Table of Contents Next Page



Following the recent rapid expansion of the Nile perch stock in the Ugandan waters of Lake Victoria, considerable interest has developed in the harvesting and processing of this fish on a larger commercial scale, so as to serve both local and overseas markets. Enterprises based both at Jinja and in the Entebbe-Kampala area (see map, Fig. 1) have been established for this purpose, and others are planned. Although concentrating on Nile perch, they are to some extent involved in the marketing of tilapia as well. At the same time, there has been a growing interest for industrial processing of the small pelagic fish Rastrineobola argentea whose stock also appears to be flourishing in Lake Victoria waters of late. The concern of this paper is to review these important events in fisheries industrialisation and provide a preliminary assessment of their socio-economic implications. Discussion begins with a look at the historical setting out of which modern developments arose.


2.1 Subsistence and Artisanal Fishing

For most of its documented history the fishery of Lake Victoria has been characterised by the activities of myriad small-scale local operators, processors, and traders. Its evolution from the early years of this century to the late 1970s, when radical changes in species composition began to be witnessed, are well described in a number of sources. To recapitulate very briefly, before the introduction of the gillnet (as early as 1905 in Kisumu District of Kenya, and around 1910 in the Ugandan part of the Lake), a multispecies subsistence fishery existed which was based on such indigenous gear as traps, baskets, spears, and local netting materials (Ford 1955; Graham 1929). The use of such gear continues to some extent up to the present, but only in isolated instances. From the 1920s the fisheries in all the territorial sectors of the Lake (Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda) more or less followed a common course of development, with rapid commercialisation of effort by small fishing units comprised of from two to five crew, and widespread adoption of gillnets (first made of flax and cotton and later of synthetic fibre) set from canoes working mostly on grounds inshore. Early smallcraft on the Lake were either of the dugout or sewn-plank variety, very simple craft propelled by paddle. These were gradually supplanted by frame-and-plank canoes of somewhat more durable and sea-worthy construction. Though most fishing craft in Uganda waters are still propelled manually there has been ever-increasing use of outboard engines in the last few decades. The small karua dhow-rigged sailing canoes commonly used for fishing and fish transport along the Kenyan and Tanzanian shorelines, have never played a significant role in the Ugandan zone of the Lake. (Gooding 1969; Kanyike 1972).

By the late 1970s the Uganda zone was hosting a fishery that was still very much artisanal, multispecies, and multigear in character. As elsewhere, though, it was a fishery based primarily on canoes and gillnets, with seining and longlining figuring in a secondary role. The primary target of the fishery throughout most of its history has been the native tilapia Oreochromis esculenta, and from the 1950s the introduced Oreochromis niloticus. Tilapia along with various other species have been heavily fished in places and even the earliest reports on the Lake comment on localities in which serious to critical over-exploitation of the resource was occurring (Graham 1929; cf. Beauchamp 1955; Beverton 1959; Ford 1955; Garrod 1960, 1961; Mann 1970; Ogutu-Ohwayo 1988; Reynolds and Greboval 1988; Wambayi 1981).

2.2 Traditional Handling, Processing, and Marketing

Methods of local fish handling, processing and marketing have undergone little transformation over the years. Movement of fresh fish away from landing centres was always restricted by the limitations imposed by high ambient temperatures compounded by slow transit times from net to beach to consumer. Transport in the early days was mostly by foot and headload, and it was mostly those people living within easy reach of the shoreline who could enjoy fresh fish on a regular basis. Gradual development of road and rail infrastructure and the increasing use of bicycles and motor vehicles (pick-ups, taxis, and buses) from the 1920s meant that a wider range of people living in the immediate hinterland of the Lake and in major urban population centres had progressively better access to fresh fish (Crutchfield 1959; Ford 1955).

By far the greatest volume of fish harvested from the Lake was preserved in some form to allow storage over longer periods, and delivery over longer distances. Most of the tilapia catch was cured either by simple hot-smoking over open fires, or by being split and dried in the sun. Smoking and sun-drying remain the principal means of processing fish at local landing centres to this day (Ford 1955; Graham 1929; Semakula 1967; TDRI 1983; Ssali et al. 1990, in prep.). Various attempts to improve the efficiency of traditional smoking kilns have been made through projects conducted under the auspices of the Uganda Fisheries Department (UFD), but the basic process remains the same: fish are placed on wire mesh or other types of grills over a slow fire and allowed to cure in the heat and smoke for varying lengths of time, usually one to three days. The resulting product can last without spoilage for a period of a few days up to several weeks, depending on how much moisture content has been removed (Rogers 1970; Semakula 1967; Ssali et al. 1990, in prep.).

2.3 Mechanised/Industrial Fishing

According to Jackson (1972), the idea of a mechanised trawl fishery on Lake Victoria goes back to as early as 1950, when scientists at the East African Freshwater Fisheries Research Organization (EAFFRO) suggested that the large stocks of Haplochromis spp. could be exploited in this way. In 1953, the Uganda Development Corporation is reported to have started a trawling operation to exploit Bagrus, Mormyrus, and Haplochromis in the waters around Dagusi Island, off of South Busoga in what is now the Tororo Fisheries Region (Nyholm and Whiting (1975). Plans were to process the catches of Bagrus and Mormyrus by kippering (smoking and sun-drying) before marketing; the haplochromines were to be sun-dried before going to market. After two years of effort, the scheme was abandoned as commercially unviable. Reasons for failure were cited as: lower than anticipated catches of important species; delays in obtaining needed equipment, spoilage of cured product before reaching mainland markets, and poor market for the main part of the output, i.e. sun-dried Haplochromis.

