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A.W. Kudhongania (1) and E.J. Coenen (2)

(1) Director, Uganda Freshwater Fisheries Research Organisation (UFFRO), P.O. Box 343, Jinja, Uganda.

(2) Chief Technical Adviser, Biologist/Statistician, FAO Project UGA/87/007 Fisheries Statistics and Info Systems, c/o FAO, P.O. Box 521, Kampala, Uganda or KMMA, B-1980, Tervuren, Belgium.


When talking about fishery resources, one should be conscious of the fish stocks, the water environment and man as the final beneficiary. The ultimate objective of fishery development is the total sum of improvements in the benefits to society from fishery exploitation together with the safeguards to sustain the resource. Benefits would be defined in terms of increased fish yield, provision of more employment or increased nutritional opportunities which are sustainable. These may be achieved, among other factors, through efficient fishing methods, minimization of post-harvest losses and sound management strategies. In turn, efficient exploitation and management regimes can be formulated only through effective and continuing research activities. Research is therefore a very essential element for rational fishery exploitation, management and development.

The national development objective of the fisheries sector is “to contribute to the exploitation of fishery resources for export, creation of employment and as a major source of food and animal protein” (MPED, 1987; MPED, 1989).

In this paper, trends in the development of the fisheries of Lake Victoria (Uganda) have been reviewed. Bottlenecks in the development process have been highlighted. The future prospect of the fishery has been discussed and some recommendations have been made.


2.1 Early exploitation of the fishery

Although it is not certain when fisheries exploitation on Lake Victoria actually started, it is quite clear that the fishery on the lake was entirely artisanal, basically inshore and exploited a multispecies ichtyofauna. Relative good catches were obtained using simple fishing gears and craft, and with little fishing effort.

The indigenous fishing gears included basket traps, hooks, seine nets of papyrus, and spears. These gears were operated by wading through the very shallow inshore waters. But the method was soon supplanted by using dug-out canoes and the sewn-plank type boats. These were propelled by paddles. This innovation enabled fishing in slightly deeper waters. During the early days, too, transport of fish was done entirely by foot and headload so that the fishery benefited mainly the people near the lake shore. Most of the fishing at this stage was therefore still at the subsistence level.

Fish processing was in some way a means of developing the fishery beyond subsistence fishing limitations. The most common method of curing fish was either by hot-smoking over open fires or sun-drying. Large fish was smoked or sun-dried after splitting the individuals. Apart from lengthening the shelf life and thus facilitating the transport of fish to distant markets, smoking and sun-drying impart characteristic flavours to the fish and have remained the principal traditional processing methods in Uganda for a long time (Ssemakula, 1967; Ssali and Ssewankambo, 1991). However, some modifications in the smoking kilns, salting and sun-drying have been made.

It is necessary to note that there was no documented mechanism for the collection, compilation and analysis of fishery statistics data during the early days of the fishery. As such, the various statistical variables for the period are not known although it is apparent that the fishery was quite lucrative.

2.2. Developments in the artisanal fishery

The earliest significant development of Lake Victoria fisheries in Uganda was the introduction of the imported flax gill-nets in 1910 (Graham, 1929). But it is claimed that Captain B. Whitehouse was the first individual to use a net on Lake Victoria sometime between 1898 and 1909 (Graham, 1927, p. 17). Because gill-nets were more efficient in exploiting the fishery resources than the indigenous fishing gears, the flax gill-nets were soon followed by nets locally made of khaki sewing-cotton. The gill-nets were particularly good for exploiting the abundant Oreochromis esculentus stocks although other fish species such as Bagrus docmac edwardianus, Clarias mossambicus and O. variabilis could also be netted. Gill-nets opened the way for commercial exploitation of the fisheries. In addition to gill-nets, the non-selective beach seines were also introduced during the early 1920s. Fishing operations were further developed by the introduction of the more efficient synthetic fibre (Nylon) gill-nets in 1952 (Mann, 1969). Apart from the higher efficiency in catch rates, the synthetic twine nets last longer than those made from natural fibres (flax, cotton).

While modifications in the fishing gears were taking place, fishing craft were also being improved. Frame-and-plank canoes were gradually developed to supplement the dug-out canoes. Planked canoes could be constructed to larger sizes than that of dug-out canoes, were more durable, more stable and, with the introduction of out-board engines in 1953 (Mann, 1970), the fishermen could venture further into deeper waters. The use of motorized fishing vessels enabled quicker deliveries of the catch to the markets.

