Perched On A Knife-Edge: Lake Victoria’s Ailing Fisheries – Analysis


By Michael Markovina and Rhett Bennett

Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing (or referred to as IUU fishing) is globally playing a significant role in the devastation of fish stocks in both marine and inland waters. Current conservative estimates suggest a global financial loss of between US$ 10 billion and US$ 23 billion annually (Agnew and Pitcher 2008). IUU fishing activity undermines fisheries management and serves to erode the benefits to the people whose livelihoods, income generation and food security depend on the biological integrity and productivity of their associated waters. IUU is incentive driven, governed by simple economic principles of supply, demand and value – the more valuable and lucrative the trade (in this case fisheries resources) the more likely participants will engage in illicit activities to acquire that resource. There is no part of the world’s oceans or freshwater bodies today that is safe from overexploitation of its resources. Advances in technology have provided the methods, a global economy has provided the means, human population increase has provided the demand, poor fisheries management and control mechanisms have provided the loop holes, and fisheries resources (especially those of developing nations) represent the valued – albeit declining – commodity. Although more often associated with marine fisheries, IUU fishing and its associated trade are currently threatening the biological, social, financial and cultural integrity of the fisheries of Lake Victoria, arguably Africa’s largest and most important inland water body.

African freshwater fisheries are characterized by exotic species introductions, overexploitation of resources, poor management and a lack of reliable, non-conflicting data. The reality of these characteristics, particularly the lack of suitable data, was somewhat brought to the fore when piecing together this article. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, states and all those engaged in fisheries management should, through the application of policy, legal and institutional framework, adopt measures for the long-term conservation and sustainable use of fisheries resources (FAO 1995). For trans-boundary fish stocks, where multiple states exploit a common fish resource, the states concerned should cooperate to ensure conservation and effective management of the resource. In accordance with this, the riparian states of Lake Victoria, namely Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, have sought technical and financial assistance from the FAO, to form a regional fisheries body. The Lake Victoria Fisheries Organization (LVFO) was established in 1994, to facilitate the management of Lake Victoria’s fish resources as a single ecological entity. In order to carry out its mandate as provided in its convention, the LVFO developed a complex fisheries management structure designed to connect with the East African Community (EAC) national structures to ensure regional equity and standard operating procedures. The LVFO secretariat is considered the executive organ of the LVFO, and is headed by the executive secretary, whose responsibility it is to ensure that the mandate decided upon by the LVFO Council of Ministers (the supreme body of the organization) is carried out.

The introduction of Nile perch (Lates niloticus) into Lake Victoria in the early 1950s stimulated the development of the fisheries sector, which grew rapidly through the 1980s and 1990s. Nile perch soon dominated the fisheries sector, and became the “mono-crop” of Lake Victoria. A vicious predator and highly fecund, Nile perch proliferated at the demise of the ecological diversity of fish species for which Lake Victoria was previously well known. Lucrative prices on international markets prompted large financial investments into fish processing facilities within Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. The demand for clean, packaged Nile perch fillets in the European Union (EU) accelerated fishing effort, which saw landings increase from 4 439 tons in 1980 to 338 115 tons in 1990. Nile perch catch rates then fluctuated between 1990 and 2000, partly due to an EU trade ban on Nile perch, after it was discovered that fishers were using organophosphates (acute toxins) to catch these fish. However, between 2000 and 2010, catch rates again showed an increase, generating an estimated US$ 320 million in export revenue in 2008 (LVFO 2009). It was only, however, with the advent of donor funds from the EU, through the establishment of two programmes, the Lake Victoria Fisheries Research Project (LVFRP), between 1999 and 2001, and the Implementation of a Fisheries Management Plan (IFMP) project, between 2005 and 2009 that the dramatic decline in Nile perch abundance became evident. Of the total biomass of fish in Lake Victoria, which was estimated at 2.3 million tons in 1999, Nile perch comprised approximately 82 percent, at 1.9 million tons. By 2008, the contribution of Nile perch had declined to an estimated 350 000 tons, representing only 17 percent of the total fish biomass within the Lake at the time, a decrease of approximately 1.5 million tons over that decade (Kayanda et al. 2009). A report resulting from an emergency meeting of the LVFO’s Council of Ministers, in 2009, estimated that this drastic ecological loss of Nile perch biomass (albeit an exotic species) equated to an astonishing US$ 2.8 billion in sales for the region, over that period. According to Mr Samson Abura, database manager for the LVFO, data sharing amongst the riparian states is poor, and the integrity of these data is questionable. As such, the degree to which the data reflect actual landings is unclear, and the results stemming from these data should be interpreted with caution.

