The exploitation of Nile perch resources of Lake Victoria has strongly increased during recent years. This is apparent from decreasing catch rates and ever increasing numbers of fishermen, fishing craft and gears. Despite this, it remains economic to continue the exploitation and exportation of Nile perch products. Exports to the EU, however, seemed to have reached their maximum in 2003, which could have been due to competition from cheaper fish products from certain Asian countries, as well as to market diversification by the East African exporting firms.

Fish prices paid to fishermen increased over time as a result of the success of the Nile perch fishery. However, the increased influx of money into the fishing communities did not necessarily lead to a reduction in poverty. This could be due to the lack of saving and investment possibilities. In the absence of sufficient schooling, youths automatically enter the fishery sector and as a result of relatively low investment costs and high earnings the fishing effort will continue to increase until the open-access based management regime is replaced by a licensing system. The role that Beach Management Units can play in managing the human and fisheries resources will have to be strengthened.

It is concluded that the economic gains based on the new fishery, in itself proved to be insufficient to provide a structural sustainable development, due to the restricted social and institutional capacity which hampers the riparian population's ability to adapt to the new social and fishery challenges.

Introduction

In a globalizing world, continents and countries are becoming increasingly interconnected and interdependent. This is due to activities such as trade and tourism. For the Netherlands, an important element in its concept of sustainable development is its relationship with other countries (RIVM-MNP, 2004). In accordance with the concept of “ecological footprint” (Wackernagel et al., 1997), the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (MNP) has developed a method to study the effects of consumption on global biodiversity. Consumption includes not only products (such as wood, soy beans, meat, fish and coffee) but also services (tourism). The effects of consumption on the ecology (biodiversity) can be specified for specific production areas in countries or continents; it can also be ascertained whether these effects are partly the result of changes in socio-economic trends and developments in consumption patterns in the Netherlands, Europe and at the global scale.

The European Union is the major market for Nile perch fillets from Lake Victoria. The riparian countries Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania export approximately 45,000 tons of perch fillets annually with a corresponding value of 170 million Euro in 2003.

Alarmed by reports on the ever increasing fishing effort, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency decided to study the social and economic impact of western consumption of Nile perch from Lake Victoria. The study reviewed existing datasets and available literature on the Nile perch fishery in Lake Victoria. UNDP employs three criteria when investigating sustainability of certain activities, which are People, Planet and Profit. If these criteria are applied to the Nile perch fishery, then a properly and sustainably managed fishery should be economically profitable (Profit), ecologically sound (Planet) and socially acceptable (People).

Materials and methods

During the study various parameters have been investigated, among them were catch and effort, number of fishermen and fishing units, abundance indices of some key fish species, the contribution of the fishery to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), fish prices, fisherman's earnings, fish export to EU and other destinations and its value, Human Development Index, etc.

Special emphasis was placed on describing the fishery and the Nile perch supply chain with its impacts on the socio-economic situation of the fishing communities. Its analysis led to a series of recommendations for improved management of the Nile perch fishery.

Results

The fishery

The Nile perch fishery has been amply described in many reports and publications (Ligtvoet et al., 1995; Cowx et al., 2003), as has its management (Van der Knaap et al., 2002). References to the sustainability of the fishery have been made many times. The present paper, however, describes the sustainability of the consumption of the Nile perch particularly in the West (i.e. European Union and other markets). The conclusions described below were drawn from the material under review.

Various parameters were compared (and summarized in Table 1) in order to express changes over time; for instance the production of Nile perch was compared when the fishery started to boom (around 1985) with reliable recent figures (2000). In that period the total increment was 161%. In a slightly longer period the total number of fishing boats on the lake increased by 349%, whereas the total number of fishermen increased by 16% from 2000 to 2004. In that same period the total number of fishing nets practically doubled. (Sources: LVFO, Fisheries Departments of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania).