Developments in the fishing gears and craft were encouraged by increasing demand for fish which was stimulated by the growth of urban centres along the lake shore. The growth of urban centres was accompanied by the gradual development of road and rail infrastructures and the increasing use of bicycles and motor vehicles from the 1920's which increased the range for fish distribution (Crutchfield, 1959).

2.3 Earliest Research and Management Efforts

Fishery research and management are always necessary for sustainable fishery exploitation and development. This is because fishery resources are very fragile to exploitation if the basic biological intricacies of the available stocks are not taken into account. Modern approaches of resource assessment and management, traditionally geared toward biological assessment, now also include economic and social aspects as a requirement for the formulation of sound strategies and practices aimed at sustainable fisheries exploitation, management and development (FAO, 1991). Between investigations on fish stocks and socio-economic aspects is the need to examine the dynamics of the water environment (Kitaka, 1972).

The earliest fisheries research work on Lake Victoria was carried out by short-term expeditions from Europe and mainly for taxonomic work. The first detailed research survey on the lake was conducted by Mr. M. Graham and his assistant, Mr. E.B. Worthington, in 1927–1928 (Graham, 1929) when the most important commercial fish species (Oreochromis esculentus) was thought threatened. Later on, it was found necessary to establish a research station (EAFRO) at Jinja in 1947. At the same time the Lake Victoria Fisheries Board, which eventually became the Lake Victoria Fisheries Service, was formed for the purpose of collecting catch statistics and to harmonise and enforce any legislation imposed on the industry (EAFFRO, 1967).

The major management recommendation made following the research survey by Graham (1929) was the setting of the minimum gill-net mesh size at 127 mm or 5 inch (stretched). This measure was aimed at protecting the O. esculentus fishery and was implemented in 1930 (Game Dept. Ann. Rept., 1930, p. 23). But there was no comprehensive legislation to co-ordinate the enforcement of the management policy by the three riparian states (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda) particularly with the difficulty of policing a body of water of the size of Lake Victoria. In addition, the multispecies character of the fishery, where various fish species matured at different size ranges, posed constraints for imposing a management policy based on the protection of a single fish species in a multispecies fishery. Consequently, the restriction was repealed in 1956 in order to enable the full exploitation of those other species which matured at smaller sizes than O. esculentus. The decision to repeal the only management measure left the ground open for uncontrolled fishing practices which led to the continued use of smaller and smaller gill-net mesh sizes. Uncontrolled fishing practices have continued to this day.

The expected consequence of lifting the gill-net mesh size restriction, as predicted by Beverton (1959) and Garrod (1960), was the continued decline of the stocks of O. esculentus and numerous other fish species (Whitehead, 1959) due to over-fishing. In order to replenish the declining tilapia stocks, four exotic tilapiine species (O. niloticus, O. leucostictus, Tilapia zillii and T. melanopleura) were introduced into Lake Victoria during the early 1950s (EAFFRO, 1964). The positive results of this management move were short-lived since only one tilapiine fish species eventually remained in the lake in commercial quantities.

Another significant management measure aimed at supplementing the declining tilapia catches was the introduction of Nile perch, Lates niloticus, into the lake during 1962 and 1963 (Gee, 1964). It was generally known that there were considerable stocks of haplochromines in Lake Victoria which were not being effectively exploited by the artisanal fishery. One of the attractive ideas of how to utilize the abundant haplochromine stocks was the introduction of the predator (Lates). The predator would convert the small haplochromines into the large Nile perch which would be easier to catch. The introduction of the Nile perch into Lake Victoria was a very controversial issue and the assessment of its impact on the fishery has had very contradicting interpretations (see Kudhongania et. al, 1988).

2.4 Attempts to develop the Lake Victoria fisheries beyond the artisanal level.

Until 1949 the Lake Victoria fisheries industry was still entirely artisanal. The artisanal fishery (i) was more or less confined to the inshore waters of the lake, (ii) was mainly a canoe and gill-net fishery with beach seining, long-lining and other traditional fishing method as secondary, and (iii) had limited handling, storage, processing and marketing infrastructures. Several attempts were, therefore, made in order to develop the Lake Victoria fisheries beyond the scope of its artisanal character.