The next attempt at mechanised trawling in Uganda waters was organized through the collaboration of the UFD and UFFRO in 1966, when the UFD's vessel DARTER was fitted as a stern trawler to undertake experimental fishing.3 Students of the Fisheries Training Institute (FTI), Entebbe (established in 1967) regularly took part in this programme for some years thereafter. In 1967 the Research Vessel IBIS was brought in under the FAO/UNDP Lake Victoria Fisheries Research Project, based at UFFRO. This vessel conducted an extensive programme of exploratory fishing and stock assessment throughout Lake Victoria. It was established that the standing stocks of fish in the Uganda portion of the Lake amounted to about 248,000 tonnes (Bergstrand and Cordone 1971), of which some 80% were comprised of Haplochromis spp. -- small bony fishes which held no strong attraction as targets of commercial exploitation. The commercial fishery at that time was aimed mainly at tilapia, Bagrus, Protopterus, and Clarias. Since it seemed that the haplochromines were vastly underutilised yet could be easily harvested, it was proposed that a commercial trawl fishery should be established, with operations to be kept on a modest scale, at least at first. Towards this end, under the auspices of FAO and SIDA, a small ferro-cement trawler, the TILAPIA, was constructed at the FTI boat-yard in 1971. The vessel was intended as a prototype to help in the development of small commercial trawler units suitable for Lake Victoria, and to serve as part of the FTI training programme.4

Considerable efforts were made by personnel of the UFD and the Lake Victoria Fisheries Research Project (LVFRP) to study problems of Haplochromis utilisation. The biggest obstacle to the development of the fishery was the lack of consumer acceptance of Haplochromis products. As Nyholm and Whiting (1975) pointed out, those who would promote the fish were faced with a paradoxical problem: “…while Haplochromis is by far the most abundant and easiest caught group of fish in Lake Victoria, it is probably the least popular of all species for direct consumption in East Africa as a whole” (17). Test marketing of Haplochromis in various fresh and processed forms both within Uganda and the neighbouring riparian states demonstrated that the prospects of mass consumer acceptance of this fish were extremely dim. In the event, the issue of developing a trawl fishery based on haplochromines in Ugandan waters was never followed up after the termination of the Lake Victoria Fisheries Research Project in 1972.

It should be noted, however, that a major project along these lines was implemented in Tanzania. Based on exploratory work conducted at the Nyegezi Fisheries Institute, a fish meal plant of 60 tonnes wet fish/day capacity was erected near Mwanza (Bon and Ibrahim 1975). The Nyanza Fishing and Processing Company, as it was known, began operations in 1975 with raw product being supplied by a small fleet of trawlers. But the enterprise proved to be a great disappointment, as haplochromine stocks soon collapsed under the combined pressure of heavy trawl fishing and predation by the Nile perch, then rapidly colonising the waters around Mwanza (Ssentongo 1985; Witte and Goudswaard 1985).

3. Efforts were also underway around this time to develop a simple commercial trolling rig for use in the Nile perch fishery of Lake Kyoga (Rogers 1969).

4. Both DARTER and TILAPIA continued in active service for some years, but are now out of commission. DARTER was laid up in 1982 and TILAPIA in 1986. The UFFRO Research Vessel IBIS went out of service in 1984 (Dhatemwa 1990a; Wasukira 1990). It is understood that the IBIS will be rehabilitated for use in the upcoming EEC-funded Lake Victoria stock assessment and research project.

2.4 Industrial Handling, Processing, and Marketing

2.4.1 Early developments

During his field investigations of the Lake Victoria fishery in 1927, Graham (1929) noted that consignments of ice-chilled tilapia were being shipped to points along the rail line from Kisumu in Kenya. If this qualifies as “industrial-level” handling of fish, even though of a very simple and basic nature, then it is the earliest recorded case of such on the Lake. Ford (1955) reported that the shipping of gutted fresh tilapia by rail from Kisumu was still being practiced in the early 1950s by a company known as Lake Fish Distributors, which owned a cold-storage plant and crated shipments of fish in ice and rice husks, to be sent by the night train to Nakuru and Nairobi.

Nothing similar to the Kisumu system of chilling and shipping catches on a commercial basis existed in the Uganda sector of Lake Victoria until around the late 1960s, when the UFD installed a pilot ice-making plant at Masese, near Jinja. A sister plant was installed in Soroti to serve the Lake Kyoga fishery. The plan was for local fishmongers to draw supplies of ice from the plants to keep their shipments chilled and fresh until reaching markets. Neither plant operated for more than a few years. The system proved unworkable due to frequent mechanical breakdowns, the reluctance on the part of traders to use the facilities, and the lack of suitable packing containers to carry iced fish. (UFD 1971).

In terms of other research and development, efforts undertaken by UFD and UFFRO/LVFRP personnel during the 1960s and early 1970s, focussing mainly on utilisation of haplochromines, did involve fresh ice-chilled fish trials as well as canning and other product treatments. Consumer reluctance posed a real obstacle to Haplochromis product promotion, as indicated above. But technical problems and eventually the disappearance of the resource base also sidetracked these efforts (Nyholm and Whiting 1975; Dhatemwa 1990b, in prep.).

2.4.2 Western Uganda fish processing plants

The main pioneering venture in fish processing on an industrial scale within Uganda actually took place at some remove from Lake Victoria. This was in the form of the well-known TUFMAC (The Uganda Fish Marketing Corporation) plant located in the western part of Uganda at Lake George, within the Kichwamba Fisheries Region. The plant was started in 1950, and received supplies of fresh fish from Lake George and the Kazinga Channel-Lake Edward fisheries. Products were marketed across a wide area, including the large urban centres in the eastern part of country lying on the fringes of Lake Victoria. TUFMAC became best known for its frozen fillets of tilapia, though it also carried out a substantial trade in whole frozen fish and salted and smoked products, and produced limited quantities of fish meal as well. Tilapia fillets were quick frozen and shipped in packets by road and rail to selling agents in Kampala, Nakuru, Nairobi, Mombasa, and Dar es Salaam, whence they were distributed to points throughout all of East Africa. Agents in Zaire (then the Congo), Zambia, and Aden also received consignments of TUFMAC fish. (Crutchfield 1959; Dunn 1989; Reynolds and Kirema-Mukasa 1989b; Sastry 1957; Semakula 1967; TUFMAC n.d.).

Following the precedent set by TUFMAC, two other fish processing plants were established in the same region. Ankole Fisheries (trade names: ‘Pelican’ and ‘Mermaid’), started in 1960, was located at Katunguru on the Bushenyi side of the Kazinga Channel, and handled frozen whole fish and fillets. Uganda Fresh Fish, started around 1967 at Kabatoro near Lake Katwe, dealt in frozen round fish (Crutchfield 1959; Dunn 1989). Both companies marketed their products across East Africa. Ankole Fisheries at one point sent its frozen fillets as far as Chicago, U.S.A. on a trial marketing basis, but was unable to develop this outlet because of growing economic and political disruption in Uganda in the early 1970s. The situation deteriorated quickly with the onset of the ‘Economic War’ under the Amin regime and it became increasingly difficult to operate. By the end of 1972 both Ankole Fisheries and Uganda Fresh Fish had ceased business (Bowser 1990).