The observed decline in Nile Perch biomass was not only a result of a decline in the abundance of fish, but also a decrease in the mean size thereof. These fish showed a decrease in mean maximum length recorded from more than 50 cm total length in 2007, to less than 30 cm in 2009 (LVFO 2009). As a biological indicator, a decline in mean size should ‘sound the alarm.’ Lake-wide hydro acoustic surveys, conducted in August 2006, suggested that only 1.9 percent of the estimated 600 000 tons of Nile perch in Lake Victoria were of legal harvest size; these fish being between 50 and 85 cm in total length, with the vast majority being smaller than 50 cm (this ‘slot size’ was developed in 2001 to ensure smaller Nile perch below 50 cm total length were not harvested and that the larger, sexually mature and more fecund females greater than 85 cm total length were released, thereby attempting to protect juveniles and spawning adults). Thus, approximately only 11 400 tons of the total biomass of Nile perch in the Lake were legally available for the international market. At an average of US$ 9.1 per kilogram, the expected value of legal Nile perch in Lake Victoria in 2006 was a low US$ 103 740 million. Repeat hydro acoustic surveys in August 2009 revealed a more desperate situation, with only 1.2 percent of the estimated 350 000 tons of Nile Perch biomass within the Lake being of legal harvest size (LVFO 2009). Fish populations that have suffered decline as a result of severe overexploitation also often respond through a gradual physiological reduction in the size at which individuals in the population reach sexual maturity (Policansky 1993). In the early 1990s, prior to the major stock decline, the length at first maturity of Nile perch was 93 cm total length (Ogutu-Ohwayo 2004); however, by 2007, Nile perch were reaching sexual maturity at 58 cm total length, indicating severe physiological consequences as a result of overexploitation. A decrease in the number of larger fish means that a greater proportion of the stock is being harvested before sexual maturity is reached, and thus before these fish are allowed to reproduce. Simultaneously, a decrease in the size at sexual maturity means a concomitant decrease in the fecundity (or reproductive potential) of the population. Smaller individuals produce exponentially fewer eggs relative to their body mass, which has knock-on effects in terms of recruitment and population size in subsequent years. This decline in fish size is evident in the availability of juvenile Nile perch (often less than 10 cm in length), for sale in the local markets.

Walking through the mud pools of the Kampala market, the stench of sewage and the unmistakable smell of decaying fish emanates from every corner, and the crammed market is a hive of activity. From second hand clothes to Barbie dolls and cow intestines, all manner of items is on sale, and fishmongers display heaps of small Nile perch, most of which are of illegal size. Competition among fishmongers to gain the best quality fish from the fishermen at the lowest possible price is thus high, and has resulted in a ‘sex for fish’ trade, in which women sell their bodies to the fishermen, to gain a competitive advantage. Locally referred to as ‘jaboya’ this trade is common practice Lake wide. Although unconfirmed, the declining catch rates are believed to have resulted in the increased occurrence of ‘jaboya’ and the consequent increase in the prevalence of HIV in the Lake region. If this is the case, the social ramifications of declining fish stocks may be far more crippling to the economies of the riparian states than previously thought. Sleeping on a remote island within the Lake, during a fisheries compliance intervention, the MCS team lay in a small tin house, shrouded by the smell of the pit latrine outside, stifling heat, relentless mosquitoes, and the noise of drunken men echoing only slightly above the sexual noises emanating from the adjacent brothel; one can only imagine that the Lake’s fisheries culture is on a collision course to self-destruction.