2.4.1. Deep-water gill-net Fishery

A deep-water gill-net fishery, based on Dagusi Island and aimed at exploiting the open water Mormyrus stocks, was set up in 1949. The successful exploitation of deep-water stocks was expected to relieve the fishing pressure from the inshore fishery. But in 1951 the scheme had to be abandoned because it was not commercially viable. The venture was apparently being undertaken without the support of sufficient scientific information, coupled with other logistical problems (EAFFRO, 1967).

2.4.2. The Uganda Development Corporation Trawl Fishery

In 1953 the Uganda Development Corporation set up a trawl fishery based on Dagusi Island. The anticipated composition of the catch was Bagras and Mormyrus to be processed by kippering and haplochromines to be processed into fish meal (Jackson, 1972). This project was attractive because it was to exploit the untapped offshore stocks. It was also introducing trawling as a novel commercial fishing technique (mechanized fishing) which would eventually be developed into large scale operations. However, the enterprise closed down after two years of trials because it was not economically viable. The development plan had been implemented on the stength of inadequate scientific date (EAFFRO, 1976).

2.4.3. Masese Ice-making Plant

During the late 1960's, the Uganda Fisheries Department (UFD), with assistance from external donors, set up an ice-making plant at Masese, near Jinja. The purpose of the ice was to enable fishmongers to preserve their fish better. This would have stimulated fish transport in fresh form to distant markets and safeguarded the traders from selling their fish at give-away prices at times of glut, or when the catch was landed late for the markets.

Although the pilot ice-making plant was an excellent fisheries extension service development relevant for the tropical high temperatures, the system was not viable due to a number of problems including the negative attitude towards frozen fish by traditional beliefs (UFD, 1971).

2.4.4. Canning of haplochromines

The existence of large quantities of haplochromine stocks which were not being exploited effectively by the artisanal fishery was of tremendous interest. Graham (1929, p.22) had suggested catching the haplochromines for manure in Colonial Kenya's agricultural developments. Greenwood (1966, p. 117), on the other hand, considered that allowing the haplochromines to die naturally, would maintain the fertility of the lake.

These options were not considered to be appropriate. Therefore, in addition to the introduction of the Nile perch (2.3 above) another attractive idea promoted was the canning of the haplochromines (like sardines). For this purpose, experiments were carried out between 1965 and 1968 on canning and the acceptability of canned haplochromine, and a small ferro-cement trawler (m.v. TILAPIA) was constructed as a prototype for commercial trawlers for the canning industry. In the end, however, the idea of canning was discarded when studies showed that the cost of the empty can, which had to be imported, would be higher than the price of the fish it would contain (Gee and Gilbert, 1968). This finding is still relevant for guiding prospective investors in the fishery sector of the economy.

2.4.5. Proposal for fishmeal Production from Haplochromines

Following the lakewide stock assessment survey of 1969–1971 by EAFFRO whose preliminary results suggested that the stocks of the haplochromines comprised slightly more than 80% of the ichtyomass in Lake Victoria (Kudhongania and Cordone, 1974), the interest for industrial exploitation of the haplochromine stocks was greatly stimulated. Since canning of the haplochromines had been found to be uneconomic, a more viable alternative use had to evolved.

It was therefore proposed that the stocks of haplochromines could be exploited for fishmeal production. However, the proposal was strongly discouraged (Kudhongania and Cordone, 1974) on the following grounds:

  1. Fishmeal production was trophically uneconomic
  2. The Nile perch had already been introduced into the lake to feed on the haplochromines
  3. The haplochromine stocks were not resilient enough to withstand heavy predation by the Nile perch and industrial exploitation at the same time.

The proposed fishmeal plant was, therefore, not constructed. And recent trends in the haplochromine stocks (Okaronon et al, 1985) clearly demonstrate that the discouragement was correctly conceived.

2.4.6. Fish filleting and freezing

Although freezing is an old, well established practice for fish preservation, it was not until the 1970's that the method was adopted on Lake Victoria (Uganda) by commercial enterprises. Frozen Foods Ltd. was established in Kampala around 1973 to process frozen tilapia fillets. The product was mainly for the export market to Nairobi and the local super-markets and tourist hotels.

At about the same time, two other firms, namely Afro-Fish and Fish Co, also based in Kampala, were involved in similar operations although at more limited scales.

Unfortunately, the three firms collapsed at about the same time around 1976 due to the national problems of the time which made it difficult for the operations to continue profitably.

2.4.7. Kampala ice plant and fish market

During the early 1980's, another ice plant was constructed in Kampala for the purpose of supplying ice and feezing facilities to the artisanal fishing industry. Retail market stalls were also constructed as components of the ice plant in order to serve as a central fish market for the city of Kampala. This infrastructure was expected to improve fish storage and marketing facilities for the growing city and its suburbs.