In the meantime, TUFMAC itself had been experiencing mixed fortunes. By around 1974, following the removal of its long-term selling and managing agents, Baumanns, the plant had fallen into a state of near collapse. An attempt was made to revive it under the auspices of the Uganda Development Corporation, but its commericial viability continued to be problematical. The plant closed down for good in 1977. Its failure can be attributed to a variety of reasons, including an overly ambitious scheme of operations at the outset, the imposition of its buyer's monopoly for Lake George catches which caused friction between the company and local fisherfolk, and episodes of outright mismanagement (Crutchfield 1959; Dunn 1989).

2.4.3 The crocodile skins industry

TUFMAC's operations in the early days were diverse, and included trade in crocodile skins for a short period. Commercial hunting and trapping of the Nile crocodile (Crocodilus niloticus) flourished for a number of years on Lake Victoria and most of Uganda's other major water bodies (e.g. Lake Albert, the Albert Nile, and Lake Kyoga) as well as many minor lakes, impoundments, and swamps across the country. However, the commercial crocodile trade has largely been abandoned for the past two decades. Crocodile farming, at one time considered as a possibly valuable source of revenue, is at present a totally neglected aspect of Uganda's fisheries industry.

According to Stoneman (1969a), the former Game and Fisheries Department mounted an extermination campaign against the crocodile in Lake Victoria from the late 1920s to 1950:

By 1928, a large gill-net fishery was in existance. Heavy populations of crocodiles made gill-net fishing almost impossible, as the reptiles stole fish from the nets, largely destroying them in the process. A secondary reason for the extermination campaign was to safeguard human life along the lake-shore [15].

Stoneman goes on to point out that it was only after the Second World War that the market for cured crocodile skins developed in a large way, making it attractive for private operators to trap and shoot the reptiles. The official extermination campaign was therefore closed down in 1950 and professional hunters cropped extensively first on Lake Victoria and then, when stocks became scarce there, on Lakes Albert and Kyoga. It was during this period that TUFMAC was engaged in the export of skins cropped from Lake Kyoga and the lower Semliki River (tributary to Lake Albert).

Under pressure of consistent heavy hunting, it was not long before the population of wild crocodiles was so depleted throughout Uganda that large-scale commercial operations became uneconomic. Crocodile Hunting Licenses ceased to be issued to “Non-Africans” from 1962. Although domestic production fell back considerably, the export trade in skins actually remained at relatively high levels through the mid-1960s, producing significant amounts of revenue in the form of export taxes and hard currency earnings. This was due to a continuing traffic in smuggled skins from southern Sudan and the (then) Congo -- a re-export arrangement. Poaching from Uganda National Park and Game Reserve areas, and some legal small-scale trapping in swamps and rivers, also continued to contribute to the export traffic in a small way.

With the decline of wild populations, the Fisheries Department (established separately from the Game Department in 1961) began to change its policy and by 1971 a total ban on crocodile hunting and dealing in skins had been laid down. More emphasis was placed on the conservation of crocodiles whilst still maintaining the interests of the fishing industry. Steps were also taken to experiment with artificial rearing of the reptiles with a view towards promoting crocodile farming in the country. Since 1958 Nile crocodiles have been kept in captivity in a cement pond at Entebbe UFD Headquarters, though this has served mostly as a tourist attraction. From around 1965 more controlled research work began at the Kajansi Fisheries Department Experimental Station (Stoneman 1969b), but much of this effort had to be abandoned when the country was overtaken by the civil and economic disruptions which started in 1970s.

2.4.4 Tilapia fillet plants in Kampala

It was not until around 1973–74 that industrial type processing of fish got underway around Kampala. Frozen Foods Ltd. was established in the industrial area of the city and operated with equipment transferred from the old Ankole Fisheries plant in the west. Tilapia were obtained from nearby landings on Lake Victoria, and frozen fillets were produced for the local supermarket and hotel trade and, to a limited extent, for export to Nairobi. Another and much smaller-scale concern, Afro-Fish, was also launched around this time. Afro-Fish produced frozen fillets of tilapia for the local supermarket trade as well, but obtained its supplies of fresh fish from Lake Wamala.5 A third company, FishCo, reportedly was also engaged in the frozen tilapia fillet trade on a small scale during this period.

None of these Kampala-based concerns was able to continue in business for very long, given the worsening situation of misrule and economic disarray which was plaguing the country. All operations had ceased by around 1976 or so (Bowser 1990). The ensuing period of strife and insecurity which lasted up until the mid-1980s was characterised by a virtual collapse of the national economy and activity in terms of fisheries industrialisation was almost nil.

5. A fairly large but shallow body of water some 50km to the west of Kampala which hosted a quite productive fishery until overexploitation led to its collapse in the late 1970s.


3.1 Trends in Catch Levels and Species Composition6

The late 1970s and early 1980s witnessed some remarkable transformations in the fisheries of Lake Victoria, attendant upon the flourishing stocks of the introduced predator fish Nile perch, Lates niloticus, as has been documented in some detail by Reynolds and Greboval (1988). In general the pattern has been the same for all the territorial sectors of the Lake, with Nile perch beginning to show in the catches at very low and inconsistent levels initially, and then within the course of a few years becoming quite a significant part of the annual harvest and soon establishing itself as the predominant commercial species. This process took place somewhat earlier in the Kenyan (late 1970s) and Tanzanian (early 1980s) portions of the Lake than it did in Ugandan portion (mid-1980s; see Tables 1 and 2), even though it was along the Uganda shoreline that Lates was first introduced in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The delayed appearance of Nile perch in Ugandan catches may have been due at least in part to the shortage of fishing gear within the country during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Despite the predictions of ecological and economic disaster raised by some observers over the Nile perch introduction, the new fishery regime has brought immense benefits to the fisherfolk and consumer populations of the Lake Victoria region. Although stocks of certain species, especially amongst the haplochromines, have been seriously affected by Nile perch predation, those of some other commercially valuable fish have been able to thrive. Catches of the small pelagic Rastrineobola argentea and the introducted tilapia Oreochromis niloticus have both shown substantial increases in all parts of the Lake within recent years. Moreover, as the lacustrine system gradually undergoes a process of stabilisation, there is evidence that some of the species which had shown signs of decline are now recovering (Reynolds and Orach-Meza 1989).

