Tanzania is endowed with numerous freshwater bodies, which are sources of water, fish (for food and commercial purposes) and transport for surrounding communities. Apart from domestic consumption, some of the fish products are exported abroad and earn the nation foreign currency.
This means these water bodies need sustainable protection from water pollution caused by especially illegal fishing and environmental destruction to be able to provide for safe and natural habitation for various fish species and other aquatic ecosystems. The largest is Lake Victoria, which borders Tanzania (51 per cent), Kenya (6 per cent) and Uganda (43 per cent) and covers 68,800 square kilometres (26,600 square miles).
The Nile Perch species, which was introduced into Lake Victoria in the 1960s from lakes Albert (Uganda) and Turkana (Kenya), is the largest catch of all the freshwater fish species in Tanzania. Its average annual earnings per capita in Kenya is US$3,269, Tanzania US$2,294 and Uganda US$1,157 but all this means nothing if illegal fishing continues.
Lake Victoria is the largest tropical and third largest freshwater lake in the world. It is followed by Lake Tanganyika, the world’s longest freshwater lake and the second largest and deepest freshwater lake. It borders Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Tanzania and Zambia. Lake Tanganyika covers 32,900 square kilometres (12,700 square miles). There are other lakes, rivers, streams and dams and besides these freshwater bodies, there is also the Indian Ocean, which earns the nation billions of shillings in revenue every year and produces fish and other marine products.
The Indian Ocean along Tanzania’s 750km-coastline is rich in fish catches as well as the 675km-coastline of Zanzibar and Pemba islands – the main species caught are kingfish, shark, rays, shrimps, lobsters and sardines, among others. If we pollute all these water bodies, it means we will be consuming and selling contaminated fish.
Environmental destruction mainly caused by human activities threatens the existence of aquatic ecosystems in Tanzania. One of the most threatened in this regard is fish. Illegal fishing (overfishing, use of pesticides, dynamites, illegal fishnets like seine nets, mono filament nets, gill nets, use of gas, among others) pollutes water and destroys breeding grounds.
This leads to the disappearance of some fish species, low fish catches, the closure of some fish factories and laying off of fish factory employees and an increase in the number of jobless people and poverty level.
Illegal fishing, whether large or small-scale, is responsible for the depletion of this natural resource, which is so precious for millions of Tanzanians and neighbouring countries. About two years ago, there was a countrywide operation to curb illegal fishing, which to a great extent, was very successful. In 2008, Tanzania and Southern African Development Community (Sadc) ministers in charge of marine fisheries met in Windhoek, Namibia, to discuss and deliberate on illegal fishing in the sub-regional states of the Indian Ocean.
According to the then Minister for Livestock Development and Fisheries, John Magufuli, while Tanzania had the high potential in fisheries resources in deep waters, only little was obtained due to illegal fishing. Some illegal foreign fishermen had been invading Tanzania’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). As a result, the nation has been losing over US$220 million per year due to illegal foreign fishing.
Statistics show that at least 171 registered vessels in 2004 none docked at Tanzania’s ports due to lack of on-and-offshore monitoring through on board observer, patrol vessels and air surveillance. In 1998, seven licensed vessels fished in Tanzania’s EEZ water and none was registered in Zanzibar though.
A joint patrol operation involving South Africa, Mozambique, Kenya and Tanzania was launched in 2009. As a result, South African patrol vessel Sarah Baartman spotted a flagless foreign trawler 160km off the Tanzanian coast and the foreign trawler was compounded. It had 35 crew on board, 70 tonnes of tuna worth US$900,000. The crew, who included Filipino, Chinese, Kenyan and Vietnamese nationals were arrested and charged in a Dar es Salaam court of law.
So, illegal fishing is a critical problem not only in Tanzania but also in the whole of East African region and across Africa’s inland and deep waters. It lowers fish stocks, impacts negatively on the country’s economy in terms of revenue losses and leads to the closure of fish factories and redundancies.
However, according to media reports, some public leaders are bribed to allow illegal fishing to continue in some places because it is regarded as a source of income for them.
Some illegal fishnets are manufactured in factories operating in the country and others are imported. While a countrywide operation against illegal fishing targeted especially small-scale fishermen, there are hardly reports on traders engaged in the manufacture of these illegal nets or importing them.
This is most probably caused by corruption and makes the war on illegal fishing extremely difficult, as fishnet shops are flooded with such illegal fishnets and small-scale fishermen have no choice but buy what is sold to them. A holistic approach to illegal fishing is needed – that is, to ensure nobody is engaged in illegal fishing and also no dealer or trader is allowed to import or manufacture of such fishnets.
In places, where the operation was very successful the number of fish species has increased and fishermen have increased their catches and incomes and revenues from sales of fish in different parts of the country have also increased. This shows the importance of sustainable fishing, which takes into consideration the protection of water sources and aquatic ecosystems for without these precious resources we cannot survive.
In some places, untreated chemical wastes from factories are unfortunately discharged by unscrupulous investors directly into rivers, lakes, the ocean and other inland water bodies due to lack of workable control mechanisms and some rare fish species have started disappearing.
Where this is the case, some plants, which used to grow along riverbanks or near water sources, have died and even some of the fish species have disappeared altogether. One needs to visit waste outlets of big factories in the country to see what I am talking about!
So, illegal fishing and water pollution are destroying breeding grounds in lakes, rivers and the ocean and this does not only affect the fish species and other aquatic creatures but also human beings, plants and animals that depend on such water sources.
The private sector has been in the frontline to advise the government to take appropriate measures to protect fish species and make fishing activities sustainable in the country.
Collaboration between the public and private sectors is important and will make the fishery industry grow and benefit the nation and people.
If we want to increase breeding grounds and fish stocks in our inland and deep waters, we have to jointly fight against illegal fishing and environmental destruction. We can do this at two levels – to ensure small-scale fishermen do not buy and use illegal fishnets and traders do not manufacture or import them into the country. We have also to ensure other illegal means are not used and illegal foreign traders are not allowed to enter and fish in Tanzania’s deep waters.
This needs public awareness and workable control mechanisms to contain illegal fishing such as regular joint patrol operations. We are either part of the solution or the problem as far as illegal fishing is concerned in Tanzania!