Even after their involvement in the fishing industry for all their lives, most villagers living adjacent to the Tanga city coastal waters are ignorant of laws governing fisheries.
They are in the dark as to what types of fishing gear require licensing and why they should meet the requirement at all.
What is even more baffling is the fact that some ward environmental committees are not fully conversant with the laws which guide them in their operations.
“We have seen people who are said to come from fisheries department in our village, but what they are here for, we do not know,” said Hassan Mwajasho, 68, a resident and environmental committee member of Mwarongo village, Tongoni Ward in the City.
“We are aware that the government prohibits dynamite fishing. When we see fisheries officers in our village, we know that they are looking for people who engage in bombing,” Mwajasho said.
Having noticed that a larger section of people whose lives depend on the sea were ignorant of marine laws, a non-governmental organization (NGO) Tanga Together Trust (TTT), a lobbying and advocacy group stepped in to educate the society on their rights and obligations.
“After identifying the weakness with regard to marine law within the fishing society, particularly on the youth, we discovered that a large section of the fishing population lacked awareness on marine laws,” says Aurelia Mtui, the project coordinator.
“Youths are being used in illegal activities by well-off individuals. We therefore decided that as a civil society group, we were obliged to remove the darkness surrounding the society through awareness seminars,” says Aurelia.
Established in 2004, the NGO has thirty five members, both men and women. The NGO is involved in dissemination of various information with regard to human rights, environmental, development, youth, orphans and gender issues.
The one-year project which ends in December covers three wards of Tongoni, Tangasisi and Marungu with 150 households. The NGO is funded by the Foundation for Civil Society (FCS).
In a paper presented at one of the seminars, Obadia Ngogo, a fisheries officer lectured the villagers on the necessity to have their fishing gear registered and licensed.
Ngogo told an audience at Mwarongo village that it was of paramount importance to know types of fish which were not allowed to be fished out, giving an example of cilicant – a strange specie.
He also said dynamite fishing which was on the rise along almost all fishing villagers was a crime whose punishment was either a fine of 1m/- or 5 years imprisonment.
At Mwambani, another facilitator, Hassan Kalombo told over 70 villagers that the fisheries Act 1997 required people engaged in fishing activities to own a vessel fully registered and licensed before venturing in fishing business.
“If we come across anybody doing fishing without a licence, the fine is 1m/- or three years imprisonment,” said Kalombo, a senior fisheries officer of the Tanga regional secretariat.
“All you need to do is obtain a permit from your local government. When you come to us, we simply issue you with a licence,” he said adding that the use of illegal fishing nets attracted a fine of 2.5 m/- or a three-year imprisonment.
Kalombo told the participants that use of gas cylinders is outlawed as well use of certain types of poison, adding that such vices called for a jail sentence of 5 years with no option of a fine.
“The aim of imposing such severe punishment is to deter perpetrators from the illegal vice,” he said adding that the villagers focus should be on preserving marine life for future generations.
But a large section of participants said they were at a loss to know the procedures to follow before obtaining a licence.
“There is no BMU (Beach Marine Unit) here. Those paying for licences do so when fisheries officers from Tanga come to the village,” said Chogo Abdallah Mikidadi, 42, the facilitator called upon the villagers to report any acts of breach of law particularly exposing dynamite fishermen to the district fisheries officer or any other government authority for legal action.
“I know, everyone here is another’s relative and you fear being blamed for exposing those engaged in illegal fishing. But you can do it through writing letters to fisheries officers,” asserted Kalombo.
Mwambura Bakari, on his part requested for provision of fishing gear so that the village can be able to carry out legal activities and save marine resources from destruction.
“We have no financial resources to buy fishing gear like boats, engine etc. We need assistance,” said Bakari.
“Much as we appreciate the knowledge availed to us, we feel that we should be considered for financial assistance,” said Mwajuma Abdallah, 65, a resident of Mwambani. She said they felt extremely sad to learn that their neighbours in Mwahako who live far away from the sea had been provided with grants with which to buy fishing gear. She said that was not fair. “We too should be considered for grants so that we may buy modern fishing gear and improve our lives,” said Mwajuma.