Unfortunately, up to now the Kampala ice plant, although operational, has not benefited the targeted artisanal fishing industry communities for the following reasons:

  1. The advantages of using ice have not yet been fully grasped or appreciated by the artisanal fishing communites.

  2. Although limited quantities of fresh, frozen and smoked fish can be purchased from the plant itself, the retail market stalls could not be used successfully because the plant is located away from the major residential areas of the city.

Accordingly, instead of serving the artisanal fishing industry, most of the ice produced at the plant is sold to hotels, bars and vendors for soft drinks.

2.4.8. Industrial/Mechanized Fishing

In 1987, the Sino-Uganda Fisheries Joint Venture Co. Ltd. was established in Entebbe. The long-term objective of the joint venture is to develop an integrated industrial fish harvesting, processing and marketing venture for both local and export considerations. It was planned that fishing would be carried out by the paired-boat trawl method and the operations would be confined to the off-shore deep waters.

Results of the preliminary pair-trawling operations have however been different from expections:

  1. Trawling off-shore appears to be discouraging, partly due to the longer distances to be covered in steaming and partly to the poor catch rates in deep-waters (Kudhongania & Cordone, 1974). Out of the first 31 trips, 15 were made in waters shallower than 20m (Reynolds and Ssali, 1990). Pair-trawl fishing in inshore waters has already resulted in several complaints from and conflicts with the artisanal fishermen.

  2. The mean catch per one-day trip has been only 266 kg although it was assumed that the average catch rates would be around 500 kg/hr.

The apparent preference to trawl inshore due to the low catch rates in the deep waters imposes a question mark on the long-term viability of pair-trawling as a fishing technique for fishery developments on Lake Victoria. The answer to the question mark may be found from further trials in pair-trawl fishing operations so that the necessary adjustments and improvements in the fishing technique could be made. It would also depend on whether there are adequate fish stocks in the off-shore deep waters of the lake to sustain commercial trawl fishing in economic terms.

2.4.9. Fish Processing Plants

Very recently, a number of processing plants have been coming up in Entebbe, Kampala and Jinja. The development of the processing plants has been encouraged by the increased levels of catches of Nile perch and Nile tilapia from Lake Victoria and by the existence of numerous export markets abroad. Apart from the Kampala Ice Plant, there are four fish processing plants now in operation (see below). Two others are expected to be operational very soon, the Nge-ge Ltd. in Port Bell, Kampala (28 tonnes/day capacity) and the Samaki Industries Ltd. in the Industrial Area, Kampala (20 tonnes/day capacity). Six other investors have been authorized to establish their processing plants and several others have already submitted their application (MAAIF, 1991; Ssali & Ssewankambo, 1991). All depend on the artisanal commercial landings for the needed wet fish for processing. The artisanal fishermen are, therefore, assured of ready markets for their catch. The four presently operational plants are the following (Reynolds & Ssali, 1990):

i) Quality Foods (U) Ltd.

This is a private firm situated near Entebbe. It was established in 1987 with an installed capacity of at least 5 tons of raw materials per day. It has been involved in the supply of fresh chilled fish for export markets since 1989. Frames are also sold locally while dried swim bladders are exported.

ii) Gomba Fishing Industries Ltd.

This is another private firm located in Jinja. With an installed capacity of 25 tons of wet fish per day, the plant started its trial operations during the latter half of 1990. The fish is delivered by the artisanal fishing community either to the plant or at selected landing centres from where it is collected by Gomba transport boats.

The processing plant is rigged to produce cold and hot-smoked fillets or split whole fish (Nile tilapia and Nile perch) for both export and local urban markets. In addition, Nile perch swim bladders are dried and the skin tanned for export while the offals and frames are processed into fishmeal for the local markets.

iii) Uganda Fisheries Enterprises Ltd.

The Uganda Fisheries Enterprises Ltd. (UFEL) is a Government parastatal based at Masese fish landing which is on the outskirts of Jinja town. UFEL is a component of the italian funded Integrated Fisheries Development Project which aims at improvements in fish handling, storage and processing in Uganda.

The Masese processing plant has an installed capacity of 6 tons of wet fish per day. The infrastructure of the enterprise has provisions for three fish collecting centres elsewhere and three distribution centres for marketing of the products for local consumption. Insulated trucks transport the fish to the desired destinations.

