Effective Community Management Restores Degraded Reefs

Effective Community Management Restores Degraded Reefs


Near-shore fisheries along the coast of Kenya have been heavily over-exploited because local fishers' rights are not respected and use of gear like beach-seines is a destructive and unstainable way to fish. Overfishing depletes biodiversity, degrades ecosystem resilience to shocks, and reduces stocks and flows of ecosystem services essential to the wellbeing of poor rural families dependent on fish as a source of food and income.

Starting in 2005, WCS began working with local communities along the southern Kenyan coast to help them secure rights to their traditional fishing grounds and to manage them sustainably. This was the first attempt in Kenya to implement community-based fisheries closures. We worked closely with local communities to revitalize the use of closures (tengefu) and gear restrictions within fishing grounds. While not fully recognized in law, tengefu are recognized in customary law, as areas over which communities may exercise legitimate, hereditary claims.

Starting with a few communities we now help manage 13 tengefu arrayed along the southern coast of Kenya. As each tengefu moved from planning to operational we helped them to monitor their fish stocks, landings and income from fishing. Results are more than encouraging as they show clearly that effectively implement tengefu fishing closures increase fish biomass, increased catch-per-unit-effort (i.e., the weight of fish that can be caught in a given time period), and increase fishers' incomes.


Communities are implementing 13 tengefu distributed along the entire coast of Kenya, and 6 tengefu have been fully implemented. This includes (1) winning internal and external recognition of the closed area; (2) achieving compliance with community-formulated fishing regulations by community members; and (3) actively monitoring fish stocks. As a result, fish biomass in managed areas has increased from 100 kg/ha to between 400 and 500 kg/ha, and per capita incomes of fishers operating near closed areas were as much as 135% greater than those of fishers operating in areas with no restrictions.


Effective Governance IconGOVERNANCE: The process of strengthening community capacity to win recognition of the tengefu closures by members, and creating incentives and sanctions so that community members abide by fishing regulations that the community has developed has strengthened the ability of the community to play a leadership role in contributing to improved quality of life for its members.

Rights IconRIGHTS: While recognized under customary law, tengefu rights are not explicitly recognized in the formal legal system. The combination of strengthening communities to use tengefu as a basis for effective fisheries management, and documenting the effectiveness of the approach in restoring the health of Kenya's natural patrimony and improving the quality of life of coastal fishers has strengthened the case for recognition.

Gender IconGENDER: The role of youth and women has been enhanced as they participate in monitoring the ecology and fish resource.

Wellbeing IconWELL-BEING: Impacts vary depending on local conditions. However, fishers who fish near closure areas experience significant increases in per capita incomes, as much as 135%, when compared to fishers who fish in areas with no fishing restrictions.

Constituencies IconCONSTITUENCY: Increases in fish biomass and the associated increases catch-per-unit-effort and in fishers incomes have contributed to building a constituency for fisheries management in the communities, and for supporting community management of fisheries among policy makers


Community members of tengefu management committees attending a co-management training workshop in Msambweni south coast/Maxwell Kodia ©WCS

Community members and Dr. Muthiga in discussion during a working group session at a co-management consultative meeting in Kanamai north coast Kenya/Maxwell Kodia ©WCS.

Map: Tengefu Fisheries

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