Unfortunately, it was not only the biological data that were showing signs of a collapsing fish stock, economic data were telling the same story. In recent years, numerous commercial fish processing plants have terminated operations (reportedly one third of the commercial processing capacity in the region), simply because there are insufficient fish available. Thousands of jobs have been lost, not only through direct loss of employment in the fish processing plants, but also in the transport and packaging sectors. According to the Globefish European market analysis website (Globefish 2013), EU imports of Nile perch fillets decreased by 25 percent from 42 300 tons in 2008 to 31 600 tons in 2010, with a further 6 percent decrease from 2010 to 2011. The export market for Nile perch is further threatened by concerns over inadequate Nile perch export quality and sustainability from the region, and cheaper alternatives from Vietnam (Pangasius spp.) becoming more prominent and competitive in the EU markets. Ultimately, the Nile perch export industry, a critical foreign exchange earner for the region, may be on the brink of collapse altogether. The remaining fish processing plants in the region are operating at minimum capacity, yet fishing effort has increased – the reason: the value of illegal fish. Fishermen are turning to the lucrative and booming trade in illegal-sized Nile perch and Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) on domestic and regional markets, including South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi, amongst others. If the biomass of Nile perch in Lake Victoria is 350 000 tons, and hydro acoustic data suggest that only 1.2 percent is of legal size (and let us assume that 8 percent of Nile perch are too small to survey acoustically), that leaves approximately 90 percent of the biomass or 315 000 tons of potential illegal revenue. Given an average regional market price of US$ 2.75 per kilogram, the potential value of illegal Nile perch for domestic and regional trade is a staggering US$ 860 million. Compared to the international export market, which requires health standards to be met, and capital investment in fish processing, packaging and refrigerated transport, the domestic and regional market trade is informal, lucrative, tax free and without barriers to entry. If you own a bicycle you have a mode of cross-border transport, and thus earning potential. The bottom line is that undersized, immature Nile perch have become very valuable.

From the Tanzanian lake shores to Sirari, the inland border crossing gateway between Tanzania and Kenya, there is approximately 50 km of unregulated border area with numerous dirt tracks leading into Kenya. Unmanned and sporadically patrolled by police and customs officials, this area presents numerous opportunities for lucrative cross border smuggling of undersized fish and illegal fish products. According to retired Col. JD Kotze, a fisheries investigation expert, smuggling in this area is not limited to fish, but these routes are also associated with routes for human trafficking, drug smuggling, cattle rustling and the smuggling of commodities such as sugar. Driving through this area on a track leading into Kenya, large numbers of pedestrians and cyclists transporting fish are regularly observed moving between the Tanzanian Lake shore and the Kenyan border.

The LVFO is tasked with undertaking biennial surveys to describe the structure of the fisheries sector and to inventory landing sites, vessels, fishing gears and illegalities, and to census fishermen. While these ‘frame’ surveys, as they are termed, are highly subjective, they are the only realistic measure of the state of the fisheries, considering the capacity available. In terms of participation in the fishery, the number of active fishermen has increased, from 129 305 in 2000 to 205 249 in 2012. At night, the lanterns of the many vessels engaged in fishing operations on the Lake light up the night sky like those of a large city. What is more concerning, however, is the mechanization of their fishing vessels. The use of outboard motors has increased sharply from 4 108 units in 2000 to 20 217 in 2012. According to a report published by Warui (2007), the efficiency in the harvest of Nile perch is considerably improved when using motorized boats, when compared to non-motorized boats. A vessel that is manually paddled and deploying gillnets can catch on average between 5 and 10 kg of Nile perch per day, whereas a motorized vessel deploying the same fishing gear can average between 20 and 35 kg of Nile perch per day.

Of great concern are the numerous different illegal gear types actively used in Lake Victoria, particularly monofilament nets (banned Lake wide), small mesh-sized multifilament gillnets, beach seine nets and mosquito nets. Each in their own capacity is efficient at targeting undersized Nile perch, amongst other species. Monofilament nets are manufactured from nylon and are exceptionally efficient at catching fish, especially in low visibility waters, such as those of Lake Victoria. Although biennial variations are evident, the frame surveys show that monofilament net usage has increased from a reported 58 units observed in 2004 to a staggering 12 161 units in 2012 (LVFO 2012). The increase in the prevalence of monofilament nets (although their mesh sizes have generally not been recorded), is consistent with the need to harvest smaller fish more efficiently. To harvest smaller Nile perch, fishermen have to increase their catching efficiency, which is generally achieved through the use of smaller mesh sizes, which are both illegal and more destructive. Similarly, there has been an increase in the use of gillnets (multifilament) in the Lake. The total number of gillnets recorded increased from 650 652 in 2000, to 1 032 948 in 2012. The proportion of illegal gillnets (mesh size less than 5 inches) also increased over this period, from 113 117 to 200 689. While net segments are generally 80 m in length, whilst on MCS interventions, nets of up to 2 km have been observed. Walking though the local markets in remote fishing villages in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, it becomes evident that nets, such as small-meshed multi-filament nets, are readily available, and are inexpensive to purchase or replace. Thus, if an illegal net is confiscated, fishers have immediate access to new nets. The problem is that nets illegal for fishing purposes are not necessarily illegal within the country, so it is impossible to confiscate the nets at the point of sale or distribution. In addition, mosquito nets donated by USAID are routinely used, either as fishing nets, or as lining for beach seine nets to increase their catching efficiency. During recent MCS interventions conducted on the Lake, hundreds of mosquito nets have been confiscated and burned.

