Reduced catch in Lake Victoria cause for alarm

Dunga Beach Management Unit Chairman Joel Otieno at the shores of Lake Victoria in Kisumu. [Photo: Denish Ochieng/Standard]

The once flourishing fishing industry around Lake Victoria is on its death bed.

Thousands of jobs are at stake as fish population records its worst ever decline in decades, putting the Lake Victoria Fisheries, which supports close to one million Kenyans on the verge of closure.

Fisheries experts and economists say the reduction of fish quantity by more than 60 per cent has forced processing factories in Kisumu, Homa Bay and Migori to close shop.

“Fishermen are turning their boats into passenger transport vessels, and are now targeting tourists interested in site seeing. They are tired of going on fishing expedition and returning with empty nets,” said Alfeus Marienga, a beach leader in Seme, Kisumu County.

Tripled exports

According to the Kenya Fish Processors and Exporters Association, the Lake Victoria Fisheries contributes close to 2.5 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product translating into Sh14 billion.

Deep sea fish producing countries such as China have more than tripled their fish exports to Kenya, specifically to Nyanza to satisfy the growing demand.

Kenya gets her fish from lakes Victoria, Naivasha, Baringo and Turkana, the Indian Ocean and the fish ponds, many of which were constructed through the Economic Stimulus project introduced in 2009 to help boost fish consumption.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries estimates in its latest survey that the country produced 163,293 metric tonnes of fish worth Sh21 billion in 2013.

“Of that, inland fishing mainly from Lake Victoria brought in 130,658 metric tonnes with fish farming accounting for 23,501 tonnes or 14 per cent,” says the report.

Experts, however, say the figures have reduced by nearly 10 per cent in the past two years due to low harvest from the lake and slow uptake of aquaculture.

The latest Lake Victoria Catch Assessment Survey-2015 conducted by the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (Kemfri) confirmed that Africa’s largest fresh water lake is running out of fish, its biggest economic resource.

The report indicates a drop in fish catches in Busia, Siaya, Kisumu, Homa Bay and Migori counties that straddle the lake.

The total fish catches had dropped from 1.1 billion metric tonnes in 2014 to 795.8 million metric tons in 2015. The ministry attributed the drop to normal seasonal variations, demand and supply.

The report shows Homa Bay County is leading with fish harvests. The county caught 5,019 metric tonnes in 2015 worth Sh328 million or 42 per cent of the total harvests.

It is followed by Siaya (3,674 Metric tonnes worth Sh206 million), Migori 1,471 tonnes worth Sh104 million, Busia 1,184 tonnes worth Sh86 million tonnes and Kisumu 735 tonnes worth Sh69 million.

The report also explains why fisherman using traditional dug-out canoes recorded miserable catches compared to those using motorised boats.

The few fishermen using motorised boats caught an average of 117.9kg of fish per bait per day while those using the local parachute boats only managed about 2.7kg of fish per boat per day.

Traditional methods

“Fishermen in Uganda fishing around Migingo Island catch more fish because they use powerful boats that can go deeper into the lake. Our people have stuck to the old fishing methods and can hardly chase the fish deeper into the lake because their boats cannot withstand the waves,” said Margaret Odhiambo, a fish trader in Kisumu.

Investigations by The Standard established that the prices of fish, especially Tilapia has almost doubled because of the scarcity.

A kilo of Nile Perch is sold at Sh250, up from Sh200 while Tilapia of the same weight is sold at Sh350 per kilo up from Sh200.

Kemfri Kisumu Center Director Jembe Tsuma warned that the presence of the water hyacinth at the shallow waters of the lake, the ever increasing pollution and the reducing volume of water inhabitable by fish due to global warming would render the lake ‘fishless’ in the near future.

According to data from Kemfri Catch Assessment Survey Department, Tilapia catche estimates decreased by about 65.9 per cent from 59,681 tonnes in 2014 to 20,371 tonnes in 2015.

Dr Jembe attributed the decline to the water hyacinth menace and pollution.