Meeting in Kampala recently, stakeholders from 11 Eastern African countries urged Uganda to act fast to protect a resource on which nearly a million people around Lake Victoria depend indirectly for their livelihood.
The meeting reviewed the contribution of African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries to strengthening fisheries management. It was the fourth and final review of a four-and-a-half-year programme dubbed ACP Fish II.
Koane Mindjimba, the programme's Eastern Africa regional manager, was concerned that the quantities of Nile perch, the main commercial fish species from Lake Victoria, were steadily falling. Mindjimba said they had drafted a plan to guide the fishermen about illegal fishing but it had not been implemented.
"Our work as ACP countries is to generate plans that can be funded by donors and implemented by the governments of different countries, for which implementation is still a challenge," he said.
Mindjimba added that they were now reviewing and updating the previous plan before they generate a new one. He, however, says, during their long programme, they managed to sensitise some fishermen, and Beach Management Units (BMUs) but illegal fishing was still on the rise.
Oliva Mkumbo, the programme's focal person in Lake Victoria Fisheries Organisation (LVFO), said the new Nile Perch Fisheries Management Plan (NPFMP), had to be backed, since Nile perch alone was supporting an estimated four million people in East Africa.
"The plan needs partner states (Kenya and Tanzania) sharing Lake Victoria, policymakers, stakeholders and donors to discuss the ownership of the plan and also implementing it," Mkumbo said.
She added that the more than 2,000 fishermen who deplete Nile perch on Lake Victoria are direct fishers who need a lot of sensitisation and government support to save the resource. Mkumbo said if the plan was implemented and effectively used, they expected an increase of stocks in the biomass of Nile perch in the next one or two years.
But if an increase was not registered in the identified years, she said, there would be change in the management measures in order to guard against depleting of Nile perch.
Lovelock Wadanya, the head of the Fisheries department in the ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF), said with the decline of Nile perch, fishermen had resorted to silver fish (Mukene) on Lake Victoria and Rogogi and Moziri (all local names of fish) on Lake Albert, which come with lower foreign exchange earnings.
He adds that this financial year 2013/14, they have got enough funds to carry out compliance enforcement, which will involve introducing fishing veto plates that will be given to every fisherman.
"Every lake will have a specific number of boats and fishermen who will be held responsible for any depletion of fish that will be identified," Wadanya said, adding that this move would weed out all illegal fishing methods used as they devise more means to kill the vice.
The ACP Fish II programme was funded by the European Commission with close to €30m, since June 2009, in over 70 ACP countries. Countries that participated in the programme included Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Tanzania.