Calls for more funds to manage Lake Victoria dominated talks between members of the East African Legislative Assembly and management of Lake Victoria Fisheries Organization (LVFO) recently at its headquarters in Jinja, Uganda.
EALA lawmakers said that enough funding and the effective implementation of laws, rules and regulations is what will save fish on the lake, the lifeline to millions of people.
Fish is said be getting depleted on the region's largest lake that usually has annual catches estimated at about 1,000,000 metric tons and worth $640million.
LVFO's role is to harmonize, develop and adopt conservation and management measures for the sustainable utilisation of living resources of Lake Victoria to optimise socio-economic benefits from the basin.
According to the lawmakers, LVFO has a limited jurisdiction over the lake and has suffered from lack of political will to ensure adequate funding needed to implement core interventions. The organisation is considering setting up a fish levy trust to raise money.
Abdul Karim Harelimana, EALA member from Rwanda said for the fund to fully operate, there was need for political will on the part of all the three partner states namely, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, that constitute the LVFO.
"The three countries need to work together on this fund because there are urgent activities that need to be carried out like frequent patrols to deter illegal fishing," Harelimana said.
"The last research on the lake was conducted in 1927, and there is need for new research".
Mohammed Baswari Kezaala, the Vice Chairman of the Lake Victoria Local Authorities Cooperation - an association bringing together 158 towns in East Africa - says central governments from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda have done little to caution investors against degrading Lake Victoria's environment.
"Investors who are mainly into the fish processing business discharge directly into the Lake. They usually don't do secondary treatment just to reduce on the costs," says Kezaala, who is also the Mayor of Jinja Municipal Council.
One EALA legislator who requested not to be named suggested that LVFO be merged with the Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC) since both organizations serve similar roles.
This, the legislator argued, will lead to better management and also save on huge amounts - from annual partner state contributions - spent on operations of EAC institutions.
While LVFO's primary role is to manage the fisheries resources of Lake Victoria in a coordinated manner, LVBC is responsible for coordinating the sustainable development agenda of the Basin.
Christophe Bazivamo, another EALA member from Rwanda, said the merger will not benefit the EAC's desired role of promoting trade - through huge fish exports - and building vibrant private sector led economies.
"Merging the two will cause a conflict of interest. There is only need for an institutional review to form structures that will correspond with responsibilities of LVFO," says Bazivamo, a former lands and environment minister.
'LVFO, which survived the collapse of the first EAC in 1977, is currently in the process of fully mainstreaming into EAC structures' which will enable it tap more funding for its activities.
This, according to Geoffrey Monor the LVFO Executive Secretary, will include amending the convention establishing the organization to bring on board Rwanda and Burundi.
Uganda's Minister of East African Community Affairs, Shem Bageine, said that efforts are already on to change LVFO's current status to a regional body which will make it easy to not only mobilize funding but also fully manage other water bodies like Lake Tanganyika.
"It will change to East African Fisheries Organization. Though this is still in early stages, we are going to carry out an institutional review so that we don't only look at Lake Victoria," Bageine said.