By Nuzulack DausenMusoma — Along the shores of Lake Victoria, a young man, Mr Mwita Venance, is lying under a tree at Matvilla Beach after spending hours in the water fishing.
His colleague, Mtatiro Marwa, is busy preparing fish for a quick meal. The Nile perch he is cooking is about 20 centimetres long, and is one of the three fish they caught in the lake after a five-hour expedition.
“The situation is getting worse here,” Venance says. “In the past, it wouldn’t have taken so long to catch just three fish as there were so many in the lake. The illegal fishing is causing the scarcity.”
Venance says three years ago he used to haul between 200 and 300kg of fish each day. Nowadays, the most he catches is just 30kg. Ten times lower than what it used to be in the past.
Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest inland water body, is being over fished largely attributed to the illegal use of restricted nets, dynamite and poison used for catching fish.
Getting mature fish whether Nile perch or tilapia is proving to be more difficult as each day passes by. “We have to paddle at least 50 kms from the shore to deep waters to fish. Yet one returns with a miserable catch. If this situation continues I have no idea know how I will make ends meet,” he lamented.
Illegal fishing has adversely affected the whole supply chain. It is now difficult to get a kilo of fish in Musoma markets below Sh9,000, equivalent to what consumers pay for fish from the lake in Dar es Salaam.
Fish processing industries whether large or small are struggling to cope and a few have closed down in a bid to cut losses.
Prime Catch Exporters Ltd, once the largest fish processing factory in Mara Region halted operations two months ago due to the acute scarcity of fish.
“There was no point in continuing to run below capacity,” Irfan Jessa, Prime Catch Manager told The Citizen. The factory used to employ over 650 people.
According to Lake Victoria Fishing Organisation (LVFO), the regional body for managing fisheries on the lake, the Nile perch stock is declining faster than the other species.
LVFO data shows that between 1999 and 2001 the mean stock of Nile perch was 1.29 million tonnes annually but five years later it was down to 0.82 million tonnes.
While Prime Catch has closed down its main competitor in the region, Musoma Fish Processors Limited (MuFPL) is operating at half capacity.
A senior accountant with the MuFPL, Mr Willbald James, says the daily production capacity is 25 tonnes but due to the scarcity they are currently process only 10 tonnes. “There are times we have to wait for up to three days to get a sufficient supply for production,” he said.
According to a report from the Tanzania Fisheries Research Institute in Mwanza, the export of Nile perch started in May 1991 by Mwanza-based companies.
Principal buyers were Kenyan importers, whose equipment – such as insulated collection trucks, ice, weighing scales and selectors at landing beaches – all came from Kenya.
At this stage, at least ten small companies were involved, all of which exported whole Nile perch to Kenya for further processing and onward export to external markets, primarily Israel.
It was from these early Kenyan buyers and collectors that pioneer Tanzanian buyers learned the trade, and from whom they adopted the techniques used.
These involved the setting up informal credit schemes and incentive systems established with prominent fishers permanently resident on supply beaches.
Buyers would make regular visits to potential fishing spots where they identified fishermen with whom to establish supply arrangements. Beaches such as Mwaloni Kirumba, Kayenze, Igombe and Nyashimo became reliable Nile perch supply points.
It was through this system that dependency relationships were forged between fishers and buyers. Under these arrangements, slight delays by collection trucks represented large losses to fishers.
Since competition was, at this point, very limited, buyers were able to offer extremely low prices.
These early purchasing companies represent the fore-runners of the Nile perch filleting industry in Tanzania. Low levels of expertise and poor knowledge about the international market for fish were some of the factors, which were responsible for the slow development of the sector at that time.
Nevertheless, the establishment of factories occurred and by 1992, there were five filleting factories in Tanzania several of which had been established with Kenyan capital raised by sister companies located north of the border.
Managers within the industry at this time came from a wide diversity of occupations and backgrounds, including cargo and transportation, hotel and manufacturing, marine fish business, a journalist, a publisher, a large bakery, a poultry farmer and a shop owner. Additional expertise was obtained from Kenyan sister factories.
The early nineties, therefore, represented a transition period for the nascent Tanzanian factories during which they consolidated, trained and established their presence on the local Nile perch markets.
Difficulties were also, at this time, being encountered by the institution in charge of regulating this process, the Tanzania Fisheries Department.
Most of the problems that they encountered concerned the failure, by the processing factories, to declare correctly the value of fish exports (under-declaration of exports), failure to pay royalties and the unauthorised export of tilapia. The relations between the Fisheries Department and the fish processing factories were, in the early 1990s, relatively poor.
These difficulties were compounded by the Fisheries Department’s limited knowledge of the growing Nile perch business and the profit maximisation motives driving industrial owners resulting in the neglect of the required procedure and formalities.
Since the early 1990s the fish stock dynamics within Lake Victoria and the ecological changes that have taken place have not been well documented.
With the fish being snatched up faster than it can reproduce, the average length of caught fish tends to decrease, because fewer of them are able to survive into maturity. An audit carried out found that between 2008 and 2010, the number of fish meeting the minimum size criteria at major processing facilities around the lake dropped by more than half.
The main problem, according to the audit, is over fishing and fisheries agencies in the region have been blamed for failing to set and enforce quotas.
The Nile Perch that has dominated the lake for half a century, The predatory Nile perch was introduced into Lake Victoria by British colonial officers to restock the lake in the 1950s.
It’s driven many of the indigenous fish to extinction, earning it a reputation as an ecological disaster. For fishermen, though, it had become a cornerstone of the economy.
The current scarcity is not only affecting large industries but the small players as well. A businessman, Mr Fredrick Mtenga is…. Continue reading