Uganda's annual national catch has shown a generally increasing trend over the years since 1961 (Table 1 and Figure 2). Even though it is the largest body of water in the country and has been exploited on a commercial basis for many decades, Lake Victoria until very recently was not Uganda's leading fishery. For many years it was Lake Kyoga, the extensive complex of marsh and flooded river valleys to the north, into which Lake Victoria flows via the River Nile, that served as the principal source of fish for the nation. A comparison of Figure 3 (for Lake Kyoga) and Figure 4 (for Lake Victoria) reveals that Kyoga production consistently outstripped that of Victoria through the 1970s up to the mid-1980s, when the situation reversed itself.7

This transformation of the Kyoga fisheries can be attributed to several factors, including: increased use of illegal gear and destructive fishing practices due to a severe shortage of inputs; a gradual decline in water level over the last decade or so; deterioration of feeder roads providing access to and from the landings; and a severe disruption of fishing operations from several landing sites due to problems of civil insecurity.

Lake Victoria, in the meantime, was following a rather different course of development. The statistical record (Tables 1 and 2; Figure 4) depicts a peak in the annual catches occurring in 1969, and then a steady decrease down to a low of around 10,000 tonnes in 1980, at the time when input shortages were hampering all the country's fisheries. From that point on, the explosive increase of Nile perch or mputa, as it is known locally, made itself apparent in spectacular fashion. Starting from a level of less than 1,000 tonnes in 1981, catches of Lates had skyrocketed to a level of 92,000 tonnes by 1988. Earlier harvest levels were thus not only re-attained, but were overwhelmingly surpassed. The record also indicates that over the last few years there has been a distinct improvement in tilapia catches (mostly comprising the exotic Oreochromis). For 1988, combined Nile perch and tilapia catches accounted for 97% of the total tonnage recorded for the Ugandan sector of the Lake.

6. The descriptive account in this section has been derived in part from Kirema-Mukasa and Reynolds (1990) and Orach-Meza et al. (1989).

7. In common with the other riparian states of Lake Victoria, Uganda's fisheries statistics must be interpreted with allowance for the deficiences of the recording and reporting system (Reynolds and Greboval 1988; Reynolds, Wadanya, and Nyeko 1989). Figures cited should be regarded as indicative only -- gross measures of magnitude rather than exact measures of tonnages.

3.2 Discussion: Socio-Economic Aspects of the Post-Nile Perch Regime

The evolution of the new fisheries regime on Lake Victoria should by no means be taken as an unqualified success story. Several actual or potential problems and bottlenecks have been identified. Some of these, like scarcity of proper gear or the increased fuelwood demands for fish smoking, stem directly from the surge in catches of Lates. Other problems and bottlenecks, like those related to issues of gender vis-a-vis employment opportunities, or the poor level of on-shore infrastructure in terms of landing site facilities and feeder road access, are not new to the fisheries, although their effects may have been exacerbated by the radical changes that have taken place in the resource base and the pattern of its exploitation (Reynolds and Greboval 1988).

With regard to the plus side of the ledger sheet, however, enormous benefits have been realised. On a lakewide basis, it has been estimated that the new fisheries regime has brought about a net financial gain in excess of US$ 1 billion over the value of the catch of the old regime. In broader socio-economic terms, the new regime has delivered benefits in terms of higher incomes and more employment opportunities across the whole range of fishing and derivative activities in the artisanal sector, whether it be crewing or owning a canoe, running a processing or trading operation, or providing some satellite service like boatbuilding, net repair, input supply, public transport, or an eating house at a landing. The wider population of fish consumers has benefitted to a very considerable extent as well: more fish has now become available to more people in more areas than ever before (Greboval 1989; Reynolds and Greboval 1988; Reynolds and Orach-Meza 1989).

This last point warrants particular emphasis in the case of Uganda. From a human nutrition point of view, the sudden availability of vast quantities of high quality animal protein from Lake Victoria must be seen as one of the more fortunate events in the recent history of the country -- a history that has otherwise been marked by widespread instability and severe disruption in food production both at the farm and processing/manufacturing levels. The bounty of the new fishery for Nile perch has to some extent compensated not only for setbacks in the agriculture and livestock sectors, but for the temporary displacement or decline of the contribution of the other major fisheries of the country.

It must be remembered that the changes in the relative statuses of the Kyoga and Victoria as harvest centres were occurring at the same time that the highly productive fisheries of Lakes Edward, George, and Albert in the west were being disrupted. The general breakdown in road communications and the cash economy, as well as the outbreaks of civil unrest, cut them off from traditional major markets for fresh and processed fish in the eastern, central, and northwestern parts of the country. The Lakes Edward and George fisheries, in particular, were isolated from the vigorous market for fresh fish around Kampala and its environs (Reynolds and Greboval 1988). The western fisheries have been further harmed by the rampant entry of unlicensed canoes and the use of illegal gear and destructive harvesting methods since the late 1970s.

Despite the fact that the situation has been stabilising in the last few years and road links to the west and elsewhere are steadily being improved, the fundamental alterations in distribution and marketing patterns that were attendant upon the political and economic disruptions and the great influx of Nile perch products, both fresh and processed, remains in effect. Indeed, it has if anything intensified. The result in the case of the western lakes fisheries is an almost complete reversal of patterns of trade from the pre-Nile perch days. Rather than Kichwamba Region fish being marketed eastwards towards the large urban centres such as Kampala, Jinja, Tororo, and Mbale, Lake Victoria fish products in the form of smoked and salted Nile perch and Nile perch oil are now being marketed westwards through the Kichwamba Region and into Zaire, where they are reportedly in great demand (Reynolds 1990; Reynolds and Kirema-Mukasa 1989b).

