Lake Victoria conservation efforts

Lake Victoria conservation efforts Fishermen hauling nets on Lake Victoria. Photo: ©FAO/Ami Vitale

There is nothing unusual about high levels of resentment among fishermen in developing countries, directed at the law enforcement authorities that make efforts to prevent the use of illegal and non-selective fishing gears, reports Lilian Elekwachi.

Stephen Nyombi is a clear exception, working with the Uganda Marine Police Force and the army to prevent destructive fishing in Lake Victoria. A director of Nalongo Fishers, he turns out to be something of a rarity as both a fisherman and a conservationist.

Fishing company Nalongo Fishers began in 1991 with a rented boat and in 1995 he acquired his first boat. In 1999, Nalongo Fishers Limited became registered as a capture fishing company in Uganda, specialising in catching Nile perch and tilapia which they sell to factories and consumers. The company now has thirteen approved boats with more than 20 employees. The average size of the boats used is 11.50 metres, which is above the the enforcement team’s recommended size.

Being a friend to police and army officers who enforce conservation on the water is unique. Stephen Nyombi explained that he saw early in his fishing career that it is much more profitable to catch few large mature Nile perch or tilapia than smaller young fish. He commented that in the early 1990s, before fishermen started using damaging fishing gears, there was a lot of fish in Lake Victoria. This situation changed suddenly as almost all fishermen started using highly destructive gears, to the extent that by early 2000s, fishing in Lake Victoria became increasingly difficult.

At first all his fishing colleagues resented him for supporting the police and army efforts to oppose the use of destructive fishing gears. After some years, a number of fishermen joined him in supporting the efforts of the police and army efforts in conserving Lake Victoria’s resources. Stephen Nyombi and his friends have over the years helped police and army officers to identify fishermen using destructive fishing gears and catching juvenile fish. Both the immature fish caught and destructive fishing gears are confiscated from the fishermen and the gears are burnt while the immature fish is given to the community members by the enforcement team.

The fishing gears commonly used in Uganda and seen as destructive include beach seine nets, trawls, cast nets and small gauge hooks.

Captain Nuwagaba, one of the army officers leading the Lake Victoria enforcement team agreed with Stephen Nyombi’s views about the situation of fishing in Lake Victoria.

“I have never seen such a man like Mr Nyombi for supporting the army and police enforcement team on Lake Victoria as if he is not a fisherman himself,” Captain Nuwagaba said, confirming that fisheries have suffered with the number of fishing gears in use that catch immature fish.

He said that illegal fishing led to the drop in the Lake Victoria Nile perch stock from approximately 2.3 million tonnes in 1999 to less than 300,000 tonnes in 2008. The major species of fish in Lake Victoria such as Nile perch and tilapia have experienced significant reductions in stock levels, resulting in many fish processing factories closing.

Captain Nuwagaba said that fish exports contributed 12% of the total GDP in 2002 but this figure has been falling ever year since.

Uganda’s Fisheries Protection Unit (FPU) was formed by president General Yoweri Kaguta Museveni in 2016 to combat illegal fishing in a number of lakes – starting with Lake Victoria.

According to Captain Nuwagaba, since the start of their operations on Lake Victoria, many tonnes of illegal fishing gears and a number of boats have been confiscated and burnt to avoid fishermen from re-accessing them. The unit’s activities also involve an education process to inform fishermen about conservation measures and sustainable management of Lake Victoria’s fishery resources.

Following the start of operations of the Fisheries Protection Unit in 2016, Lake Victoria’s fish stocks appear to be more healthy. According to research carried out by the National Fisheries Research Institute at Jinja, stocks of Nile perch and tilapia have increased by 30%.

Captain Nuwagaba commented that this is a real success story for Uganda’s fisheries, and added on that all the fish processing factories that had closed resumed their operations.

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