Crudely speaking, there are three levels of management and compliance enforcement that can prevent illegally caught Nile perch from entering the market; the first: community compliance through established Beach Management Units (BMUs); the second: industry rejecting Nile perch at the processing facilities that do not conform to ‘slot size’ (self-compliance and regulation); and the third: regional and national monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) interventions (not only within the fishery, but also the market). A BMU is a community-based group, which is legally accepted as a representative of the fishing community, with regards to fisheries resource utilization and management (Salehe 2008). BMUs are regarded as the frontline of MCS activity, and their task is to monitor fishing activities, collect data and enforce by-laws designed by the national states and implemented through the LVFO. Currently there are approximately 1 085 BMUs on Lake Victoria; however, they have failed catastrophically to curb illegal fishing activities and the trade of immature and undersized Nile perch. Furthermore, BMU committee members have little incentive to actively engage in compliance work, for a number of reasons: they are often fishing illegally themselves; they have social conflicts of interest; they have security, corruption and retribution concerns by wrongdoers; they have a lack of support from government; and they are subjected to political interference (the organization of fishers within BMUs is an attractive vote-acquiring entity during national and/or regional elections, which often affects the legitimacy of a BMU in enforcing the by-laws). This was highlighted on a recent MCS intervention in Tanzania, where the local BMU village leader had run away, and numerous illegal gears were confiscated from his home. Such occurrences are common on the Lake. So at points of access to the fishery, where fishing boats and/or fish transport vessels land at designated BMU landing sites, illegally harvested Nile perch are often freely traded to local (predominantly female) fishmongers, for sale on domestic and/or regional markets. Fishmongers have a diverse network of agents who facilitate transport arrangements, cold storage facilities and border connections, among other things, allowing unchallenged the regional distribution of illegally harvested Nile perch. This is evident in the Nairobi and Kampala municipal markets, where tons of undersized Nile perch, amongst other species, arrive by local taxi, bus, private car or truck. It is clear that the governments of the riparian states have failed in their task to reduce and control illegal fishing on Lake Victoria (Hempel and Kariuki 2011). Consequently, the supply of Nile perch within the slot size that is legal for export to EU markets (50 to 85 cm total length) has dwindled.

