23 November 2012

Tanzania: Pollution Threatens Fish in Lake Victoria

Photo: Guy Oliver/IRIN
Fishermen return after a night of fishing.

JUST a few days ago, Tanzania prime Minister Mizengo Pinda told the Parliament in Dodoma that in 1999 Nile Perch species in Lake Victoria decreased by 60 per cent, while between 1999-2007 the same species decreased by 32 per cent.

The same species decreased by 16 per cent between 2007 and 2009. Mr Pinda reaffirmed the need for all key stakeholders to take a holistic approach to ensure the resources were well managed for the benefit of future generations.

Experts say there are now clear indications that many fish species in Lake Victoria would become extinct within the next 30 years.

A recent study conducted by the Accord Tanzania predicts that by 2048 there would be a significant loss in fish resources in the Lake Victoria. There is increasing fish pressure and environmental pollution in Lake Victoria. If it is not well-managed there will be over-fishing, depletion of resources and loss of socioeconomic benefits," he said.

Fish in Lake Victoria was being plundered at an alarming rate, calling for urgent steps to save the resources. Pollution and environmental degradation has also led to extinction of more than 400 fish species in Lake Victoria over the last four decades. The study revealed that Nile Perch stock went down from 750,000 tons during 2005 to 337,000 tons in 2008. Tilapia also dropped from 27,061 tons to 24,811 tons during the same period.

The study also revealed that while there were over 400 fish species in Lake Victoria during 1920s, the number had dropped to almost zero with only three species available including Nile Perch (Sangara), Tilapia (Sato) and Sardines. "This is quite alarming. Joint effort must be taken to safeguard the resources," the premier said. Lives of hundreds of residents in the Lake Victoria basin (LVB) are in danger of extinction due to increasing pollution of Lake Victoria and eating poisoned fish.

Lake Victoria basin has an estimated population of 30 million. Over 30 million people in Lake Victoria Basin (LVB) could greatly improve their livelihoods if they utilize the abundant investment opportunities in the basin. Under the East African Co-operation Treaty, the Lake Victoria basin has been categorized as an economic growth zone. Available investment opportunities include agriculture and livestock, trade and commerce, fishing, mining, wildlife and tourism.

Others are hydro-power generation, infrastructure development, human resources development, industries, research and technology. Investigation conducted by the 'Daily News' on different fish landing sites had established that many fish species were facing extinction due to illegal fishing methods. In some cases unscrupulous fishermen were using poison to kill hundreds of fish.

The poisoned fish are often sold in Mwanza, Dar es Salaam, Songea and Arusha while other fish consignment was exported to neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda. A recent survey conducted around Lake Victoria's beaches by Lake Victoria Environmental Management Programme (LVEMP) revealed that fish-breeding grounds have been heavily destroyed.

This has negatively affected fish species with the Nile Perch being the most vulnerable. Use of illegal fishing gear like gillnets, monofilaments and beach seines is on the rise. The survey revealed that there was a total of 169,747 gillnets, 2,116 monofilaments and 991 beach seines at various fish landing sites, which must be destroyed immediately to save Lake Victoria 's resources from extinction.

The chairperson of the Fisheries Union Organisation (FUO) in Mwanza city, Mr Juvenari Matagili, said over 50 per cent of the 56,000 fishermen who depend on the lake for their livelihood had lost employment due to environmental depletion.

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