Examining the state of fisheries on Lake Victoria : Part 1

Mike has been spending this year working on eradicating illegal fisheries in East Africa. Here is part 1 of a series of blog posts on what he is seeing in Lake Victoria

The bigger picture

Fishing all over the world is a major source of food for humanity and a provider of employment and economic benefits to those engaged in the activity. However, with increased knowledge and the dynamic development of fisheries, it should be known that world living aquatic resources, although renewable, are not infinite and need proper management, if their continued contribution to the nutritional, economic and social well-being of the growing world's population is to be sustained.

Importance Lake Victoria

Lake Victoria is Africa’s largest and most important inland water body with a total water surface area of 68,800km2. It contributes significantly through its fishery and generation of electricity to the economic benefits of not only the riparian states, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, but also to the neighboring countries and the world at large. Lake Victoria is arguably the most productive single source of freshwater fish on the African continent, contributing to local incomes, employment and generating significant foreign exchange earnings from the export of Nile perch (Lates niloticus). Lake Victoria’s resources are estimated to support the livelihoods of over 4 million inhabitants of the greater lake region. Although not often associated with inland fisheries, Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing and the trade of illegal fish has threatened the biological, social and financial integrity of the lakes resources and those that depend on them.

What has happened?

Given that Lake Victoria’s living resources are shared amongst the three riparian states, a regional fisheries body, the Lake Victoria Fisheries Organization (LVFO) was formed in 1994 though the technical assistance of the FAO to manage the fisheries resources in Lake Victoria as a single ecological entity. Yet today the fisheries resource is on the brink of collapse, fisheries management at a regional level is non-existent and fishing pressure continues to rise.

Since the introduction of Nile perch into Lake Victoria in the 1950’s it has been the focus of an intensifying commercial fishery. In 1980, a total of 4 439 tons of Nile perch were harvested, a decade later over 338 115 tons of Nile perch were landed annually. From 2000 to 2010, and average of 253 404 tons of Nile perch were landed (the data is however not accurate and this value may indeed be much less). Despite relatively consistent landings reported by the LVFO, total biomass of Nile perch decreased from 1.4 million tons (92% of total biomass in Lake Victoria) in 1999 to it lowest recorded estimate of 298 394 tons in 2008 (14.9% of total biomass in Lake Victoria). Currently, as of 2010, the Nile perch biomass was estimated at 18% of total biomass in Lake Victoria, which equates to 367 800 tons. Although a slight increase in biomass between 2008 and 2010 was observed, Nile perch biological indicators suggest that the fish is in a critical survival state. Unfortunately data suggesting the current state of fish resources in Lake Victoria are inaccurate or unavailable.

Today the Lake Victoria Fisheries Organization sits helpless, bankrupt and unable to met the rising challenges of declining fish stocks. This raises an interesting point of discussion, where has all the aid money that has poured into Lake Victoria gone?


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