Industry was ultimately blamed for the decline in Nile perch stocks, which prompted a move by industry to create a self-monitoring and control agreement among the three East African fish export associations. The agreement was signed into effect in March 2007, and allowed for national and regional inspections of processing facilities, transport trucks entering and exiting the facilities, and the development of an inspectorate code of conduct, including a system of penalties for non-compliance (Hempel and Kariuki 2011). However, it was reported that due to industry enforcement of the slot size, the number of fish delivered at processing facilities for filleting declined by 50 percent from 2007 to 2009, which resulted in financial complications and the subsequent closure of a number of processing facilities in the region. Moreover, due to this exclusion of purchase of undersized Nile perch by the processing facilities, traders and agents established new, illegal markets and filleting stations, ensuring that targeted undersized Nile perch remained as lucrative as larger, legal sized fish that were destined for legal processing. The municipal fisheries market in Nairobi is the largest Nile perch filleting market in the region. Highly organized, hundreds of tons of illegal-sized Nile perch are processed at this facility in full knowledge of fisheries officials. Thus, although the self-monitoring and control mechanisms put in place by industry have largely eradicated the processing of undersized Nile perch within formal processing facilities, the results of such actions have not manifested themselves within the fishery, and have little effect on the informal markets.
One of the greatest embarrassments in terms of fisheries management on Lake Victoria was the initiative by the riparian governments and the LVFO, through a Council of Ministers meeting in 2009, to eradicate illegal fishing by 100 percent. In February 2009, during the 7th regular session of the LVFO Council of Ministers meeting held in Tanzania, the delegation reviewed the status of the Nile perch fishery and information pertaining to the decline of the stock through illegal harvesting and trade of immature and undersized fish. The Council considered the technical and policy recommendations presented and a decision was made to institute drastic measures to reverse the declining trend of the Nile perch stocks. The Council set targets to reduce illegalities by 50 percent, by June 2009, and by 100 percent by December of that year, using the frame survey data of 2008 as a benchmark – an ambitious, yet highly unrealistic goal. In November 2009, the LVFO held an emergency meeting of the Council of Ministers, to discuss the lack of progress in fulfilling the directive of the Council to eliminate illegalities by December 2009. According to the LVFO Policy Steering Committee (PSC), the financial investment from member states towards MCS interventions was grossly insufficient. The PSC indicated that US$ 196 911, US$ 12 744 and US$ 9 444 were provided by the governments of Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, respectively, representing a meagre financial contribution towards combating illegalities – less than one percent of the estimated value of the Nile perch fishery. Furthermore, the LVFO Secretariat highlighted that failure to completely eradicate illegalities by December 2009 could be attributed to a lack of a co-ordinated response amongst member state action plans. The PSC subsequently recommended that each partner state contribute US$ 600 000, thereby raising US$ 1 800 000 for a co-ordinated Lake-wide intervention, termed ‘Operation Save Nile Perch’, to reduce illegalities, ensure compliance by all member states, enhance participation of all associated stakeholders, and establish a monitoring protocol to evaluate the recovery of Nile perch stocks. By December 2011, only Kenya had met their full financial commitment for Operation Save Nile Perch, whilst Tanzania had contributed only 31 percent of their required funds, and Uganda zero. Only as recently as 2013 has Uganda contributed 73 percent of their required funds. The failure of member states to meet their financial commitments towards the sustainable use and management of Lake Victoria’s fish resources, a fundamental contributor to member state economies and social welfare, completely undermines the legitimacy of the Lake Victoria Fisheries Organization, the Council of Ministers and Operation Save Nile Perch. Unfortunately, as of September 2013, Operation Save Nile Perch is yet to be realized. Unfortunately, fisheries law enforcement and management within Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda have been limited and unreliable and marred with allegations of corruption, and it seems that the only real effort to curb illegal fishing activities on Lake Victoria is where foreign donor funds have been made available.

Lake Victoria has become a magnet for international donor funds and aid programmes. Over the last decade, millions of US dollars have been invested in fisheries management capacity development, equipment, MCS training, aquaculture development, alternative income generating activities, trade and fish quality workshops, fisheries stock assessments, governance, food security, and the list goes on. However, fisheries field stations are now littered with old decaying boats and vehicles donated by foreign donors, which have been neglected through poor management and a lack of accountability, on the parts of the donor and of the recipient. While many of these implements may be easily salvaged or repaired, it is often easier to simply ask for new equipment, or wait for a new funding programme to come along. Unfortunately, it appears that the management of Lake Victoria’s fisheries resources has become heavily dependent on these donor funds, with the LVFO having very limited functional capacity outside of donor projects. After two years of MCS training interventions on Lake Victoria, Mr Andries Du Preez, combined operations training expert, suggest that as long as the situation prevails where East African Fisheries law enforcement officials are dependant only on artificially initiated MCS operations as a result of foreign aid, ownership of reality will favour those whose greed and ignorance are stronger than the will power and determination of those officially appointed to curb illegal fishing. Ultimately, the lake will embrace the side with the strongest will. Operation Save Nile Perch is no exception. Of the total proposed budget for this project, of US$ 5 485 000, a mere US$ 1 800 000 was to be raised by the member states, with the majority to be sourced through aid by development partners. This reflects once again the dependence on donor funding from outside of the region, the vast majority of which would be used towards intangible goals, such as meetings and workshops, and the redevelopment of action plans and management plans, with little implementation.
In contrast to Operation Save Nile Perch, however, in 2012, SmartFish, a programme run under the Indian Ocean Commission and funded by the EU, engaged in a number of MCS operations on Lake Victoria. The MCS component of SmartFish, which is ongoing in the region, is to develop joint operational capacity for the conducting of regional MCS interventions. These MCS interventions have been highly successful in the confiscation of illegal fishing gears in all of the member states, and this has been achieved with a small budget and existing national assets (mother-ships, patrol vessels etc.). However, this is not without complication. Patrol vessels approaching fishing villages are regularly met with extreme hostility by local fishermen, who hurl stones, rocks and verbal abuse, and shoot at the patrol vessels with bow and arrow. Police on board the patrol vessels are often forced to retaliate with warning shots, and thereafter tear gas, to control angry mobs. On one occasion, a women approached the police stripping herself naked, screaming in Swahili, ‘kill me, I don’t care, stop taking our nets’. These incidents are indicative of the desperate need for fishers to make a living, from the Lake’s dwindling fish resources.
In 2012 and 2013, during seven joint regional MCS operations on Lake Victoria, approximately 350 cubic meters of illegal nets were confiscated, which filled eight shipping containers. This, according to Mr Marcel Kroese, a SmartFish MCS expert, is only the tip of the iceberg, and by being on the Lake and conducting multiple interventions, it is clear that the actual magnitude of illegal activities is grossly underestimated. These SmartFish MCS missions, each lasting between five and seven days, cost approximately US$ 25 000. If the member states had each contributed the required funds, and US$ 1 800 000 were available, the LVFO and member states could have achieved 360 or more days of MCS missions – an entire year of policing, visible control and illegal gear confiscations. This would have greatly impacted IUU fishing on Lake Victoria, which, in turn, would have contributed significantly to the regeneration of the Nile perch stock. With an estimated national GDP of approximately US$ 17.7 billion in 2010, of which fisheries contributed 2.8 percent, or US$ 495 million, of which Nile perch exports constituted over 90 percent of total formal fish exports, it is somewhat inconceivable that Tanzania and Uganda could not meet the funding requirements for Operation Save Nile Perch, a mere US$ 600 000. The SmartFish MCS operations have highlighted that each of the member states has sufficient equipment and resources, a competent level of training, and the necessary human, operational and planning capacity to conduct successful MCS interventions (both nationally and regionally). However, the lack of leadership, integrity, political will and legitimacy of the LVFO and fisheries management authorities of the member states to effectively co-ordinate and manage fisheries resources, combined with an overreliance on donor funds, are the stumbling blocks that allow illegal fishing to continue unchecked in the region. Mr Kroese further comments that Lake Victoria is not regarded as a natural treasure by Uganda, Tanzania or Kenya. The value of the Lake is neglected by administrators who blame politicians for not providing funds, by politicians who use the Lake for financial and political gain, and by locals who see the resources as a simple way of making a living. Mr Kroese adds that the lake should be regarded as equally, if not more, valuable than the acclaimed Serengeti or Mount Kilimanjaro, yet it is treated like a duck pond. In simple terms, governance and implementation are near non-existent. It seems ridiculous, with a well-structured regional fisheries body, such as the LVFO, established nearly two decades ago, that today the collapse of Nile perch in Lake Victoria is imminent.