3.3 New Industrial/Mechanised Fishing Ventures

The Nile perch boom has stimulated renewed interest in mechanised trawling in all sectors of Lake Victoria, though operations have so far been minimal in the Ugandan waters. Trawling for perch got underway in Tanzanian waters fairly early on, and the fleet (probably including several boats presently inactive) now comprises some 18 units -- the largest on the Lake. The boats of the Nyanza Fishing and Processing Company were rendered idle after the collapse of the Haplochromis fishery, but were switched to Lates once the latter began to establish themselves in large numbers in the waters off of Mwanza. Also, for some years there has been a comparatively well developed boatbuilding capability in and around Mwanza. A number of wooden and steel-hulled trawlers have been built in Government and private boatyards since the mid-1970s. In Kenya, the modern trawler fleet is much smaller, with only three or four units apparently in operation (Reynolds and Greboval 1988).

Thus far the only development in Ugandan waters has been in the form of a pair trawl operation mounted by the Sino-Uganda Fisheries Joint Venture Co. Ltd., based in Entebbe. This company was established in 1987 in an agreement between the China Liaoning Corporation of Economic and Technical Cooperation and the Government of Uganda, Ministry of Animal Industry and Fisheries, based on a preliminary agreement drawn up earlier, in 1984. The long-term objective of the company is to develop an integrated industrial fish harvesting, processing, and marketing concern. The processing plant side of the scheme has yet to take off, and it now seems doubtful that it ever will, since financial constraints and technical considerations weigh against such a move.

The first task of the Joint Venture was the outfitting of two sets of pair trawlers (four steel-hulled boats each of 35 tonnes and equipped with an 80 HP diesel engine). These trawlers had been assembled in China and were shipped over to Port Bell, near Kampala, for launching. Final assembly work on the superstructures and other fittings was completed at Port Bell and later at the old Uganda Railways Corporation pier at Entebbe. Trial fishing commenced in September 1989. Operations are based at the Entebbe pier and are run by a team of Chinese management and technical personnel supported by Uganda counterparts.

3.4 Discussion: Recent Trawl Fishing Trials and Socio-Economic Considerations

According to reports received up to early January 1990 (Table 3), the trial trawling results have been extremely poor. On several occasions the catch has been nil, and on only one occasion has a single haul yielded up to a tonne of fish. After 31 trips during the period from mid-September 1989 to early January 1990, the total reported catch only amounted to 8260 kg, with the mean catch per trip running at a mere 266 kg. This is far below the expected level of performance of 500 kg. per trawl. Assuming an ex-boat price of fish ranging at around UShs. 70/- per kg at the time, the landed value of the catch for the September - January trial period would have averaged around UShs. 18,600/- per trip. As trips often run to six hours or more of steaming and trawling time, and as fuel consumption (cf. Prado 1990; Reynolds and Greboval 1988) can fairly be reckoned to range from 10 to 15 litres or UShs. 1400/- to 2100/- per hour (late 1989 prices) for each vessel, to say nothing of other operating costs, doubts can be raised about the financial viability of the venture based on experiences thus far.

It is perhaps premature to form any conclusions about the profitability of the Joint Venture based on the limited trials conducted up to now, since questions of equipment performance and effective techniques have not yet been entirely settled and the development of crew and skipper skills, knowledge of fishing grounds, etc., is still very much in process. This to one side, there is another quite serious and urgent problem associated with trawling. It will be noticed in Table 3 that almost all of the pair trawl fishing took place in waters of around 20–25 metres or less in depth, and that all of the more successful hauls (>400 kg) were made in relatively shallow waters of under 20 metres. These are precisely the waters exploited most by the inshore artisanal canoe fishery. It is no surprise therefore that immediately the Sino-Uganda operations began in September 1989, complaints began to be registered from irate local fishers who claimed that the trawlers were pulling through their sets and destroying large quantities of gillnets. These complaints have continued almost without pause from every area the trawlers have visited. The situation warrants further monitoring, but at present it already seems obvious that trawling operations are totally incompatible with the interests of artisanal fishers. These latter, it must be remembered, constitute the primary productive force in the industry -- its vital heart. Moreover, evidence from elsewhere on the Lake shows that trawling units, even if financially viable, are greatly outperformed by the established canoe-based gillnet fishery in terms of the wider economic benefits that accrue. Fundamental doubts about the wisdom of these mechanised operations therefore remain (Reynolds and Greboval 1988).

3.5 New Industrial Handling and Processing Ventures

Soaring production levels for the Lake have offered new commercial opportunities within the post-harvest sector, and there has been no lack of response from various private interests and public agencies. Just as in the case of the new mechanised trawling ventures, there has been very little consultation or cooperation between the riparian states with regard to the way large-scale commercialisation of fish processing ought to be dealt with at the policy level, and planned and managed in practice. Each country has instead tended to keep its own counsel as to how developments should be allowed to proceed. This is most unfortunate, as crucial shared resources are at stake. It is moreover unwarranted, since a consultative mechanism has been in place for some years, in the form of the Committee for Inland Fisheries of Africa (CIFA), Sub-Committee for the Development and Management of the Fisheries of Lake Victoria.

The growth of fish processing plants has been most apparent in Kenya, which enjoys the advantage of good communications and easy product evacuation routes from the lakeshore to Nairobi and the port of Mombasa. In the early 1980s there were only a few industrial fish handling and processing houses in that country. Now, a decade later, there are well over a dozen. Many are situated in the Kisumu area, but there are some in Nairobi and Mombasa as well. All are dealing in Nile perch fillets as a primary or secondary item of production (Greboval 1989). A consequence of this rapid expansion of industrial processing capacity is that demand for raw product has skyrocketed. This tends to have an adverse affect on local processors and traders, who are also seeking fresh fish from landings around the rather limited zone that constitutes Kenya's Lake Victoria fishery (only about 6% of the total Lake surface lies in Kenya). It is also a circumstance that encourages rampant smuggling of catches from Uganda waters to nearby landing sites in Kenya (Reynolds, Wadanya, and Nyeko 1989).

In the Tanzanian sector of the Lake, recent industrial processing initiatives have been slower to take off, largely for reasons of geographical remoteness and infrastructural problems. As of the late 1980s, however, several entrepreneurs were known to be active in shipping out consignments of chilled and frozen Nile perch fillets and whole fish from the Mwanza and Musoma areas via road, rail, and air routes to Dar es Salaam. One firm had started canning operations on a pilot basis (Reynolds and Greboval 1988; Reynolds, pers.obs. 1989).

Current industrial-level fish processing activity in Uganda is mainly directed towards production of high-quality, high-value table fish products, though there is some use of small-sized fish in the manufacture of cereal meal supplements and animal feeds, as will be noted in a separate section (3.5.6) below.

