Today, in the Save Lake Victoria campaign season two, environment writer GERALD TENYWA focuses on the fish species at the risk of extinction from Lake Victoria.
He still remembers the tiny delicious fish that used to be a common feature on the dining table when he was growing up. But all this is no more for Adam Kitaka, a resident of Kisinsi, Mukono, and his children to enjoy. The scarcity is affecting the various landing sites on Lake Victoria following the extinction of more than 200 fish species.
“I did not like the oily and smelly Nile Perch,” said Kitaka, adding that his preferred species were the indigenous fish species which are now facing extinction because they are food to the Nile Perch.
The Nile perch, which can grow up to two metres in length and over 100kg has feasted on the small fish species to near extinction. In addition, the rampant pollution in the lake has also negatively affected reproduction of the tiny fish species.
A research conducted on the lake by Chalmers University of Sweden found that more fish species would become extinct within the next 30 years if the pollution problem is not addressed. The number of fish species in the lake had dropped from over 400 in the 1920s to almost zero, according to Philip Odino, an environmental researcher in the university. Other researchers put the number of extinct species at 200.
Odino points out that the catchment in parts of Lake Victoria in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi has been degraded resulting into massive silting of the lake.
Pollution is also taking a toll on the Nile Perch, which prefers to stay in the deep oxygen-rich parts of the lake where it can easily get its prey.
Owor describes pollution and run off pushed by accelerated deforestation and wetland destruction from the catchment as a big threat.
The extinct species form about 20% of the world’s freshwater fish that are indeed either extinct or on steep decline, according to the red data list of the World Conservation Union.
The global climate change, which is behind the frequent and intense droughts, has also badly affected the people living by the lake shores.
Fish fail to trace mates in polluted lake
According to the red data list of the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the fish exhibit a great range in colour, including silver, sapphire and turquoise blue, orange and yellow, and they are patterned in stripes, bars, dots or circles.
Pollution prevents these fish from mating because they are not able to recognise the brilliant colors and patterns of their potential mates, according to IUCN.
The disappearance of species is a big concern among conservationists. But the reports that some fish species are disappearing from Lake Victoria have also come with some relief that about half of the fish species that have disappeared on the lake are also found in Lake Nabugabo in Masaka.
Lake Nabugabo, which is near the shores of Lake Victoria, is believed to have been part of Lake Victoria.
“Nabugabo is part of the living museum of Lake Victoria,” says Achilles Byaruhanga, the executive director of Nature Uganda, a partner of BirdLife International.
Apart from having a rich diversity of fish species, Nabugabo also has a diversity of species of birds and plants.
Over fishing is also responsible for the extinction
Uganda loses sh300b every year
Not only is Uganda losing its biological diversity, but it is also losing sh300b every year due to illegal activities on the lake. The loss of revenue from fisheries, which contribute 5% to gross domestic product is a big blow. It means that Government target to increase the revenue from fisheries to $1b (about sh2.5 trillion) is a far-fetched dream.
But the persistent failure by governments sharing Lake Victoria to implement measures that could minimise illegal fishing means that government cannot plough back enough money into the management and conservation of the lake. As a result, stocks of the Nile Perch are also declining.
“We need strong monitoring interventions on the lake in order for stocks of Nile Perch to recover,” said Wadanya, adding that capacity within Government is weak to enforce the law.
Other sources say the near collapse of the Nile Perch stocks in less than a decade shows disarray in the monitoring, control and surveillance of Lake Victoria.
The sources say the grassroot units also known as Beach Management Units that were introduced within the last decade to enforce voluntary compliance among fishermen have found many barriers. This, according to sources includes conflict of interest where the leaders of beach management units (BMUs) are also fish traders and the fishermen catching undersised fish are relatives of the BMUs leaders. The BMUs also get no incentives for compliance and little support from the fisheries department and the Police.
“If governments sharing Lake Victoria were to enforce regulations on the lake they would not need donors to provide funding to projects to monitor the lake,” said Chris Short, a fisheries expert, adding that sustainable fisheries would contribute more revenue.
“It is a shame that Uganda has a big part of the second largest fresh water lake in the world and is failing to use it sustainably,” says Kimbowa.
“How do you allow people to get starved of food and income when they have the second largest lake in the world in their neighbourhood?” he wonders.
WHAT OTHERS SAY
Barbara Nakangu, a PHD student of political economy at Makerere University
The Nile Perch is good for the economy, but the fish species that have become extinct are also important. People were depending on them for food and income. It is also important to understand the long-term implications of dwindling fish species. The health of the lake depends on the diversity in the lake.
Dr. Festus Bagoora, NEMA official and Makerere University lecturer
A combination of factors, especially pollution and overfishing, are affecting the fish. The numbers of Nile Perch had grown before the introduction of factories, but it is also being overfished.