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Is Kenya overexploiting Lake Victoria?

By Vision Reporter

Added 10th January 2007 03:00 AM

KENYA owns only 5% of Lake Victoria, but its neighbours are awed at its high fish catch.
At a recent workshop to emphasise equitable and sustainable exploitation of the fish resources, it was observed that Lake Victoria fish stocks were threatened if the catch is not controlled.

KENYA owns only 5% of Lake Victoria, but its neighbours are awed at its high fish catch.
At a recent workshop to emphasise equitable and sustainable exploitation of the fish resources, it was observed that Lake Victoria fish stocks were threatened if the catch is not controlled.

By Joel Ogwang

KENYA owns only 5% of Lake Victoria, but its neighbours are awed at its high fish catch.
At a recent workshop to emphasise equitable and sustainable exploitation of the fish resources, it was observed that Lake Victoria fish stocks were threatened if the catch is not controlled.

The workshop at Colline Hotel in Mukono drew participants from Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.
Covering 67,850 sq.kilometres, Lake Victoria is the world’s second-largest fresh water lake. Kenya shares about 5% of the lake, Tanzania 50%, while the rest lies in Uganda.

In a bid to ensure sustainable fish resources, the East African states formed the Lake Victoria Fisheries Organisation (LVFO) in 1994. In 2005, the European Union boosted this project with 29.9 million euros.
Since Tanzania and Uganda have the biggest share of the lake, they should have a comparative advantage in enjoying benefits accruing to it.

According to www.thefishsite. com, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania exported over 100,000 tonnes of fish from Lake Victoria, worth $300m (about sh555b) in 2005. There is also export of other products like dagaa (mukene) to regional markets.

The website says Uganda’s exports increased from 32,000 tonnes in 2004 to 35,000 tonnes in 2005, earning $142m (sh255b), while Tanzania’s exports fell from 71,000 tonnes in 2004 to 63,000 tonnes in 2005, bringing in $152.5m. The same year, Kenya earned $56.6m (sh103b) from Lake Victoria fish exports to the European Union. This means Kenya exports half the total exports of Tanzania and Uganda.

Kenya, however, attributes the high fish catch to having Nyanza Gulf, the lead breeding ground of the lake’s fish. However, Philip Bwathordi, the Tanzania Research Institute director general, says no scientific study has confirmed this.

“Colonialists used the same explanation to overfish. Kenya should reduce the quantity of fish it catches,” he argues.

Bwathordi explains that Beach Management Units were set up in Tanzania and Uganda to fight illegal fishing, but this is still a daunting task in Kenya.

He says the lake is a source of water, food and employment to over 85% of people living around it. He also blamed the receding levels of Lake Victoria waters on natural causes.

“In Uganda, the problem has been politicised. We are told the building of a second dam in Jinja resulted into the falling water levels, but no scientist has confirmed this,” he states.

Dick Nyeko, the Uganda commissioner for fisheries, says routing out illicit fishing requires joint efforts.

“If past generations had not regulated the quantity of fish harvested, we would not have some of the delicious species. We have to ensure that only mature fish is harvested,” he advises.

Nyeko also called for value-addition to increase profitability. He said there was need to reduce the number of fishers, who had increased pressure on the lake.

Richard Ogutu-Ohwayo, the LVFO deputy executive director, says data collected since 2000 shows that fishermen had increased from 129,000 to 196,000, most of them Kenyans.

Fishing gear had also increased from 42,000 to 69,000, while the number of gillnets doubled from 650,000 to 1.2 million. The number of hooks trebled from three million to nine million.

“The incentive created by the ready fish market has also increased the pressure on the lake,” he explains.

Fish processing factories rose from almost nil in 1980s to over 30 in 2005. There are many fish processing plants in Kisumu, Kenya than in any other part of East Africa and the factories mostly export Nile Perch.

Ogutu-Ohwayo says partner states, through LVFO and support from the European Union, World Bank and the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) had implemented programmes to ensure sustainability of the lake.

He adds that since 2003, LVFO has been implementing a fisheries management plan that has enabled partner states to improve their policy and legal frameworks.

“A regional taskforce and Regional Plan of Action were formulated to manage fishing on Lake Victoria,” Ogutu-Ohwayo says.

Fred Mukisa, the fisheries state minister, urges the East African countries to implement the (FAO) Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (CCRF) to curb illegal fishing.

The code requires that fishing under national jurisdiction should be commensurate with the available fish resources.

Mukisa says enforcing proper fishing requires an urgent joint redress.

“East Africa partner states ascribe to CCRF. Lake Victoria is difficult to manage separately. We need collective efforts to sustainably manage the fish resources,” Mukisa advised.

According to him, a lot of fish is lost at landing sites due to poor handling methods.

“There has been a gradual increase in the number of fishermen, fishing gears and boats with relative decrease in fish catches,” he says.

Some of the measures adopted to ensure sustainable management of Lake Victoria fish resources include the use of the slot size of 50-85cm for Nile perch, minimum mesh size of five inches, a ban on trawling and other destructive fishing methods.

Is Kenya overexploiting Lake Victoria?

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