The fact about the East African Community is the abundance of opportunities for fishing throughout the region, blessed with the longest and biggest lakes and rivers in the world; Lake Tanganyika, Lake Victoria, Lake Kivu, Congo River, Ruzizi River and River Nile-- with over 350 species of fish.
Offers some of the finest fishing in Africa which has gained world-wide fame meaning as fish caught are absolutely perfect for world market.
For years, the East African Community’s economy boost has largely been on fishing, because the waters have vast numbers of commercial fish species. Main species include the legendary Nile Perch, abundant Tilapia, Tiger-fish, Mud-fish and Cat-fish.
The main methods of fishing include industrial fishing in which small trawlers accompanied by several rowboats are used, Native fishing is in catamarans equipped with lights, nets and engines, while traditional fishing is in pirogues equipped with lights and landing nets and another way to fish is from the shore.
Fishing is a major source of employment in the EAC, while much of the regional population’s derives its livelihood directly or indirectly from the water bodies.
The community enjoys exclusive fishing rights up to 370km (200 nautical miles) off their shores, though the rich pickings have attracted a growing number of intruders which has led to a sharp fall of fish caught in the recent years; resulting in increased prices of fish and a significant decline in consumption.
Lack of capital has produced pitiful fishing fleets. Corruption, rife enough on land, is even worse on the lakes. Illegal and unreported fishing accounts for much of the catch.
There is no compliance, limited monitoring and the boats use gear that rips up the seabed and their indiscriminate human predators also slaughter dolphins and rare turtles.
A lot of environmental changes are taking place in the EAC due to many factors like water pollution and mining. This has also affected the fishing sector in the region leading to decline in fish exports and the closure of some fish factories.
For example, up to eight fish factories have closed in the recent past as a result of reduced fish supplies from the lake Victoria in Uganda. Other factories process less than 50 per cent of their capacities.
Something should be done to boost the fishing industry in the EAC. Some reports blame a policy of free-for-all in the fishing sector where by fishermen operate on the lake without restrictions on new entrants.
Anybody attracted by the huge demand available on the market can get his boat and line up his gear to start fishing, creating a lot of pressure on the lake and the fishing gears used is not the best to allow the resource to renew.
For the EAC to resuscitate the once leading export industry, the regional governments need to work together to improve the management of the fish industry in the region and finding sustainable ways of reviving dwindling fish stocks, while protecting employment in the industry.
Increased investment would improve the preservation and packaging of fish and speed up its route to market.
Scientific bodies believe small-scale fish farming is the answer to building up fish stocks in the region..
Burundi, a latest entrant into the community, with the help of the United Nations Operation in Burundi (ONUB), launched a fishing project intended to boost small fishing in Nyanza-Lac, town in the southern province of Makamba.
While Rwanda is the only country in the region that has been very effective in fighting illicit fish trade strong resistance to the trade of immature fish, among other measures; this hasn’t reversed fish shortages in the country.
However, the Rwandan government plans to import tilapia fingerlings to restock 17 inland lakes by the end of the year.
Meanwhile the EAC, under the umbrella of the Lake Victoria Fisheries Organization (LVFO), the member countries decided to step up measures to curb fishing irregularities.
Sensitisation programmes such as educating the population on proper fishing methods are urgently needed since this will allow the fish to grow as mostly young fish are being caught currently.