Tests on the operations of the plant were carried out during the first half of 1990 and trial processing was conducted towards the end of the year. The plant produces cold smoked and vacuum-packed fillets of Nile perch and Nile tilapia for both export and domestic markets. Small Nile tilapia are split or processed whole.

iv) Victoria Fresh Foods Ltd.

Victoria Fresh Foods Ltd. is another private enterprise and is situated on the shores of Lake Victoria at Gaba near Kampala. Construction work of the plant was completed at the end of 1990 with an installed capacity of 25 tons of wet fish per day. The plant is designed to process the fish into chilled and frozen fillets and other similar products aimed mostly at the export markets overseas.

Although there are four (4) processing plants already in operation and two more are about ready to start, interest is still growing to put up more fish processing plants (see above) - also based on Nile perch and Nile tilapia. In addition, some other interest groups are investigating opportunities for the exploitation and export of Rastrineobola argentea (Mukene). These interests need to be weighed carefully in the context of future, sustainable fishery development.

2.5 Recent Trends in the Catch

During the last 30 years, annual fish catches from the Uganda part of Lake Victoria have increased more than five-fold: from an estimate of 25,500 tons in 1961 to a maximum of 132,400 tons in 1989 (Table 1). Dramatic increases in the annual catch occurred from 1983 onwards when most of the traditional fish species had declined to insignificant levels. The bulk of the growing tonnage has been contributed by the increasing catches of the introduced Nile perch and Nile Tilapia. In 1983, for instance, Nile perch contributed 60% of total commercial landings at Masese followed by Nile tilapia at 15%. The statistics of the Uganda Fisheries Department show a sudden increase in Nile perch catches as from 1983, contributing up to 1990 for 70 – 80% of the recorded catches. For the same period, the records show a steady increase in the contribution of Tilapia in the recorded catches, from 2% in 1983 up to 21% in 1990, and a steady decline of Bagrus, before an important commercial species. Based on the results of the Lake Victoria FISHIN market survey (Kirema-Mukasa & Reynolds, 1990), carried out in 1990, the (year by year increasing) total catch of Rastrineobola argentea in 1990 for the Ugandan part of Lake Victoria is estimated at around 8,500 tonnes.

It is very important to re-emphasize that while the diversity of the fish species caught was drastically declining, the total annual yields were increasing dramatically.

Available stock assessment data have indicated that Lake Victoria, which traditionally was a multispecies fishery, has now developed into a three species fishery (namely Nile perch, Nile tilapia and Rastrineobola argentea). Most other fish species have declined to insignificant proportions. For instance, the once preponderant haplochromines have declined from the original 80% of the total ichtyomass (see 2.4.5) to only 1%, at least for the Kenya waters of Lake Victoria (Achieng, 1990).

With regard to the fishing pressure which is estimated in terms of the total number of fishing canoes, there has been a significant increase between 1971, when an aerial survey was conducted by EAFFRO/FAO (Wetherall, 1972) and 1990 when an on-water Frame Survey (FS) was carried out by UFD/FAO (UGA/87/007 Biostat Group, 1991). Data presented in Table 2 show the extent of the increases in the estimated total number on landings, fishing canoes and the average catch per canoe/day, and the decline in the average number of canoes per landing. The apparent decline in the average number of canoes per landing suggests that new landings have been created faster than new fishing canoes and, therefore, that there has been a tendency for fishermen (canoes) to move from old landings to new ones. The overall picture is that by 1990 more than 100,000 people were engaged either directly or indirectly and either on full-time or part-time basis, in the fishing industry on Lake Victoria (Uganda). However, a disturbing statistic is the decline in the average size of the fish caught. Five years ago the average size of the Nile perch landed was about 9 kg and by 1990 the size had declined to only 2 kg (Okaronon, Pers. Comm., 1991). This means that the larger size classes of the Nile perch have almost been decimated. This is one of the signs of over-fishing.


Fisheries development is not a laissez-faire undertaking. It is a strategy involving active processes of checks and balances leading to improvements in the social, economic and nutritional status of the community while allowing the perpetuation of the fishery resources for future generations. Numerous bottlenecks may interfere with the development strategy.

3.1 Non-use of Scientific Information

Sustainable fisheries exploitation must always go hand-in-hand with fisheries research. In a number of cases, fishery exploitation plans are implemented where scientific information is either completely lacking, inadequate or available but not applied (see examples under 2.4).

