Fish depletion hurts East Africa’s exports

Consumers in Kigali paying more money to eat fish   Prices of fish in Kigali have increased, in some markets by 46 per cent.

Consumers in Kigali paying more money to eat fish  

Prices of fish in Kigali have increased, in some markets by 46 per cent.

A kilogram of tilapia fish that used to cost Frw1,300 three months ago at Kimironko market was hiked to Frw1,900.

Fisheries experts attribute  the price hike to low catches in regional lakes due to dwindling fish stocks.

The stocks in all the water bodies of the East African Community (EAC) have declined tremendously over the years.

The fish stocks are under threat due to fishing irregularities. The fish experts cite over fishing and water pollution as the biggest threat to the stocks.

This has affected the fishing sector in the region leading to decline in fish exports and the closure of some fish factories.

While Lake Victoria remains the most productive fishery in Africa, with annual fishery yields fluctuating around 600,000 tonnes, valued at $350 - $400m, catches of Nile perch are steadily declining.

In 2001, boats caught an average 160 kilos of Nile Perch each trip, today they catch less than 20.

“Fish depletion is not unique to Uganda but also other countries in the region like Kenya and Tanzania. However, whereas Kenya and Tanzania have other alternative sources of fish (Marine fishing), Uganda has been hard hit because we only depend on fresh water fishing,” said Fred Mukisa, the Ugandan State Minister for Fisheries at a press briefing Thursday  last week.

Mukisa was addressing the press on the new management plans for fisheries development and exploitation in Uganda.

He pointed out that the famous Nile Perch stock had tremendously declined in the region as a result of uncontrolled fishing, yet it is the major fish commodity demanded internationally.

According to Mukisa, the fishing industry has also been wounded by scramble for the finite fisheries resources between fish factories and among regional traders, who for most are engaged in illicit trade of immature fish. 

The minister was happy with the Rwanda government. “Rwanda is the only country in the region that has been very effective in fighting illicit fish trade because they have strongly resisted trading in immature fish.”

“But countries like Congo have not been co-operative; they have over-fished their side and are now coming to our side. We are now working on setting up a boundary to separate fishing grounds,” he said.

Uganda suppliers fish to Rwanda, Burundi and Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

In Uganda, up to eight fish factories have closed in the recent past as a result of reduced fish supplies from the lake. Other factories process less than 50 per cent of their capacities.

Uganda projects its fish exports for the year 2008 to drop by over $60 million. There is also a projected increase in informal regional fish trade from $35 million to $55 million as a result of the increase in trafficking of mostly sun-dried and salted immature fish.

“Regionally, the expanded EAC presents a very good opportunity for fish markets, but given the limited fisheries resources, this has also added threat as regional fish traders push to take advantage of the new markets,” Mukisa noted.

As a region, under the umbrella Lake Victoria Fisheries Organisation (LVFO), the member countries had decided to step up measures to curb fishing irregularities.

In 1993, the EAC established the Lake Victoria Fisheries Organisation (LVFO) was formed to harmonise research and management of the fishery.

“Our priority now as a region is to tone down illegal fishing activities that are hurting the fishing sector and we all have been affected. The region market is now dominated by small fish which is not sold on the international market,”  

To curb illicit fish trade, Dr. Mukisa noted that the government of Uganda had decided to review the management of fisheries sector, start direct control fishing, use of harvest quarters for processors and exporters based on available records and surveillance of all fishing in all waters among others.

Recently, LVFO ‘s new appointed  Executive Secretary, Dick Nyeko, called upon policy makers in East Africa to consolidate and conserve fish stocks in all water bodies of the EAC as fish stocks in the region are currently threatened.

The organisation is set to hold the Lake Victoria Fisheries Conference in Entebbe this October.

The conference will review the situation of fisheries on Lake Victoria as well as focusing on poverty alleviation among the majority of the populations living around the Lake.