Sensing the Marine Environment: Everyday experiences of a fishing community

Victor Alati (University of Roehampton PhD Student)

I am conducting my fieldwork at Gazi – a fishing village located about 60 km south of Mombasa along the Kenyan coast. Gazi is one of the major fish-landing sites along the Kenyan coast. It is mostly known for its efforts in the conservation and restoration of mangrove resources. There are over 200 fishers deriving their livelihood from the sea. Fishing gears predominantly being used include: ringnets, gillnets, handlines, spearguns and basket traps.

My study aims to utilize ethnographic approaches to understand fisher’s sociocultural experiences, practices, beliefs, opinions, moralities, values, identities and way of life through identifying their sensory categories and meanings and to test these existing approaches. It will mainly rely on participant observation and interviews with fishers to produce day-by-day written, descriptive details that are part of fishers’ daily round of life.

Ringnet fishers preparing to go fishing early in the morning

Figure 1:Ringnet fishers preparing to go fishing early in the morning. Each ringnet crew comprises of about 30 fishermen.

My observations each day begin very early in the morning at the beach as fishers prepare to leave. By midday, fishers begin to return from fishing grounds with the catch. The fish are weighed and then sold to fish traders.

On a good day, ringnet fishers can land tonnes of fish. Fishers make phone calls to fish traders and community members while at sea to inform them about the good catch. Everyone in the village is overjoyed when large quantities of fish are landed. At the beach, large numbers of fish traders and community members are observed eagerly waiting for the boat to dock. Children are also seen playing at the beach. When the boats dock, people are seen rushing towards the fishers to welcome them back.

People rushing towards the boat as it is docked on a good day.

Fig. 2: People rushing towards the boat as it is docked on a good day. On this particular day, over 100 kg of fish was given out free of charge to the community members to celebrate the bumper harvest.

Since there are currently no storage facilities at the landing site, all the landed fish is sold while still fresh. “On a good day like this one, the smell of fish lingers all over the village!” says one of the fishers. “We give extra fish free of charge to community members who flock to the beach to welcome us back. Nearly every household gets a share of the catch,” he added.

On a bad day, however, few fish traders can be seen standing at the beach looking dejected. Most community members are normally not observed at the beach. Bad days frequently occur during the southeast monsoon season. “Good days occur during the northeast monsoon season, which begins this September,” another fisher says.

Fish traders are leaving the beach with empty buckets on a bad day.

Fig. 3: Fish traders are leaving the beach with empty buckets on a bad day.

Through participant observation, I expect to establish relationships with fishers based on rapport and trust. This will enable me to carry out my research more effectively. I plan to accompany some of the fishers in fishing trips from October 2019 to understand fishing experience and culture.

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