The Uganda part of Lake Victoria has experienced this problem in the following fishery development ventures:

  1. Deep water gill-net fishery for Mormyrus (1949–1951),
  2. The Uganda Development Corporation Trawl Fishery (1953–1955),
  3. Masese ice-making plant (1968–1971),
  4. Kampala ice plant and,
  5. Pair-trawling venture (1989-Present).

These experiences strongly suggest that fishery management and development decision makers should avoid implementing exploitation ventures without the necessary backing from scientific data. Therefore, collaboration between the Fisheries Department and Fisheries Research Institutions should be strengthened.

3.2 Lack of Stock assessment data

It is virtually impossible to determine the appropriate levels of fishery exploitation in the absence of biological stock assessment data, complemented by information on economic and social aspects of the fishery. This lack arises from the limited available means and facilities for research, statistical data processing (collection, compilation, analysis and dissemination), and man-power training for both research and extension services. It is unfortunate that even large scale development ventures, such as the establishment of processing plants and mechanized fishing in deep waters, have been structured and implemented without any stock assessment/ socio-economic data and without any or incomplete preliminary feasibility studies.

There is strong need to support and strengthen research and other relevant services and their mutual collaboration/ co-ordonnation in order to develop fishery exploitation strategies suitable for the available stocks. As a short-term solution, the EEC is likely to finance a project for assessing the stocks of Lake Victoria in the near future.

3.3 Lack of Fishing gears

Without suitable fishing gears, the exploitation of fish stocks cannot be developed. The Uganda Fishnet Manufacturers Ltd. (UFM) was brought into existence as a Government parastatal in order to manufacture the required nets for the Uganda fishing industry. Due to logistical and management problems, the fishnet factory is not able to supply nets in the desired quantities. It produces only 50 thousand instead of the required 1.2 million pieces per year of assorted sizes (Biribonwoha, 1991). As a remedy, nets have continued to be imported in order to supplement the locally produced materials.

A rehabilitation project of UFM, valued at about 5 million US dollars and to be financed by the African Development Bank (ADB), was recently proposed. In order to avoid bad experiences as those happening in the past (see 2.4), hopefully, this time, a detailed feasibility study (to see if nets can be produced cheaper locally, with imported raw materials and machinery, than importing the nets from abroad) will be undertaken before implementing such an undertaking.

3.4 The changing Limnology of Lake Victoria

Changes in the fish stocks of Lake Victoria have been accompanied by changes in the limnology of the lake. Recent studies by UFFRO, under the Lake Productivity Project being financed by IDRC, show that there has been increased turbidity in the offshore waters due to increased phytoplankton biomass (Drs. Hecky and Bugenyi, pers. comm., 1990). The excess phytoplankton which cannot be consumed simply decays, leading to deoxygenation of the water. It has been further observed that the thermocline, particularly in the offshore waters, has been rising so that both the pelagic and demersal fish stocks are threatened. Raising the thermocline reduces the volume of the epilimniotic water which is properly oxygenated, through mixing, and increases the volume of the water below the thermocline (hypolimnion) which does not freely mix and is poor in oxygen. This is affecting more than 50% of the lake and is responsible for the more periodic massive fish kills in recent years.

Lake Victoria core studies have suggested that eutrophication could have started around 1970 and changes in phytoplankton community around 1980 (Dr. Hecky, pers. comm., 1991). Since the changes in lake limnology have not yet reached a stable state, it is not yet clear how extensively the lake would be affected and, therefore, the net fish biomass that could be supported by the changed ecosystem. This uncertainty calls for a very cautions approach when considering additional investments aimed at the Lake Victoria fisheries.

3.5 Other developments affecting the Lake Victoria environment

There are numerous development activities which may affect the lake environment either directly or indirectly. These include urban and industrial developments, increasing agricultural and deforestation activities, soil erosion, etc. These may lead to further eutrophication and turbidity, siltation or other forms of water pollution.

Within the objective of sustaining the water environment for fisheries and other uses, there is strong need to monitor and harmonize the different activities that may affect the lake water system.

3.6 Lake Victoria as a shared resource

The shared nature of Lake Victoria by three countries, each with different economic approaches, makes it difficult to implement uniform strategies for the exploitation, management and development of the resource. Unfortunately, fish stocks do not respect political boundries while significant events in one part of the lake may eventually spread to other parts with time.

The solution to this bottleneck is the development of sound cooperation among the riparian states in research and management activities.