No absolute biomass estimates of Nile perch have been produced so far, although relative abundance estimates have been presented by the EU-funded Lake Victoria Fisheries Research Project (UNECIA 2002). During a series of biannual lakewide hydro-acoustic surveys from 1999–2001 the relative abundance index decreased by 34% from an estimated 1.9 million tons to 1.25 million tons, whereas the relative abundance index of the dagaa and pelagic Haplochromis species tripled from 0.4 to 1.2 million tons, indicating that commercially important, large, long-lived species are gradually being replaced by economically less important, small, short-lived species. This is a phenomenon observed in other predator-based fisheries worldwide (Pauly et al., 1998; Essington et al., 2005).

Trade

Detailed information is available in Tanzania for the contribution of the Nile perch fishery to the country's GDP. From 1993 to 1998 the contribution of this fishery increased from 0.45 to 1.8%, which is an average increment of 60% per year. The contribution of Nile perch at its peak production determined the importance of the national fishery; Nile perch production became in a few years time the backbone of Tanzanian fisheries production. The share of Nile perch in the total fishery increased between 1993 and 1998 from 14.8% to 75.7% (Kulindwa, 2006).

In 1975 the scarce Nile perch in Kenyan landings fetched 1.59 Kenya Shillings per kg; this was 80 Shillings per kg in 2003 (Kenya Marine Fisheries Research Institute, unpublished data). Ugandan fishermen saw their incomes increase by 23% per year from 2000 to 2003 (Ikwaput-Nyeko, 2004), despite the increment of fishing effort and decrease of catch rates.

The quantity of fresh Nile perch fillets exported from East Africa to the European Union experienced an average 13% growth per year from 1997 to 2003, from approximately 25,000 to 45,000 tons per year (i.e. 62,000 to 112,000 tons fresh weight), which is presented in Figure 1. The export value increased by 16% per year during the same period from 87 to 170 million Euros.

The destination of the fish is the EU, but in factual terms this means that the bulk of the product arrives in Belgium by aeroplane, from where it is further transported by road to the Netherlands for further processing and distribution to the EU member states. The import figures for Nile perch into the Netherlands increased by 13% per year, while the export of all freshwater fish (no specific breakdown is neither recorded nor required) to other EU states increased by 46% per year (Globefish, 2005).

It should be observed that the growth of exports of Nile perch to the EU over the period 1997–2003 has not been a steady one. This was disturbed when importation of Nile perch fillets came to a halt in 1999. The import ban (resulting from a self-imposed export ban by Uganda) lasted for almost a full year. When it appeared that this import stop would last longer than other import stops (due to Salmonella and Vibrio infestations in 1997 and 1998, respectively (Cowx et al., 2003)) the fish exporting firms started to look for different markets than the EU. Particularly the Kenyan fisheries sector developed alternative markets, which they did not abandon after the ban was lifted in 2000, despite the lower prices fetched for the produce on these markets. Figure 2 shows the increment in fish exported to Israel and the Far East.

The NEAA has investigated the impact of trade of various goods on the global biodiversity and socio-economic conditions of the producers. Various studies indicate that the production element of the trade chain takes place in the country of origin and that all added value benefits the interested parties in foreign nations. In the case of Nile perch, however, it appears that the production sector (fishermen), transport sector (agents and middlemen), as well as the processing sector (factory employees, 50% women) are based in East Africa. Also the majority of the factory owners have East African nationalities (although the majority may be of overseas origin).

As a result of the development of the Nile perch fishery a shift in employment occurred. When the fishery was still based on the small-sized species of the Haplochromis group and Tilapia species (Oreochromis spp.), women particularly were involved in their marketing and processing. With the increment in processing factories many women found employment there, whereas their original jobs disappeared. Outside the factories many women have become involved in processing the carcasses of the filleted Nile perch and are involved in various Nile perch products (deep-fried carcasses, dried carcasses, jaws, swim bladders, skin, belly flaps, oil, etc.) for local consumption and for distribution to neighbouring countries. There are indications that processing factories started processing the offal themselves, e.g. production of fishmeal and exports of fish heads as bait for fish traps. As a result of increased fishing of dagaa (Rastrineobola argenteus) more women found employment in processing this small pelagic, although local competition increased due to the fact that large quantities are turned into fish meal and used as poultry feed.

