At about mid-day, we saw his boat coming. He had been fishing for close to 21 hours and we expected a lot of fish.
trueLake Victoria is under threat and the very people this natural resource is supposed to serve are the ones threatening its existence. Until World Environment Day, June 5, in a campaign Save Lake Victoria, Vision Group media platforms will run investigative articles, programmes and commentaries highlighting the irresponsible human activities threatening the world’s second largest fresh water lake.
By Matthias Mugisha
At about mid-day, we saw his boat coming. James Mitigyakibira, 47, had been fishing for close to 21 hours and we expected a lot of fish.
With all the Vision Group cameras on him, he had left Kasensero landing site at about 4:00pm the previous day as a celebrity fishermen. We expected the women to smile when he came back loaded with fish.
He came back in style. He waved to cameras as he disembarked his boat. Walking with a swagger and wearing a big smile, Miti headed straight for yet another TV interview. But the women were not smiling. They were waiting to see his catch. Fish is instant cash.
Mitigyakibira (loosely translated as forest trees) is fondly known as Miti among fishermen in Kasensero on the shores of Lake Victoria. Slender and dark, lively Miti has 26 years of experience as a fisherman. He remembers the good old days when there was plenty of fish in the lake and all women longed to be close to him.
Today, it is the opposite. Fearful of the future, Miti has been watching his fish catches dwindling over time.
“I used to come back with tonnes of fish, but not anymore. Yesterday, I only caught 20kg of fish,” he recalled as he prepared to go back in the lake. “Sometimes, I would get 1,200kg of fish. But that is now a dream. I am considering going back home to do farming. March used to be the best time for fishing, but we are getting nothing,” he said as he climbed into his boat with an assistant.true
Miti thinks the main problem is the big number of fishermen today. “Those days, we were few, but now we have hundreds of boats,” he says, but does not agree that lack of fish is also due to the rampant use of under sized nets that catch immature fish.
Kansensero has about 360 fishing boats. Each boat moves with two fishermen. If all the boats go out, you have 720 fishermen combing the lake for illusive fish.
A boat with an engine and equipped with about 60 fishing nets is worth about sh18m.
The vice-chairman of Kasensero Beach Management Unit, Nsamba Alozious, who also owns five boats, said the cost of running a boat per day is about sh200,000.
This means that the total investment in boats and fishing gear at Kasensero is about sh6.5b with a daily running cost of about sh72m.
The huge investment, according to security sources, drives most individuals to illegal fishing to recoup their investment, thus depleting the lake of fish stocks.
In a scramble to get as much as possible, most fishermen stray into Tanzanian waters, where their boats and fish are confiscated. They have to pay big ransoms to have the boats released.
Lake Victoria, measuring 68,800 square kilometers, is the second largest fresh water lake in the world.
The lake is shared by Kenya with 6%, Uganda 43% and Tanzania 51%. It has about 1,000,000 metric tonnes of fish. The main catch is Nile Perch, estimated at 51% and Tilapia estimated at about 24%. The rest is Silver fish.
The lake had more than 500 species of fish before the introduction of Nile Perch, and now has about 200 species. The smaller species disappeared due to the predatory behavior of the Nile Perch.
The most sought after fish is Nile Perch, which is bought by a nearby factory, the Marine Group of Companies, owned by Oakwood Investments. The factory sets the price of fish at will. It also controls the price of fuel as it owns the only petrol station in the area.
Due to lack of sufficient fish supplies, the factory relies on fish from Tanzania, which is double the size of the fish caught in Uganda waters.
Small fishermen such as Miti only get 25% of the catch as their pay. The rest goes to the boat owner.
Fishing is no longer profitable, even for boat owners such as John Kasozi.
“We are in debt and worried. I fear to tell my fishermen that we are finished,” Kasozi laments.
Fishermen pushing Miti's boat into the lake.
Kasozi owns Matovu and Sons, a fishing company with 25 boats employing over 50 people. “I ask God to help me. My time is over. In four years, there will be no fish,” he adds.
“The lake has been defiled and raped repeatedly. The Government is the biggest loser.’’
Kasozi says he tried to moblise people against catching immature fish and failed because of greed and the belief that nobody owns the lake.
“It was dangerous. There are big forces behind illegal fishing,” he added. Many of the officials tasked with fighting legal fishing either get sucked into the vice or lack facilitation.
Immature fish is dried in the open, loaded on trucks and exported to Congo via Bunagana. “Each truck moves with over sh10m to buy its way,’’ a security source said.
Kasozi attributes the slow death of fishing to lack of consistent sensitisation, political will to curb the vice, greed, over population and corruption.
David Luyinda is the fisheries officer in charge of Kyebe sub-county in Rakai district. He explains that each operation against illegal fishing costs about sh1m and yet there is no budget for it.
They usually mount surprise operations with the help of the Police.
Displaying illegal fishing gear they had captured in an operation, Luyinda explained that illegal fishing nets contribute about 40% of immature fish catches.
Operations to get rid of illegal fishing gear are not 100% effective as corrupt officials warn their counterparts in advance.
Apart from illegal fishing, the lake also faces considerable pollution and other pressures from the population around.
Kasensero has about 15,000 people served by two public toilets. Hygiene is poor. A lot of human waste ends up in the lake. The over 700 fishermen who go into the lake very day confess that they ease themselves in the water.
This, coupled with pollution from factories in urban areas, indiscriminate fishing and the water hyacinth that enters the lake from Rwanda via River Kagera at an estimated rate of 500 tonnes per day are taking a toll on Lake Victoria.
The fishermen are feeling the pinch with dry pockets and their women no longer smile.
Since the local fishermen can no longer meet the demand, the fish factories and fish moguls are dictating the price, knowing they will get good and bigger supplies from Tanzanian fish smugglers.
“The good days are over. I used to afford two women per night, but I can only afford two sachets of Vodka now. The women no longer look my way,” Joseph Birimuye, a fisherman, says as he sips gin. “Wait for Miti and see. That is his boat,” he says pointing into the lake.
Birimuye is right. Everyone was anxious to see Miti’s catch. He had spent 21 hours on the lake and burnt 15 litres of fuel. But all he had to show for it was two Nile Perch fish with a combined weight of 7kg.
When he left for the lake the fish price was at sh7,000 per kilogramme, but by the time he returned, it had gone down to sh4,500 per kilogramme.
“Do you see any happy woman?” Birimuye asks in a whisper. Only Miti was smiling for the cameras.
“We are dead. The lake is dead,” Kasozi had said it earlier.
Do you have any views on how to save Lake Victoria? Write to the Features Editor, P.O Box 9815, Kampala, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0312 337000
The fishermen women don''t love