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Lake Victoria Fish Stock Diminishes
Tuesday, August 17, 2004

In the last few months, many boats on Lake Victoria have resorted to carrying firewood instead of of Fish. Ferrying firewood is not a choice, but a result of dwindling fish in the lake. "It is obvious that we are facing hard times. The good old days when fishing was in plenty are no more," says Salongo Nalumoso of Buvuma Islands.

Lake Victoria has an area of 68,800 square kilometres, making it the largest lake in Africa and the second largest in the world. It is shared between Uganda, 43%, Tanzania, 51% and Kenya 6%. The lake is also a major source of fresh water fish for the three East African countries.

But, the fish stock in the lake is fast dwindling. Traditional fishermen are turning to doing other things rather than fishing on the lake. Today, there are only about five different species of fish, a far cry from the original 350 species. The Nile perch in the lake, has contributed to the demise of other fish species. The Nile Perch was introduced in the lake in the mid 1950s. The Lake Victoria Perch was formerly called the Nile Perch. It was neither a true perch nor did it ever live in the Nile. The fish was at first introduced in the lake purposely to control the population of other fish species.

Unfortunately, it has nearly destroyed all the other species.

Even among the five remaining species, Nile Perch and Tilapia are the most more common. The African Cat Fish, Lung Fish and Mud-Fish will soon be extinct.

Other species which are fast disappearing include Enkejje. A mature Victoria Perch weighs over 240kg. Such catch is very rare these days. "It was not surprising in the 1980s to catch a Nile Perch weighing over 80kgs. Today, if you get one of 15kgs, then you are a hero," says Salongo Charles Massajjage.

According to a National Agricultural Research Organisation report, the commonly caught fish these days are between two-six kilograms. A catch weighing 20kg today is a miracle.

According to Andrew Kaelin who researched on Lake Victoria, while 175,000.4 tonnes of Nile Perch were caught in 2000, the figure dropped to 110,000 tonnes in 2001.

There was a standing stock of about 650,000 tonnes of Nile perch in Lake Victoria in 2000, of which 43%, was in the Ugandan waters.

But by the end of 2001, it had fallen to an estimated 540,000 tonnes. About 95% of all this fish is below the 50cm, the minimum recommended size. "I have been fishing on this lake for 22 years.

When I began fishing, I used to have 10 fishing nets and get a catch of at least 100kg of different fish species.

Today, I have 70 nets, but I get a catch of less than 50kg," Saulo Ssentumbwe based at Kasenyi landing site, said. The diminishing of many fish species is attributed to mainly poor fishing methods.

Most of the fish are caught when they are young. In the late 90s, poison and explosives were added to the list of poor fishing methods. These, however, were fought by both local and international bodies. But the use of illegal nets persists.

During the on going operation to stop poor fishing methods, operatives made a discovery of over three million young fish. These were dumped on a remote landing site near Nakiwogo.

According to Col. Elly Kayanja, fishermen dumped the immature fish for fear of the operation against it and, perhaps, because of their size. An estimated sh70m worth of young fish is lost every day due to poor fishing methods. Over-fishing is also another problem. "In the mid 1980s, we were few fishermen on the lake.

We were about 25 at Kasenyi, but now we have over 200 fishing boats. This is the situation in all fishing areas of the lake," Erias Kisuule at Kasenyi, said. Fisheries officials put the number of fishing boats at over 16,000, up from about 3,000 in the mid 80s. "In 2000, 36% of the about 290,000 gill nets used in the lake were below the recommended minimum mesh size of 127mm, compared with less than 9% of the 75,300 in 1990," Kaelin says.

According to the outgoing Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Dr. Kisamba Mugerwa, there is a law banning catching of immature fish. "This law is being enforced," he says. But fishermen have a way of going over these laws. He says it is upon the fishermen to ensure that fish does not get extinct since it is their source of livelihood.

"They should avoid using methods which destroy fish and the lake. We have carried out sensitisation on this issue," he says. Projects to stop the declining fish stock have been established. They include Lake Victoria Fisheries Organisation, East Africa Fresh Water Fisheries Research Organisation and Lake Victoria Environmental Management Programme.

Copyright 2004 New Vision. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). Click here to contact the copyright holder directly for corrections -- or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material.


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