Apart from exports to western countries, trade also occurs with neighbouring DR Congo. Existing data from official border crossings show that 15,000 tonnes of fish (fresh weight equivalent) were transported to the DRC. However, there is probably a great deal of additional unregistered trade. During inspections by the Fishery Departments, many trucks were stopped in Uganda carrying dried fish. The export of under-sized Nile perch for 2003 was estimated at 5,000 tonnes (fresh weight equivalent). The minimum size of Nile perch is 50 cm, but dried fish as small as 12.5 cm were encountered in the illegal shipments (Ikwaput-Nyeko, 2004; Fisheries Resources Research Institute (FIRRI), 2003; personal observations).

Socio-economics

With the development of the Nile perch fishery also the fish prices were influenced and increased up to a level of approximately one US dollar per kg (price level in 2005). Despite the cash payments for catches it should be noted that even in permanent fishing communities certain facilities are still lacking, e.g. schooling, dispensaries and other medical facilities. Water and power supply are insufficient and many communities still depend on the lake for drinking water.

The lake has generated from the peak of its production in 1989 up to 2000 a total of 3.5 million tons of Nile perch. This quantity would represent in monetary terms an amount of approximately 2.5 billion US dollars at an average price of $0.70 US per kg, which would have been paid directly to the fishermen. Despite this large sum of money the fishing communities still seem to be unable to escape from the poverty trap. Due to the open access policy in the three countries, any fisherman can obtain a fishing licence. If asked, crew members are likely to express the wish that one day they will be able to acquire their own fishing boat. As such the fishing effort will continue to grow and the catch rate will decrease, although it may initially still seem economically viable to continue fishing. If the fishery is not managed to maintain a balanced production level of fish of a certain minimum size, overexploitation may be the result affecting the benefits for the fishing communities and the international fish trade (Hannesson, 1999; Ikwaput-Nyeko, 2004). The different prices at different levels of fish in the supply chain have been collected from different sources (Ikwaput-Nyeko, 2004; Globefish, 2005; personal observations) and compared with prices that wholesalers and consumers in Europe pay for Nile perch fillets (Figure 3). It is evident that a considerable part of the supply chain is based in Africa. Johnson (2010), however, found lower values for the prices per kg of Nile perch, particularly at retail level in Europe.

Management

The Lake Victoria Fisheries Organization is a Regional Fisheries Management Organization, established in 1996 as an offshoot of the FAO Committee for Inland Fisheries of Africa. The organization aims at fostering the sustainable management of the lake resources. In the early years of the organization the riparian countries were encouraged to take certain fisheries management measures, e.g. the three countries successfully banned trawling from the Lake's waters; they also harmonised the minimum mesh for gillnets targeting Nile perch. The evolution of the various management measures in place has been described by van der Knaap et al. (2002). In order to reduce fishing pressure on juvenile fish and large mature adults a regulation was passed in 2002 whereby only fish of a slot size between 50 and 85 cm could be processed. Also the use of beach seines was prohibited, but this was difficult to enforce and as such catches of immature fish continued.

As a result of the length of the shore line of the lake and the limited human resources at the enforcement agencies the idea was launched to involve fishing communities in managing the lake's resources. The various community-based structures that existed in the three countries were then converted into Beach Management Units, each of which became responsible for a part of the lake near their settlement. The BMU obtained legal status. For instance in Uganda the chairman of a BMU obtained the same powers as a Fisheries Officer. Opportunities exist for BMUs to form associations and to strengthen their negotiation powers. Admittedly this system was only introduced on Lake Victoria in 2000 and still needs further guidance, supervision and monitoring.

Impact of the Nile perch chain

The Nile perch fishery's development had considerable impacts on the aquatic resources, the socio-economic conditions of the fishing communities and other stakeholders. The impacts led to adjustments of fishery management and its policy. The various changes that took place may be subdivided into three categories: direct, indirect and induced effects. Some of the direct impacts are the increase in the level of Nile perch products, increment in employment, improved technologies and infrastructure; and increased hard currency earnings. Among the indirect impacts is the increased pressure on the local resources due to the influx of fishermen (and related stakeholders) as a result of the attractive fishing prospects; temporary settlements of fishermen attracted other professions resulting in permanent village structures with restaurants, hotels, bars, shops, etc. The induced effects refer to the organisation of the fisheries sector that became necessary for adjustments to policy and management measures (particularly through the establishment of the Lake Victoria Fisheries Organization). Improved management and increased compatibility of the processing sector with the export markets led to a stronger position in the international marketing chains.

