Former fellows stories

A less perfect crime

22 December 2017
A less perfect crime

Fishing with beach seines has become controversial over the years because of the adverse impact it has on aquatic habitats and also out of concern for overfishing.

In Kenya the government took the step in 2001 to prohibit altogether the use of this technique in the country’s important Lake Victoria fisheries.

Still, quite a few fishermen keep on using their seines along the shores of the lake thereby seriously undermining management efforts.

Why do they take the risk of being caught and penalized? Why don’t they join the common cause of conservation? Is there anything that can be done to alter their behaviour?

This is what David Ouma Mboya wanted to find out when he came from Kenya in 2012 to take part in the Fisheries Training Program of the United Nation University (UNU-FTP).

His subsequent research results have attracted the attention of experts and recently been published in an acclaimed academic journal, African Journal of Tropical Hydrobiology and Fisheries.

The research

In the research David demonstrates that in Lake Victoria there exists a so-called positive expected net benefit of fishing in violation of the beach seines ban.

In other words, to some fishermen the anticipated gains from the illegal catch outweighs the anticipated cost of violating the law (including fines). This is so mainly because of a low probability of being caught and arrested anyway.

Interestingly, David also found out that this undesirable incentive might conceivably be altered in a relatively simple way, i.e. he points out means by which the crime could be made somewhat “less perfect”.

As David states in the research’s abstract:

“Sensitivity analysis shows that although increasing fines can reduce violation, very high fines would be needed to make violations unprofitable. On the other hand the analysis shows that violations can be made economically unprofitable for seine owners by relatively small increases in the probability of detection … because of the cost to the owner associated with confiscation of detected seines.”

The results therefore indicate that an effective strategy to ensure compliance would be to increase detection rate by increasing surveillance effort.

The practice

David, who is currently working at the Siaya County Government Department of Fisheries, says his UNU-FTP research is continuingly contributing to the reform of the Kenyan fisheries policies and legislations.

In the newly adopted Fisheries Management and Development Act, for example, it influenced the decision to establish a Monitoring Control and Surveillance Unit as a fisheries law enforcement agency within the National Fisheries Service.

However, carrying out the ban on beach seines remains problematic to this day.

According to David this is, to some extent, due to decentralisation of power in the Kenyan administrative system. “The beach seines have remained a problem,” he says “largely because the devolved units are still in the process of making their County Specific laws.”

“In my unit - Siaya County I have been engaged in preparation of The Siaya County Fisheries and Aquaculture legislation, which at the moment has cabinet approval, and is now a bill going through the last stages in the Siaya County Assembly before it becomes an Act.”


David´s original paper can be found on the UNU-FTP website (here); and as published in African Journal of Tropical Hydrobiology and Fisheries (here).