Delegates from Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania have decried what they called political interference in the management of water resources.
During the recent Lake Victoria Fisheries Organization (LVFO) conference in Kampala, which was funded by the European Union [EU] and SmartFish Programme, the delegates said such interferences have increased cases of illegal activities on the lake that is shared by the three East African countries.
"Our lake is not in good shape, yet there has been constant intervention. The problem has been made worse by political interference; we need to build resilience that resists this interference in order to have a sustainable Lake Victoria," Susan Amendi, a delegate from Kenya, said.
In 2015, President Museveni suspended all operations of fisheries officers, beach management units and police, accusing them of engaging in corrupt practices.
"There has been an increase in illegalities. We need to rethink and look at the surveillance tools that we are using," Patrick Kimani, the coordinator of SmartFish, said.
After assessing their national assets and means, participants adopted a regional plan of action. The joint plan of action consists of organizing at least 12 joint patrols, which involve the three countries, small boat licensing operations within the three countries and coordination meetings, by November 2017.
"Pooling of assets, information and knowledge between countries enables countries to share surveillance and control of fishing," said Fanjanirina Jérômine, an official working with SmartFish.
Samson Abura, the Lake Victoria Fisheries Organisation communication director, said it was high time the three countries acted strongly against illegal fishing. He called for a database to track the trends.
The participants highlighted the misunderstanding between county governments and Kenya Fisheries Service, few number of vessels licensed in Uganda and Tanzania, and limited participation of beach management units, among others, as some of the issues that need urgent attention.
During the past few years, the three countries have tried to address illegal fishing on Lake Victoria. From January 2016 to January 2017, patrols resulted into the confiscation of 19,250 beach seines and 84,140kg of immature fish in Tanzania. More than 300 illegal gears were impounded in 2015/16 in Kenya while in Tanzania over 992 illegal fishing gears were surrendered voluntarily.
The IOC-SmartFish programme is the largest fisheries programme involving 20 countries in East and Southern Africa as well as the Indian Ocean region.
Based in Mauritius, the IOC-SmartFish is managed by the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) and has implemented regional fisheries surveillance plans to promote sustainable development activities through several EU-funded projects.