A number of changes during the Nile perch era caused some socio-economic changes, of which the following deserve particular notice:

  • Increment in number of fishermen due to the increased size and value of the Nile perch fishery

  • Uncontrolled increase of number of professionals in the fishery due to lack of regulation of access

  • Expenditure patterns of fishermen dealing with relatively large sums of money without saving and investment possibilities

  • Transition of temporary fishermen's settlements into villages was not supported with provision of schooling facilities, resulting in difficulties for youth to obtain training and access to alternative employment. Despite the potential of the Nile perch fishery to release people from the poverty trap, this does not happen due to the seemingly attractive profit margins

  • Increase in the number of fishing communities allowed large groups of people access to animal protein compared to people in the interior of the countries

  • Adjusted management policies led to involvement of the resource users in its management

  • Improved and modernised infrastructure and processing facilities after import bans were imposed by the European Union; this led to a stronger negotiation position and to reduced dependency on EU as export market

  • Fishermen's settlements in remote places suffer from insufficient access to medical facilities, affecting the health conditions of the community members, also due to relatively high infection rates with HIV/AIDS.

According to Hannesson (1999) the demand for (scarce) fish will increase while the export trade continues to grow, until the ever-growing fishing effort leads to an unsustainable level of exploitation of the resource. To avoid such a situation, and based on the analysis of the available data and information, the following recommendations have been formulated:

  • That conditions in fishing communities be improved to grant members education possibilities in order to acquire alternative employment and to strengthen their social status

  • That fishing communities be provided with an agreed minimum of medical facilities

  • That BMUs be assisted in forming marketing associations

  • That members of communities be given access to saving facilities to avoid immediate spending of earnings. This would also improve the access to (micro) credit facilities.

The above recommendations deal with the socio-economic conditions in the communities. As regards the fisheries resources it is advised that the aquatic environment not be overly challenged to avoid collapse of the Nile perch stocks. As a result, research and resource monitoring deserve high priority. It is further recommended, from the economic perspective, to generate added value with the same levels of raw fish by product diversification. It is also recommended that the processing capacity be redistributed among the countries according to a certain key, for instance based on export or processing history. Measures taken based on the above recommendations should result in the reduction of the over capacity.

Discussion

The Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries provides that States should take measures to prevent or eliminate excess fishing capacity and should ensure that levels of fishing effort are commensurate with sustainable use of fishery resources. In that context the Lake Victoria Fisheries Organization (LVFO), has developed the world's first Regional Plan of Action for the Management of Fishing Capacity on Lake Victoria and its Basin (http://www.fao.org/fishery/ipoa-capacity).

It is likely that a ceiling will be set for the maximum number of fishing boats operating on the lake. It is also likely that a number will be initially chosen that corresponds with the total number of boats and fishermen enumerated during the 2006 or 2008 Frame Survey. Once the maximum number is fixed, a Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS) program must become operational to combat unlicensed and illegal fishing. The LVFO is currently building up an MCS capacity in the three countries.

The analysis of the three “People, Planet and Profit” criteria has led to the conclusion that despite the reduction in Nile perch catch per fisherman the fishery continues to grow in terms of numbers of fishermen and fishing boats. This is indeed likely, considering the general situation in Asian freshwater fisheries where the fishing effort (as the number of fishermen per square kilometer) has so far been higher and the catches per fisherman have been lower than in the African freshwater fisheries (Duncan, 1999). The Nile perch exports to the European Union continued to grow both in volume and value until 2003, when cheaper fish products started to enter the European market and when alternative export markets for Nile perch products were found by East African fish exporters. The income of Nile perch fishermen is generally spent in a very short period of time due to the lack of saving and investment possibilities. Despite the relatively good income from fishing poverty persists in large communities (with estimated high levels of HIV/AIDS infection).