3.7 Water Hyacinth in Lake Victoria

The water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) invaded the north-western part of Lake Victoria around 1989. The weed is believed to have entered the lake from the Kagera River and it is rapidly spreading towards the East and South.

The implications of the water hyacinth to water transport on the lake, to the hydroelectric dam at Jinja, juvenile fish, fishing operations, etc. are quite serious. It is both essential and urgent that necessary measures are taken to eliminate the weed from both Lake Victoria and Kagera River as a cooperative undertaking by the riparian states.

Through the initiative of Project UGA/87/007, an emergency proposal on water hyacinth surveillance and control/eradication (Reynolds & Coenen, 1991) was channeled to FAO Headquarters, Rome with a request from the Government of Uganda for urgent assistance. The proposal has been approved and has now realized as Project TCP/UGA/9153 (A) with the main objectives being the formulation of a national plan for the surveillance, control and/or eradication of the weed infestation and, if necessary, the formulation of a long-term project proposal.

3.8 Post-harvest Losses

It has been estimated that between 10% and 20% of the total fish landed by the artisanal fishermen is not availble for consumption due to post-harvest losses (Dr. Ssali, pers. comm., 1990). If this loss was saved, it would constitute a significant increase in marketable fish.

The artisanal fishery needs to solve the wide-spread post-harvest losses through effective extension services on how to prevent/reduce these losses and on the use of ice for handling and storage of fish.

3.9 Lack of effective management measures

Since 1956, when the 127 mm (5 inch) stretched gill-net mesh-size restriction was repealed, there has been no other effectively enforced management measure for the exploitation of the Lake Victoria resources. Although there still exists a “theoretical” ban on beach seining and night fishing, prolonged unrestricted fishing practices led to the increase in undesirable fishing methods which may have caused the dramatic decline in the stocks of the traditional fish species (Kudhongania et al, 1988).


The future prospects for any exploited fishery depend on a number of factors. These include (i) the magnitude and nature of the available stocks, (ii) the characteristics of the water environment, (iii) mode and tempo of exploitation, (iv) the level of research and (v) effectiveness of the management strategies.

While the magnitude of the Lake Victoria fish stocks is not known, it is almost certain that certain stocks are being exploited at or beyond their maximum sustainable yield levels. The existing stocks are dominated by Nile perch/Nile tilapia/Rastrineobola in a clear predator/prey relationship. But the delicate nature of exploited predator/prey systems must be appreciated. The current commercial fishery is heavily dependent on the Nile perch and Nile tilapia, while the Nile perch stocks are greatly supported by Rastrineobola as a prey species. Heavy, industrial exploitation of the Rastrineobola stocks as well could endanger the future prosperity of the Nile perch fishery.

However, the existence of commercially sustainable fisheries based on predator/prey systems in Lake Tanganyika (Bayona, 1988; Roest, 1988), Albert, Turkana and elsewhere, suggests that the Lake Victoria current fish stocks could coexist at certain equilibrium levels.

Tropical fish stocks are easily over-fished (Crowley, 1983) as has already been demonstrated by the stocks of Lakes George, Wamala, Kyoga and Victoria. The prospects to sustain the new Lake Victoria fishery will depend on whether the fishing pressure does not exceed the resilience of the fishable stocks. It is quite clear that the recent ventures in fish processing plants for the export markets have developed in the absence of any scientific and socio-economic data to define appropriate levels of exploitation. Management will have to strike a balance between the artisanal fishing activities for the local market needs and the growing industrial pressure for the export interests.

In addition, changes in the limnology leading to the deoxygenation of a large part of the lake, urban effluents, increasing agricultural run-offs, atmospheric fall-out, etc. will influence the magnitude of the fish stocks that could be supported by Lake Victoria. It follows that an understanding of these factors and the development of appropriate means to control them would contribute positively to the future prospects for the Lake Victoria fisheries.


From the information presented above, the following recommendations could be made:

5.1 Research information

Research information is always needed to guide fishery exploitation, management and development strategies within the magnitude and characteristics of the available stocks. Therefore, the level of commitment for evolving effective research, management and extension services should be improved. For this reason cooperation between the research and management organs need to be clearly defined and strengthened, e.g. by installing a Permanent Fishery Committee (consisting of UFD/UFFRO/other research institutions delegates) that should pre-study and give advice on the possible feasability of any national fishery development proposal.