Both private and parastatal firms are involved in the processing of table fish products. One of the latter, the Kampala Ice Plant, was actually started in the early 1980s before the main impact of the Nile perch succession began to be felt in the Uganda part of Lake Victoria. Unlike the other concerns, it is only marginally involved in processing. Of the other food fish plants, two have already started operations and two are due to commence shortly. All are (or will be) dealing with specialised Nile perch and tilapia products to cater for premium local markets (hotels, members of the diplomatic and expatriate community, and others of the urban elite) as well as the fledging export trade. In addition to frozen and fresh chilled products, the export market also provides an outlet for Nile perch swim bladders, cooked as a delicacy in the Far East and used as a source of isinglass for the brewing and wine-making industries in Europe. The activities of the various food fish plants are described in more detail below. Table 4 provides a summary of basic information on the companies involved.

3.5.1 Kampala Ice Plant

Completed in 1981 through a loan and technical assistance from the People's Republic of China, the Kampala Ice Plant is located within the City's industrial area. This was probably not the best choice of site with respect to the intended purpose of the operation. As noted elsewhere (Reynolds and Kirema-Mukasa 1989a), the original plan was for the plant to function both as an ice-production facility and a central fish market for city residents, most of whom live in housing estates remote from the industrial area.

The plant is staffed by UFD personnel with support from a small team of Chinese technicians. Ice blocks are produced using ammonia cooled brine. Plant capacity is between 4 to 5 tonnes per day, produced in two batches. Actual production varies according to customer demand, maintenance requirements, and electricity supply interruptions. Production levels for 1989 are noted in Table 5. Most of the ice is sold directly from the factory to beverage firms, city hotels, and bars. Some additional revenue comes from contract freezing, rental of cold storage space, and the sale of ice lollies. Because of equipment problems the block ice making and freezing room units cannot both be operated at full capacity at the same time. Another obvious weakness is the lack of independent electrical generating capabilities.

Limited quantities of fresh, frozen and smoked fish (tilapia and Nile perch) can be purchased from the plant, although supplies are not always reliable. Fish sales account for only a minor part of the plant's annual revenue collections. In keeping with the original plans for the complex, a covered wholesale fish selling area was constructed along with 26 retail market stalls with screened display tables for iced fresh fish. Because the market aspect of operations never developed, the selling areas stand in an idle and slightly dilapidated state.

3.5.2 Gomba Fishing Industries Ltd.

Gomba Fishing Industries Ltd. is a private firm located in Jinja. The owners/managers take an innovative approach to their business and several different techniques of processing fish and fish by-products have been put on trial or are planned. Nile perch swim bladders are dried for export sale, and attempts will be made to manufacture fish meal from offal and frames in the near future. The factory is situated on a lakefront site and is thus able to receive fresh fish directly from transport canoes and (when operating) its own small fleet of collection launches. The facility has been built up in stages since 1987 and now consists of an offloading dock, receiving room, filleting room, flake ice plant, cold store, smoking unit, stores, and generator room. Installed capacity is for 25 tonnes of wet fish per day. The plant produces cold and hot smoked fillets of tilapia and Nile perch, smoked split whole tilapia, frozen fillets of tilapia and Nile perch, salted/dried split tilapia, and fresh whole gutted fish. Flake ice is sent out with collection boats when seeking loads from outlying island landing sites. Ice is also made available to local fish transport canoe operators. The company is primarily oriented to the overseas export market, and is actively seeking further supply contracts.

3.5.3 Quality Foods (U) Ltd.

Quality Foods Ltd. near Entebbe is involved in the supply of fresh chilled fish to the European export market (direct air shipment), and hot smoked tilapia and Nile perch for local sale. Nile perch swim bladders are recovered during gutting and dried for sale to a local agent, and frames are sold off to local fish fryers. The company began operations in early 1987, only to be faced with a national ban on fish exports imposed by officials of the Ministry of Commerce. The reason for the ban was never entirely clear, but it was finally lifted at the end of the year. Early operations were carried out in the facilities of the old Frozen Foods Ltd. premises in Kampala's industrial area (Section 2.4.4 above), and business was limited to the supply of fresh chilled fish fillets to major hotels and educational institutions within the city. After the lifting of the export ban, the company began to service overseas supply contracts for fresh chilled fillets in March 1989. Operations were shifted in September 1989 to the new factory facilities at Entebbe, which include a processing room, chill rooms, hot smoking kilns, a workshop, generator unit, and stores. Installed capacity is for 5 tonnes of fresh fish per day. Ice is obtained from the Kampala Ice Plant. The company is exporting one consignment per week of fresh chilled Nile perch and tilapia both in filleted and whole fish out of the Entebbe Airport. Significant expansion of facilities is planned.

3.5.4 Uganda Fisheries Enterprises Ltd.

The newly established Uganda Fisheries Enterprises Ltd. (UFEL) is a parastatal venture based at Masese in Jinja. In terms of investment and operational scale, it is by far the most ambitious fish processing concern in the country. UFEL is part of a wider scheme for the improvement of fisheries in Uganda known as the Integrated Fisheries Development Project, which also includes a component activity aimed at the improvement of fish handling and smoking practices at local landing sites around the Jinja and Tororo Fisheries Regions (Reynolds, Kirema-Mukasa, and Odongkara 1989). The entire UFEL scheme comprises not only the central processing plant at at Masese, which is designed to handle up to 6 tonnes of wet fish a day, but three collection centres at lakeshore sites, and three town distribution centres. Funding for the scheme was provided through a grant by the Italian Government. Construction of the processing plant started in 1987, and was completed in late 1989. It is designed to produce a range of products, including cold smoked and vacuum-packed fillets of Nile perch and tilapia intended primarily for export and premium domestic markets. Whether there exists a strong and reliable demand for these products either at home or abroad is something that has not been sufficiently verified, however. After a period of trial production, operations are just commencing.

Ice making and chilling facilities are also installed at the central plant, but there is no freezing facility. A unit for processing solid waste into fishmeal for animal feeds is expected to be put in place sometime in the near future.