Bishop et al. (2003) consider that the risk of HIV infection can be derived from the characteristics of the fishing communities and the corresponding life style. They suggested three reasons for the prevailing high infection rates: (i) the lack of attention from the authorities with respect to social infrastructure at major landing sites; (ii) the great mobility of the fishermen and fish traders; and (iii) the lack of social cohesion which is reflected by the temporary nature of fishing communities, and which results in fishermen having multiple partners in different communities.

Due to the lack of schooling possibilities the youth in fishing communities find it hard to find alternative employment and as such end up in the (Nile perch) fishery. The Nile perch fishery is considered to have the potential to break through the poverty spiral, and low investment costs and relatively high returns continue to attract fishermen into the fishery. As a result the fishing effort will continue to increase until the open-access system is replaced by a well planned licensing system.

For the Western consumption of Nile perch from Lake Victoria to be sustainable a certain number of conditions need to be fulfilled, which are summarized in the following:

  • A shared and agreed upon view on sustainable development and exploitation of Lake Victoria's resources

  • A stable export market

  • Good governance of fish stocks (not only Nile perch) and fishery

  • Development of investment facilities and alternative employment

  • Intensive collaboration between the lake's riparian nations.

The above conditions may be fulfilled if the fishing communities are assisted with saving facilities (through a mobile banking system), improved schooling facilities for better job opportunities; assistance should be given to BMUs to organize themselves in BMU-clusters in order to increase their negotiation power. As a result of high HIV/AIDS infection rates, medical facilities should be improved as well; for instance dispensaries in or close to the fishing communities. These recommendations are related to the People criterion. With regards to the Planet criterion there is the continued and improved monitoring of the natural resources for improved management. Last but not least, the Profit criterion will require optimisation of the benefits versus the maximization of fishing products. This could be realized by locally added value through product diversification.

The study results indicate that the exploitation of the lake's Nile perch resources were still at a sustainable level in 2002. The LVFO's Ministerial Council's decision in 2002 on Cross-border Fishing and Fish Trade to adopt the slot size of 50 to 85 cm total length of Nile perch in order to promote sustainable fisheries and to guarantee food security was largely ignored by the national bodies for fisheries management as well as by the industrial processors. On top of that the frame surveys in 2004 and 2006 indicated that the fishery continued to expand most likely beyond the sustainability limits. This situation will be difficult to reverse; the resources will require considerable time to recover and during that period the catch rates will further decrease. Factories will have to close doors and employment at factories as well as in the fishing communities will be affected. The fishing communities will eventually be unable to escape from the poverty trap.

Conclusions

The question of whether or not the Nile perch fishery and its exports contribute to a sustainable development needs careful examination. Considering the increased employment and earnings of the fishery sector in the riparian states, one might argue that concerning Profit the effects of Nile perch fishery are positive. At the same time, as shown, the increased earnings do not result in a structural socio-economic improvement due to lack of schooling and banking facilities and the developed fishery villages are of poor quality lacking the basic health care facilities. Concerning “People” the answer is thus ambiguous. As to “Planet” the increased fishing pressure seems to reduce the predation pressure in Lake Victoria, allowing the Haplochromine stock to some extent to recover (Witte et al., 2007; Njiru et al., 2007). This is a positive ecological development. However at the same time, due to developments in the fishery with ever increasing numbers of fishermen, boats and gears, overfishing threatens the continuity of the fishery production and already catches are declining and fish processing plants are closing down. It thus might be concluded that the economic gains based on the new fishery, by itself proved to be insufficient to provide a structural sustainable development, due to the restricted social and institutional capacity which hampered the riparian population to adapt to both the new social challenges and the new fishery challenges.

Acknowledgements

First of all, the authors are indebted to the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency for financing the study. The authors also wish to thank Dr. Oliva Mkumbo of the LVFO, Dr. James Njiru of Moi University, Kenya, and the late Mr. Andrew Asila for sharing their figures and findings.

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