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Lake Victoria fish stocks dwindle as demand grows

Our appetite for fish is exceeding Lake Victoria’s capacity to meet the demand.

Experts have warned that people who love fish may start to love chicken because if not controlled, fish will not be available in the next 20 years. Developing countries rely on fish as a major source of protein, and fish accounts for over 40 per cent of animal protein intake.

Overfishing will deplete Lake Victoria’s fish stocks. It will become another Lake Malawi, which has lost 93% of its fish in the last 20 years, according to official figures. Uganda’s annual fish catch from Lake Victoria has declined from 238,533 tonnes in 2005 to 183,824 metric tonnes in 2011, according to figures from the National Fisheries Resource Research Institute. Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania account for a total of one million tonnes of catch annually.

“If not controlled, it takes a little time to catch all the fish in the sea and the rivers and lakes. Countries must work together to control fishing where the water bodies are shared. If Kenya decides to control fishing and Uganda and Tanzania don’t, it will affect everyone,” says Marcel Kroese, a fisheries monitoring, surveillance and control expert with SmartFish programme.

Uganda is the biggest supplier of fish in Africa, with 20.6kg per capita, according to Davide Signa, an expert on Food Security at FAO. Uganda exported 32,300 tonnes of Nile Perch alone to Europe in 2011, earning revenue worth Shs 212bn.

“There are more fishermen coming into the trade every year but less fish to catch, which hurts food security. If you start getting fish that are smaller than a finger, that does not support food security. How do we look at economic partnership agreements where fishing is a concern in the East African region,” Kroese told journalists at a fisheries training workshop organised by the Indian Ocean Commission.

Food security is the availability of food for all people at all times. Some 30 million people depend on Lake Victoria for livelihood, and if catching immature fish is not checked, they may have to find other means of survival. Kroese says illegal fishing through the use of illegal gear is hurting the lake. During a night patrol of the lake in Kisumu, tonnes of illegal fishing gear, which included mosquito nets, were confiscated from different landing sites.

SmartFish runs a governance, management and control programme on the inland waters of East and Southern Africa. It is implemented by the Indian Ocean Commission and funded by European Union and FAO. It aims at ensuring food security in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Ethiopia, and Zambia by helping countries to control fishing on their lakes.

To prevent overfishing, SmartFish helps governments to regulate how people catch fish.

“What we do is check the nets. Management routine says it should be a six-inch mesh size. We have to remove all the illegal gear because if the mesh size is smaller, you will catch juvenile fish and if you catch too many, you will not have enough fish to catch tomorrow,” Kroese says.

Intoxication from Algae Bloom is also suffocating and killing fish in Uganda’s waters. Water is extracted from lakes especially for the flower industries. later, the firms pump back into the lake water that has chemicals. These chemicals affect the quality of fish. Garbage dumping also affects water quality. Other factors include deforestation, sedimentation and silting, all of which affect the breeding grounds for fish.

Signa, FAO’s Key Expert on Food Security, says  global production of fish reached 158 million tonnes in 2010, valued at $217.5bn. Of this, 90 per cent comes from the oceans and seas. Africa’s contribution to fish production is 8.9 million tonnes, which makes only six per cent of the total global production.


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