The UFEL collection centres are located at the strategic landings of Majanji on Lake Victoria, and Bukungu and Lwampanga on Lake Kyoga. The collection centres are intended to serve distribution centres in Mbale, Kamuli, and Luwero, respectively. Each of the collection and distribution centres is provided with a potable water supply, an ice plant, and a chill room. A small fleet of insulated trucks is deployed to transport fish between the collection and distribution points.

3.5.5 Victoria Fresh Foods Ltd.

Located on the Lake at Gaba, on the outskirts of Kampala, Victoria Fresh Food Industries Ltd. is the newest of the four fish processing plants in the country. A private venture, it is just commencing operations and will produce products according to requirements. It has a pier for receiving fresh fish from private transport canoes. Management is also planning to initiate a collection system around the offshore islands using the company's own launches equipped with insulated fish boxes packed with ice. Installed plant capacity is 25 tonnes of wet fish per day. Fresh tilapia and Nile perch will be processed into chilled and frozen fillets and “fish steaks.” Facilities include a receiving deck, processing room, blast freezers, cold storage, and a flake ice making unit. The company will be aiming principally at production for the overseas export market.

3.5.6 Other activity: Utilisation of small-sized fish

Fish powder for human consumption prepared with ground Haplochromis and soya meal has been available in local supermarkets and shops in Kampala for some years. The product is marketed in 500 g. packets under the label of “Baby Soya with Nkejje Flour” with the byline that it “Makes a Stout Toddler.” The manufacturer, Kayebe Sauce Producers Ltd., operates on a relatively small scale in a limited market. So far as is known, the quality of the product has never been tested in laboratory conditions. The possibilities for market expansion for fish powder-based meals as dietary supplements, especially for infants and children, needs to be further investigated as well. In this respect, the use of Rastrineobola as an ingredient of cereal meal warrants attention, as has been tried successfully in other places (Reynolds 1988).

Like the Haplochromis spp., Rastrineobola has remained a greatly underutilised fish in the Uganda part of Lake Victoria. This may be due in part to a traditional consumer preference for larger table fish in most areas of the country. The situation is changing however and people are increasingly including Rastrineobola in their household diets as a cheaper alternative source of animal protein. Furthermore, a good market for dagaa or mukene, as the fish is known locally, exists in neighbouring countries and in the domestic animal feeds industry. In both Kenya and Tanzania, the dagaa fishery is much more heavily exploited and has been for many years (Reynolds and Greboval 1988). The technique of attracting shoals of this small pelagic fish by setting kerosene pressure lamps over the water at night and then seining with “mosquito” mesh nets is commonly employed. This technique is known by many Ugandan fisherfolk, but in recent years there has been a ban on night fishing operations for security reasons, so the harvesting of mukene is in effect officially discouraged. In fact a certain amount of mukene fishing takes place regardless of the ban, as is readily apparent from the sacks of sun-dried fish regularly offloaded from transport canoes coming from the Ssese Islands and the islands off of the Jinja Fisheries Region coast, at major landing centres like Bukakata and Masese (Reynolds, Wadanya, and Nyeko 1989). These fish are readily bought up by the Uganda Feeds Co. Ltd. plant at Jinja and several smaller feed mill operations around the Kampala area. From indications elsewhere in the Lake stocks of Rastrineobola are on the increase, possibly due to changes in the competitive relationship with some other species due to Nile perch colonisation (Reynolds and Orach-Meza 1989). Further study of the feed industry's requirements and of other market possibilities are needed, but it can be said without hesitation at this point that Rastrineobola exploitation should be boosted as much as possible. This should be done through official action to reverse the night fishing restriction and to provide a programme of extension advice and demonstration to encourage entry into the fishery. The mukene fishery is much underrated in Uganda at the present time.

One further dimension of small-size fish utilisation that has largely been ignored in Uganda is that of the ornamental or aquarium fish trade. It is known that local collectors and agents for western European acquarium hobby supply houses operate on a modest level in other parts of Lake Victoria and elsewhere in the Rift Valley Great Lakes complex (Reynolds, pers.obs.), but activity in Uganda seems to be very limited. Although such a business would certainly not be on a par with large fish processing plant concerns, it could well thrive as a “cottage industry” providing a certain amount of employment and forex to the country and it needs to be explored in this respect.

3.6 Discussion: Present Processing Capacity and Future Prospects

With two industrial fish fillet processing concerns now in production and seeking to expand operations, and two more just beginning to get underway, there is little doubt that Uganda's export of high-quality frozen and chilled fish products will be significantly increased over present levels. For 1989, product export levels were as shown in Table 6. The overwhelming proportion of these exports, almost 79% of the total tonnage, is represented by smoked and sundried fish destined mainly for the local market in Kenya. However, these products command a much lower unit value than do the chilled or frozen fillets and whole fish sent to European markets. Based on what is known of the price structure, the 196.7 tonnes of smoked and sundried fish sold across the border in 1989 would have fetched roughly US$ 147,525 (average US$ 750 per tonne assumed price), and the 26.4 tonnes of premium fresh/frozen fish sold F.O.B. Uganda would have brought something like US$ 52,800 (average US$ 2000 per tonne assumed price). The 13.9 tonnes of dried swim bladders exported in 1989 to the Far East would have generated an additional US$ 41,700 when sold F.O.B. Uganda (US$ 3000 per tonne assumed price). Relatively high profit margins make the international trade in premium Lake Victoria fish products quite attractive, and it is not surprising that the owners of the three private factories already established are considering ways to expand their respective enterprises.

In comparison with Kenya, the volume of export of premium fish products from Uganda remains very modest. In 1987, Kenya exports of Nile perch fillets were already standing at over 4000 tonnes (Tetty 1988). However, the Kenya experience should not necessary be taken as a model for industrial fish processing development in Uganda to emulate. It may perhaps better serve as a lesson or set of lessons about what should be avoided.

As mentioned above, there are indications of a serious over-capacity situation in Kenya, with attendant problems looming for local-level processors and domestic consumers. It seems inevitable that the demand for raw product to supply industrial processors as well as the domestic market will progressively increase in that country. As it is difficult to see how such demand can be met from the limited resource base provided by Kenya's relatively tiny portion of Lake Victoria, which is already very heavily exploited, serious implications for the Uganda fisheries can be expected to mount. As already stated, large but unrecorded quantities of fresh fish caught in Uganda waters adjacent to the border are already passing through informal channels via Kenya landing beaches and into the collection and processing network.

