ASOBO offers Kenyan fishermen a cleaner way to fish

Modern day fishing in Kenya traditionally involves using petrol boats which kick up a lot of fumes and risk poisoning the waters of Lake Victoria, but all that could be about to change.

ASOBO is a young Dutch start-up, trying to make headway in a well-established boating industry over in Kenya. Kenya has a reported aquaculture potential of 1.1 million hectares, meaning the country has access to enough water in order to provide 11 million fish. Such a large haul could be enough to generate income of 750 billion Kenyan shillings, so it’s no small fry.

Created in 2019 and in operation as an active business since February 2020, ASOBO isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel – or, in this case, the propeller. Fishermen are simply being encouraged to ditch polluting petrol and diesel-fuelled fishing boats in favour of ASOBO’s electric-powered motors, allowing them to hire them for a small fee.

Cleaner fishing on the lake

Lake Victoria is home to as many as 651 species of freshwater fish, molluscs, decapods and odonates, as well as varieties of aquatic plant-life. This makes the Lake Victoria basin one of the most biodiverse bodies of freshwater on the planet, but all it takes is one misstep by humans, and all this could be thrown into jeopardy.

Fishing boats used in Kenya typically require petrol in their engines to get them started, but combustion of this hydrocarbon is known to result in not only toxic fumes which are dispersed into the air, but also waste fuel can inadvertently leak into the water, poisoning the aquatic animal and plant life below the surface.

ASOBO has a different idea. The company offers the fishermen on Lake Victoria electric-powered Torqeedo motors instead, while also training them about how to operate the machinery. According to a report by Electrive, ASOBO’s motors have great economic appeal, as they slash the cost of powering up a fishing boat.

For example, renting one of ASOBO’s electric motors is understood to be significantly cheaper than the cost of fuelling a gasoline-powered outboard motor, to the tune of 20-25 per cent on a month-on-month basis.

Cleaner waters, healthier catches

ASOBO is just one company operating to bring about a change in the Kenyan fishing industry, but it marks an encouraging first step towards offering a far more environmentally-friendly way of fishing. Torqeedo sales manager Gregor Papadopoulos is quoted as saying, “I’m assuming that by 2040 there won’t be a single petrol-powered motor on Lake Victoria.”

In as little as 20 years’ time, Lake Victoria could become an example of how electrification doesn’t have to just remain confined to motoring on the roads, but can be extended onto freshwater lakes, and potentially the high seas. So long as technology advances sufficiently and the economic case for electric-only boats strengthens, noisy, polluting petrol boats can begin to be put out of commission.

A significant chunk of Kenya’s economic growth continues to stem from agricultural industries such as fishing, and if electric boats are able to gain a foothold here, Kenya will be in a position to continue its economic development, with a head-start in green technology and a healthier natural environment.

Photos by ASOBO

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