Two East African countries have entered the ranks of the world’s top fishing nations and concerns that the region faces a major decline in fish production due to indiscriminate fishing practices.
Uganda and Tanzania recently entered the big league in fish production, a pointer that the activity is fast becoming a vital source of livelihood, nutrition and economic opportunities in the region.
According to data from the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Uganda ranks sixth in the category of the world’s top inland water capture, while Tanzania occupies the eighth position.
The two countries are the leading producers of fish captured in inland waters, mainly rivers and lakes, due to increased exploitation of the resource using both traditional and modern methods in the past decade.
However, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is warning that the two countries and others on the continent face a sharp decline in fish catch unless they embrace sustainable fishing practices and respect the ecological balance in river and lake ecosystems.
“Fish stocks in many African water bodies are declining through a combination of over-fishing invasive species and habitat degradation,” says the organisation.
Current figures show that fish captured by the two countries have increased sharply in the last decade as more East Africans enter the sub-sector to eke out a living and the demand for fish increases both locally and globally. The worry is that the fish stocks are not being exploited in a manner that allows them to replenish.
Uganda captured 437,415 tonnes of fish in 2011 and declining slightly to 407,638 tonnes in 2012.
Tanzania captured 290,963 tonnes of fish in 2011 and 314,945 tonnes in 2012. The figures are more than twice what Kenya captures from inland fishing, which is currently at 123,861 tonnes.
The projected decline must worry East African countries, since, unlike the past, fish now plays a critical role in their economies, both as a source of food and foreign exchange. In the recent past, the sub-sector has also gained significance in eliminating hunger and reducing poverty in the region.
According to statistics from the Uganda Fish Processors and Exporters Association, Uganda exported 16,697 tonnes of fish in 2010, earning about $86,016. In 2011, the country exported 16,478 tonnes, worth $89,093, increasing the figure the following year to 18,255 tonnes and earning $88,293.
Tanzania, on the other hand, exported about 15,000 tonnes last year, down from 51,426 tonnes and 57,795 tonnes in 2008 and 2007 respectively. Latest figures show that in 2011, Tanzania earned $137.033 million from fish exports, while Kenya earned about $86.2million.
A sharp decline in fish production will deny East African countries foreign exchange and one of the most nutritious foods consumed by millions in the world.
In fact, alarm bells have already been sounded on the declining stocks in Lake Victoria, one of the major sources of inland fish for Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
According to a Lake Victoria Environmental Management Programme (LVEMP) study, Nile perch stocks in the lake dropped from 750,000 tonnes in 2005 to 337,000 tonnes in 2008.
Tilapia dropped from 27,061 tonnes to 24,811 tonnes over the same period. The LVEMP blames indiscriminate fishing and environmental degradation for the decline.
The study by LVEMP is in agreement with a recent one by Accord Tanzania, which predicted that Lake Victoria will experience a significant fish loss by 2048 due to over-fishing and environmental pollution.
In Kenya, for example, the expansion of Kisumu City has been detrimental to the very existence of Lake Victoria and effluents from the city are drained into the lake.
The Accord study said more than 400 fish species have vanished from Lake Victoria over the past four decades because of pollution and environmental degradation.
According to the Kenya’s Principal Secretary in charge of Fisheries, Prof Micheni Ntiba, the biggest challenges facing the sector are climate change and declining fish stocks in inland water bodies.
Others are limited domestic capacity for deep sea fishing at the coast, poor road network linking sources to markets, low aquaculture development, inadequate marketing infrastructure, low value addition, limited access to credit and high prevalence of HIV/Aids among the fishing community.
FAO urges African governments to manage wetlands to ensure recovery of over-exploited and depleted stocks.
“Globally, good management has been estimated to be able to boost availability from marine capture fisheries by about 20 per cent. Applying this percentage to Africa’s fisheries, another 1.1 million tonnes of fish could become available,” says FAO.
The UN organisation says one-third (2.7 million tonnes) of total capture in fisheries comes from inland waters.
“Inland fisheries are important in Africa. The numerous people living near the Great Lakes (Victoria, Tanganyika and Malawi) and major rivers (Nile, Niger, Congo, etc) depend primarily on fish for their protein intake,” says FAO.
Kenya, which shares Lake Victoria waters with Uganda and Tanzania, does not feature on the list of top producers.
Global fishery production in marine waters, on the other hand, was 82.6 million tonnes in 2011 and 79.7 million tonnes in 2012. FAO says in these two years, 18 countries caught more than an average of one million tonnes per year, accounting for more than 76 per cent of global marine catches. Eleven of the countries are in Asia (including also the Russian Federation, which fishes much more in the Pacific than in the Atlantic).
None of the East African countries feature in the list of top producers in the marine category. The only African country that makes the top 20 is Morocco at number 18.
The North African country caught 916,988 tonnes of fish in the high seas in 2003, before increasing its catch to 946,881 tonnes in 2011 and 1,158,474 tonnes in 2012.
Again, China tops the list catching 13,869,604 tonnes of fish in 2012 up from 13,536,409 in 2011. The Asian country is followed by Indonesia, which caught 5,420,247 tonnes in 2012 up from 5,332,862 tonnes in 2011.
The United States of America comes third catching 5,107,559 tonnes of fish in 2012, a slight decline from 5,131,087 caught in 2011.