Illegal fishing in Lake Naivasha is threatening stocks and hampering Nakuru County government's efforts to boost commercial fishing, the Nation has learnt.
Licensed fishermen have also raised the alarm over the fish poachers who venture into the lake at night depleting stocks despite sustained efforts by the county government and fishing stakeholders to boost fish numbers in the lake.
The Nation learnt that for instance, some of the unlicensed fishermen use small nets, flouting fishing regulations.
This has prompted the fisheries department to enhance patrols in a bid to weed out the rogue group.
Nakuru Director of Fisheries Mathew Ngila, in an interview with the Nation, admitted that unlicensed fishing is a big challenge, even as Governor Lee Kinyanjui's administration seeks to reinvigorate the industry.
"Illegal fishing in Lake Naivasha is a big problem. The county has been making efforts to boost stocks in the lake but unlicensed fishermen are a threat. For instance, currently we have restocked the lake with at least 200,000 fingerlings, an exercise expected to end in a few weeks' time," revealed Mr Ngila.
But all is not lost for the lake despite the challenges, the officer said.
"The county has increased regular patrols on the shores of the lake to tame the vice. We are also engaged in the sensitisation of the public on the importance of the lake to the fishing industry in the region," added Mr Ngila.
Among notable efforts by the Nakuru County government aimed at boosting the industry include the setting up of a fish processing plant in Banda on the shores of Lake Naivasha.
Already, the county government has set aside Sh13 million for the project.
The facility will also have a fish market with those currently trading in the open set to be relocated to the new establishment.
"We expect to process about two to three tonnes of fish each day and [this way] boost the income of the fish stakeholders," said Mr Ngila.
Mr Ngila said that the processing plant will have a bulking unit with cold storage facilities for value addition of fish products and to improve hygiene when handling the fish.
This means those who have been selling fish at the various termini including along the Nairobi Naivasha-Nakuru highway will be relocated by the county government.
Fish mongers welcomed the move, saying it will improve their business.
David Kilo, the chairman of Lake Naivasha Boat Owners Association, says doing away with fish poaching is crucial since it threatens the livelihoods of more than 10,000 families that depend on fish from the fresh water lake.
"Illegal fishing has become very rampant in the lake. The number of unlicensed fishermen along the shorelines, and, unfortunately, breeding grounds, has increased over the years since the early 2000s and sometimes they net more fish than their licensed counterparts," said Mr Kilo.
According to Mr Kilo, there is need for the county government to prioritise night and daytime patrols as well as employ trained officers for surveillance in order to curb illegal fishing.
"At least 70 percent of the illegal fishermen are former flower farm workers, some of who lost their jobs after the firms closed shop. They have now turned to illegal fishing as it is the only way to earn a living," revealed Mr Kilo.
Previously, the lake has recorded cases of drowning and hippo attacks as the illegal fishermen venture into the waters without caution.
John Onyango, a licensed fisherman, told the Nation that the illegal fishermen are normally armed with weapons including pangas, making it difficult to confront them.
"The poachers are a serious threat to fishing. I urge the county and national governments to deploy more police officers to Lake Naivasha to end this vice," said Mr Onyango.
Illegal fishing adds to other challenges already greatly hampering the fishing industry in Lake Naivasha.
Already, the lake is reeling under the weight of the water hyacinth menace that has choked huge sections of the water body, affecting fishing and tourism.
Fishermen and tour operators have in the past complained over the fast growth of the weed across the lake.
The Nation learnt that some sections of the lake cannot be accessed due to the thickness of the noxious weed that spreads very fast.
The lake is also battling siltation, pollution and degradation of the catchment area.
It is constantly at risk of pollution, both from solid and liquid waste.
In May 2018, a swoop by the fisheries department confiscated more than 5,000 illegal fishing nets following weeks of sustained surveillance.