Race on to save native lake fish

Victory Farms Chief Development Officer Caesar Asiyo

Victory Farms Chief Development Officer Caesar Asiyo hands an umbrella to a trader in Bondo on April 25 when the company opened its 80th fish outlet. The firm has partnered with other players to restock Lake Victoria. 

Photo credit: George Odiwuor | Nation Media Group

Experts have teamed up to save indigenous fish species in Lake Victoria from extinction in a scheme that aims at protecting the biodiversity of marine life.

The campaign is also aimed at promoting food security and improving income of fishing communities.

There are fears that little is being done to save the native fish in the lake.

Attention, experts and locals say, has been on Nile perch (mbuta), tilapia (ngege) and omena, which are more common in the lake.

Endangered species include mud fish, cat fish and lung fish.

Aquaculture Business Development Programme (ABDP) coordinator in Homa Bay County, Micheal Omondi, says Lake Victoria used to have more than 13 species of tilapia.

The population of ngege has gone down due to climate change, human population explosion, water pollution and several other factors, he says.

“Some have been reduced to the point of near extinction or are probably extinct,” Omondi says.

The dominant tilapia species in Lake Victoria is Nile, locally known as nyamani.

Omondi says tilapia has the best adaptation capabilities among the species. The fish, he says, stores its eggs and young ones in the mouth, protecting them from predators.

Reproduction of the other fish species involves making nests in reeds and grasses at the beaches or shallow water where they lay eggs.

Human activities and decimation of wetlands on the shoreline have made it difficult for these fish to multiply.

“Most fish breeding grounds have been destroyed. This has had an impact on the species as their numbers keep dwindling,” Omondi says.

Victoria Farms, the fastest-growing aquaculture business in Sub-Sahara, has been spearheading restocking of the lake.

It has partnered with beach management units in Suba to restock Oreochromis esculentus, an endangered tilapia species.

Omondi says the fish had disappeared from Lake Victoria.

Dan Obado, the Lake Victoria Farms Community Relations Officer, says the firm is keen on conservation and sustainability.

The company has in recent months been mobilising communities to identify zones the fish can be placed.

“We will ensure fishing in those areas is limited. The population of the species introduced needs to grow,” Obado says.

Victory Farms has already secured 200 brood stalks of Oreochromis esculentus from Kenya Fisheries Services. The fish are kept in ponds at the company’s headquarters in Rowo.

When they reach the right age, the fish will be taken to the wild to multiply in the conservation zones.

The target is to restock the species in all the lake.

According to Omondi, exporting Nile perch, large consumption of tilapia and the use of omena to make animal feed has led to government agencies putting all their efforts in protecting the three species at the expense of others. He says species like lungfish are killed before they breed.

Fish normally swim upstream to breed before returning to the lake. But as they swim, they are hunted before hatching eggs.

Homa Bay Fisheries Department has included a fish management scheme in the 2023/27 County Integrated Development Plan.

Victory Farms Chief Development Officer, Caesar Asiyo, says East Africa has one of the biggest fish supply-demand imbalances in the world.

“The aquaculture industry supplies meet just three percent of the deficit. Victory Farms presents a scalable solution to East Africa’s nutritional security challenge,” he says.

Tilapia is the most environmentally and financially efficient protein solution for Africa.

The tilapia feed conversion ratio is five times lower than beef.

Asiyo says investment in sustainable African aquaculture can help reduce reliance on imports and provide food for millions of people while supporting local agriculture.