5.2 Fishing gear restriction and law enforcement

The apparent signs of over-exploitation strongly suggest the need for management measures in order to sustain the commercial viability of the fishery. In this regard, the setting up of the minimum stretched gill-net mesh size at 127 mm for the exploitation of Nile tilapia and Nile perch and at 10 mm for the seine-nets to exploit Rastrineobola, as recommended by Ogutu-Ohwayo et al (1989), should be considered for immediate implementation. Another aspect that could be considered is the prohibition of selling, transporting and possessing illegal gears.

At the same time, however, the law enforcement procedures for these proposed measures should be strengthened. The present law enforcement capacities of the fisheries officers in the field, who are data collectors and extension workers in an supposedly atmosphere of mutual trust and understanding with the fishermen, are therefore nearly non-existent. The only solution for effective fisheries regulation law enforcement is probably the creation of an independant Law Enforcement Unit within the UFD.

5.3 Industrial exploitation of Rastrineobola

Rastrineobola is a major prey for the Nile perch which has become an important fish species for both export and local market. Presently, even with a ban on night fishing in place, it seems that the artisanal lightfishing for this species around the islands is increasing. This ban should now be lifted and the artisanal exploitation of this species, with a rapid turnover, should be encouraged. However, industrial exploitation of Rastrineobola should not be authorized before the results of the planned stock assessment for Lake Victoria are known.

5.4 Artisanal vs industrial/processing ventures

The development of the industrial/processing enterprises on Lake Victoria has been too rapid, particularly in the absence of scientific data to justify the increasing levels of exploitation. The artisanal fishery and local market requirements should not be jeopardized by the export market incentives. Moreover, the present plants are not even working at their full capacities : 25 tons per day instead of the installed capacity of 61 tons daily (Borel de Bitche, pers. comm., 1991). Therefore, until it has been justified by stock assessment data, no further industrial/processing plants should be allowed. A simple criterion is whether the existing processing plants are operating at their full installed capacities while the local market demands are also being met.

5.5 Trawl fishing in Lake Victoria

On socio-economic as well as biological grounds, commercial trawl fishing in waters shallower than 20 m should be completely prohibited. And if there are no economically trawlable fish stocks in the deep off-shore waters, trawling as a commercial fishing technique has to be reconsidered.

5.6 Co-ordination and monitoring in the management of the Lake Victoria environment

The changing limnology of Lake Victoria and its possible consequences on the future of the fish stocks are rather testing. Within the objectives to sustain and enhance the water environment for both fish production and other uses, there is the need to co-ordinate and monitor all activities (agricultural, industrial, etc.) which may either directly or indirectly affect the Lake Victoria water environment. This should involve the cooperation of Agriculture, Urban Development, Industry, Transport, Forestry and Fisheries with UFFRO as the possible co-ordinating and monitoring agent.

5.7 Improvements in fish handling and storage

Improvements in fish handling to minimize post-harvest losses could increase the quantity of marketable fish by 10%–20% as compared to the current levels without any additional fishing effort. It is, therefore, desirable to improve the present handling and storage methods, inclusive of the use of ice and cold facilities, in order to achieve maximum utilization of the landed catches. The success of the use of ice and cold storage facilities would depend on adequate campaign to educate the fishmongers and consumers on the advantages of freezing the fish.

5.8 Cooperative Management Strategy

The shared nature of the Lake Victoria resources requires shared responsibilities for effective management. The spirit of cooperation in management of the Lake Victoria fishery resources should be cultivated and encouraged among the three riparian states, most preferably by the establishment of a Regional Lake Victoria management body.


We are thankful to Dr. T. Twongo and Dr. J.E. Reynolds for their useful comments on the manuscript. We are also grateful to IDRC for financing the Nile perch and Lake Productivity studies and to UNDP/FAO for the funding/execution of the UGA/87/007 Project. However, findings and views expressed in this paper are completely our own.


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Table 1 : Estimated annual fish landings for the Ugandan part of Lake Victoria (1961 – 1990).

YearCatch (tons)

(Source: Uganda Fisheries Department)

Table 2 : Fish landing and fishing canoes characteristics on Lake Victoria (Uganda).

YearFrame Survey byTotal Number LandingsTotal No. Fishing CanoesAverage catch/canoe/dayAverage No. Fish.canoes per Landing
1971EAFFRO/FAO1973,26426 kg16.6
1990UFD/FAO7158,00044 kg11.2

(Data from Wetherall, 1972; Okaronon & Kamanyi, 1989; UGA/87/007 Biostat Group, 1991)

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