challenge will be the cost of running the vessels."
($1 = 102.3500 Kenyan shillings)
(Reporting by Kevin Mwanza; editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/)
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