But what happens when Nile perch is gone? Remember that this is an exotic species in Lake Victoria, having been introduced into the system in the early 1950s, and it has decimated the biodiversity of fish that once characterized the Lake. Since the introduction of Nile perch, Lake Victoria’s once multispecies fishery has become dominated by just three species; Nile perch, Nile tilapia and dagaa (Rastrineobola argentea). The eradication of Nile perch would arguably benefit the ecological integrity of the Lake; however, considering that the species is a significant contributor through phenomenal export earnings, in what is often regarded as an ‘artificial economy’, and that the fishery supports the livelihoods of approximately 200 000 fishers, this is certainly not a viable option, and an eventuality that should be avoided. The decline in Nile perch biomass, however, suggests that alternative fishery targets should be considered. The small pelagic fish, dagaa, which has been described as the most important resource available in Lake Victoria by number, was predominantly a target of the subsistence fishery until commercial exploitation of this species started in the late 1970s. LVFO data suggest that upward of 600 000 tons were harvested in 2007, a staggering proportion of the estimated stock of 1.3 million tons (Defaux and Hjort 2012). This highly nutritional fish was previously targeted primarily for the production of animal feeds, but now dagaa is becoming a significant food source, especially in the DRC, Burundi, Zambia, South Sudan, Rwanda and Malawi. With increasing regional trade, fishers are turning to dagaa as a replacement for the collapsed Nile perch fishery. The main challenge in quality assurance of dagaa is to restrict further regional growth of the fishery, although data pertaining to dagaa markets, landings and catches are limited. While the importance of the dagaa fishery is increasing, frame survey results already show a 6 percent increase in the use of illegal gears within this fishery, from 2000 to 2012. This small fish is also unlikely to fetch as competitive a price on local and international markets, as the Nile perch. The fact of the matter is that, no matter what the species of fish, whether large predatory Nile perch or small invertivorous dagaa, it is political will, leadership, integrity and the effective implementation of laws, rules and regulations that are essential, if the fishery of Lake Victoria, the lifeline to millions of people, is to be saved.


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