Armed with mosquito nets, Giriama fishers wade into the shallow water in Kenya’s Mida Creek. Either on foot or in dugout canoes, the fishers are searching for food for their families: mostly small fish, shrimp, crabs, rays, and squid. For hundreds of years, the Giriama were a largely agricultural people living in Kenya’s coastal hinterlands. But in the 1950s, they were resettled along Mida Creek by a government-sponsored scheme “to help rectify their poverty and landlessness.”
Since then, the Giriama have had to find new ways of living. Since at least the late 1970s, some have taken up the controversial practice of mosquito net fishing: using nets intended for malaria protection to sieve the creek. Most of the catch ends up on fishers’ dinner tables. Some sell the surplus, and only a few sell all of their catch.
Mosquito net fishing is not unique to Mida Creek. The practice has also been reported in other developing nations like Timor-Leste, and is regularly met with harsh criticism. Since the nets are being used for fishing rather than warding off mosquitos, critics suggest the practice leaves people vulnerable to disease. Others charge that using the insecticide-soaked nets to fish could contaminate waterways. And because the mesh on mosquito nets is so fine, the nets risk capturing juvenile fish and eggs, hurting the ecosystem.
This article was written for (and can be read in full at) Hakai Magazine.