Lake Victoria fisherman in greater difficulties
Friday, November 15, 2002
The East African (Nairobi, Kenya). By David Kaiza
Three years after the harmonisation of fishing laws in East Africa, a study by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) shows that fishermen on Lake Victoria operate under worsening conditions, with armed gangs and pirates terrorising them as governments, anxious to gain commercial advantage, trade accusations.
Said an IUCN fact sheet on cross-border fishing: "There has been a great increase in the fishing effort as more people have joined the fisheries with more boats and gear... leading to long-range movement of fishers and traders across international borders on the lake." Fishermen prefer to land their catches on the Kenyan side of the lake, where prices are 10 to 25 per cent higher than on the Tanzania and Uganda sides.
A kilogramme of fish in Kenya costs between $1.30 and $1.60, while in Uganda it costs between $1.15 and $1.2, and in Tanzania between $1 and $1.2.
Tanzania and Uganda have increased the number of processing plants at a faster rate than Kenya, growing at 49 per cent and 35 per cent respectively compared with Kenya's 16 per cent.
The IUCN report says this might be a source of conflict. "Commercial dynamics of this type have been important for the development of the fishing industry, but might have also led to uneven distribution of benefits to fishers and middlemen and to loss of public revenue where fish leaves the country unregulated."
The Nile Perch is said to form less than half of the fish catch by volume, but dominates the trade because of its high market value in the European Union.
Although the fish has been blamed for the decline of about 200 other fish subspecies, it is itself said to be declining.
Overfishing and use of unscrupulous fishing methods, blamed especially on Kenyan fishers, is said to have contributed to this.
"In recent years, fishers have experienced declining Nile perch catches per unit effort," says IUCN.
"The fact that the lake is shared between three countries is a further challenge to fisheries management. Competition has increased among fishers over fishing grounds, among fish processing agents over catches and among governments over revenue and investment," says IUCN.
The distribution of fishermen, gear and catches does not tally with each country's share of the lake. Kenya has an estimated 33,000 fishermen on the lake, hauling in some 103,000 tonnes a year using 15,000 boats, 1,500 with engines.
The complaint against Kenya is that its 6 per cent share of the lake cannot sustain the number of boats and fishermen it deploys.
Although Tanzania's share of the lake is 10 times that of Kenya, its catch of 113,000 tonnes in 2000 was only slightly larger than that of Kenya. Uganda caught 84,000 tonnes in the same year.
The harmonisation of fisheries laws was meant to address the suspicions and over-exploitation of the lake. Among the issues the laws are expected to address are access, licensing, fish landing and methods and monitoring and control.