Experts call for controlled fishing to save Nile Perch

Fish harvesting at a community dam in Nyakach, Nyando District. Aquaculture could save fish stocks in Lake Victoria. Photo/OUMA WANZALA

What you need to know:

  • Powerful harvesting technologies, loss of habitat and pollution deplete Nile Perch stocks in Lake Victoria


Experts have called for a 40 per cent reduction in fishing activities in Lake Victoria to counter the rapid dwindling of Nile perch stocks in the world’s second largest lake.

The view is contained in a report dubbed The Sunken Billion: The Economic Justification for Fisheries Reform - released here on Wednesday that alerts of a simmering global fisheries crisis.

The problem causes losses amounting to $50 billion (about Sh58 trillion) annually.

A World Bank fisheries expert said that implementing the proposal to avert a crisis in Lake Victoria is tricky because it would have immediate devastating economic and commercial repercussions in the region.

Mr Kieran Kelleher, however, emphasised the need for a long-term solution noting that aquaculture would help a great deal in solving the problem.

Regional trade

According to him, reducing fishing activities and practising good fisheries governance would in the short term negatively affect fishing communities, local and regional trade, processors, export earnings and the economies of the three East African countries.

Such move, he said, would not augur well with many stakeholders in the sector but is indispensable for future productivity and profitability.

Sustainable fisheries require political will to replace incentives for over fishing with incentives for responsible stewardship, Mr Kelleher, who heads the World Bank’s fisheries team noted. It is not about boats and fish.

This report provides decision makers with the economic arguments for the reforms needed, he said.

He added that while the global per capita fish consumption is 16 kg, the consumption in Africa is about half that amount because most of the fish caught in the continent is exported.

Figures in the Sunken Billions report that calls for urgent reforms in the global fishing industry show that revenue loss in Lake Victoria emanating from poor management of its resources amounted to nearly $44 million (about Sh51 billion) in 2006.

The figure, according to the case study on the lake, is 61 per cent of the revenues obtained from Nile perch catches in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.

Its authors point out that because of poor fisheries governance in the lake, the $72 million (about Sh83.5 billion) currently earned is nearly three times less the available potential.

To realise the economic benefits, the study indicates that the fishing effort should be reduced by 40 per cent.

This could rebuild the Nile Perch stocks from 430,000 tonnes to close 900,000 tonnes,2 an excerpt in the report reads in part.

The study shows that the fishery could earn 2.5 times ($180 million) the net economic returns that is currently earning ($72 million), it further notes.

World Bank and FAO expert

Speaking at the release of the report, World Bank and FAO experts said the fish markets turmoil require the same attention being accorded to the financial, fuel and food crises.

They said tackling the crisis is a global issue which would however succeed by applying locally developed solutions that suit different countries scenarios.

The experts said the marine fisheries losses being incurred, which total more than $2 trillion over the last three decades, mostly emanate from poor management, inefficiencies, and over-fishing.

FAO and the World Bank said in a statement that long before the much hyped fuel and food price increases, the economic health of the world’s marine fisheries was in decline.

They say that the build up of fishing fleets, deployment of increasingly powerful fishing technologies and increasing pollution and habitat loss has depleted fish stocks worldwide.

Global marine catches have been stagnant for over a decade, hovering at around 85 million tones per year.

Meanwhile, fisheries productivity - measured in terms of catch per fisher, or per fishing vessel - has declined, even though fishing technology has advanced and fishing effort increased, the two organisations note in the statement.

They say governance reforms in the sector could turn most of the incurred losses into sustainable economic benefits for millions of fishers and coastal communities.

According to them, economically healthy fisheries are fundamental to the restoration of fish stocks, improved livelihoods, exports and fish food security.

Fishers income depressed

Right now, no one is winning, senior FAO fishery planning officer Rolf William said. The real income levels of fishers are depressed, much of the industry is unprofitable, fish stocks are depleted and other sectors of the economy foot for an ailing fishing industry.

According to the report, the recovery of the sunken billions can take place through two main approaches. First, a reduction in fishing effort would increase productivity, profitability, and net economic benefits.

Second, rebuilding fish stocks would lead to increased sustainable yields and lower fishing costs.


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