The situation is fraught with political, economic, and social complications, and it is highly doubtful if any simple and immediate measure can be taken to resolve it effectively. Further examination of the nature of informal trade across the water must be carried out and policy options appropriately formulated for review by relevant decision-making bodies in Government. Such an effort is in fact already underway and will be reported upon in a revised and updated version of the current paper, to appear in due course.

For the present, it should at least be remarked that the promotion of more fish processing plants within Uganda through the granting of industrial licenses and other permits, on the assumption that this course of action will tend to keep catches from Lake Victoria within national marketing channels, may not be the best course to pursue. Again, complex issues are at stake. Any meaningful policy decisions can only be taken after several fundamental questions have been addressed, including:

The last question is one with which any responsible policy decision-making exercise would have to reckon whether or not smuggling existed as a complicating issue. Like all fisheries systems, Lake Victoria's is capable of self-renewal when harvesting is kept to levels consistent with principles of proper stewardship. Encouraged by recent experience of booming Lates catches, some observers may be of the view that the transformed fish stocks of today's Lake are boundless and should be “mined” hard for the food and profits they can yield. This sort of view, whether espoused by entrepreneurs afflicted with what might be called “Nile perch fever”, or by local fisherfolk who have benefitted so greatly of late because of good harvests, or by members of the fish consuming public at large, is myopic in the extreme.

As earlier emphasised, the Lake fisheries are still very much undergoing a process of adjustment following the Nile perch succession. Species balances may take some time to work themselves out, but the eventual outcome is quite predictable, in direction if not in magnitude. Whether moderate or severe, there undoubtedly will occur some retrenchment from the current high levels of Lates harvests in the Lake. The extent to which the adjustment process will affect commercial fisheries will partly depend on the adoption of sound management practices here and now. These would certainly not include uncontrolled “strip-mining” of existing stocks of fish. The history of Lake Victoria is replete with cases of overexploitation of stocks, and recent events in the Nile perch fishery of Lake Kyoga attest to the fact that Lates too, formidable predator fish that it may seem, is in fact rather fragile and sensitive to heavy exploitation pressure. Advocates of any strip-mining approach for Lake Victoria can at best be seen as lacking an appreciation for the dynamics of aquatic resource systems; less charitably, they can be indicted as being selfish and opportunistic in outlook, caring little about the husbanding of natural resource capital today so that the proceeds may also be used by others tomorrow.

A further aspect that needs to be borne in mind with reference the growth of industrial fish processing capacity is the balance of interests between large commercial firms and local artisanal fisherfolk. Relations between these two sets of interests can be partly complementary and partly competitive in nature. If large scale firms follow a policy of buying directly from local fishing operators as they land at the beach, then the latter would presumably benefit from the ready demand for their catches and the tendency for prices to remain strong. If, on the other hand, large-scale firms began to depend heavily on mechanised trawlers to satisfy their demand for raw product, or actually begin their own trawl fishing operations, then local fishers would presumably be vulnerable to displacement pressures in the industry -- a development that could be seen as extremely negative from a wider socio-economic perspective.

With regard to relations between the interests of large-scale commercial processing firms and local-level artisanal processors and petty traders, it is difficult to see anything but a competitive situation arising. Assuming that supplies of fresh fish remain more or less constant for the time being, it can be anticipated that as the demand from the industrial processing sector increases, ex-canoe prices will tend to be bid upwards. It is possible in this event that local processors and traders, whose operating capital is nowhere near on the scale of large commercial concerns, will tend to be marginalised. Higher prices and decreased supplies of locally processed fish would of course make their effects felt at the domestic retail market level. Fish currently represents the cheapest form of animal protein in Uganda, and consumers could find this attractive price level quickly disappearing in the face of heightened demand from processing plants looking to supply profitable international markets.

That there will be a heightened demand from the industrial sector is inevitable. As already noted, existing plants are just at the early stages of operation, and significant expansion of capacity is envisaged for the near future. Moreover, two additional private enterprises have definite plans to set up fish filleting plants in Kampala within the next year. This means that industrial plant demand, currently standing at a potential 61 tonnes of fresh fish per day (installed capacity), will be significantly increased -- perhaps on the order of an additional 25 tonnes per day. This works out to a potential annual demand for 31,390 tonnes of fresh fish. Remembering that existing yields from the Uganda waters of Lake Victoria are presently estimated at 132,400 tonnes per year (1989 UFD figures, as in Table 1), it can be calculated that industrial requirements may soon be approaching 25% of total annual production. Aside from the issue of possible adverse impacts on the artisanal fishery and patterns of domestic consumption, which is quite serious enough in itself, these figures again raise concern about the issue of resource sustainability. The immediate prospect is that of progressively heavier investment in industrial plant and progressively heavier fishing pressure, both founded on a resource base whose long term viability remains uncertain.

In view of all of these considerations, it would seem that a more cautious approach to further development of industrial processing capacity in the Lake Victoria fisheries is now called for, pending a period of thorough monitoring and examination of their productive and socio-economic performance under the new circumstances that have evolved. It would appear advisable therefore to place a moratorium on the establishment of any additional processing plants to those now existing or just being built.


4.1 Summary

This study has reviewed the historical context and recent development of Lake Victoria fisheries industrialisation in Uganda. As in the case of the other riparian states of Kenya and Tanzania, the evolution of Lake Victoria fisheries can be treated in two distinct phases, constituting the “Pre-Nile perch” and “Post-Nile perch” regimes. Up to around the late 1970s - early 1980s, the Lake fisheries could be characterised as a multi-species, multi-gear subsistence and artisanal fishery based largely on the exploitation by means of gillnet and canoe of tilapia, the catfishes Bagrus and Clarias, the lungfish Protopterus, and other table fish of lesser importance.

Mechanised trawl fishing was first tried as a commercial venture in Uganda waters in the 1950s, but proved a failure because of low yields of important species, organisational and marketing problems, and poor consumer demand for the Haplochromis spp. which made up the greater part of the catch. Further attempts to exploit the huge standing stocks of Haplochromis through the use of trawlers were made on an exploratory basis in the late 1960s and early 1970s. These also proved a disappointment. Commercialisation again faced the obstacle of poor consumer demand, and there was a lack of adequate follow-up after the termination of the FAO/UNDP Lake Victoria Fisheries Research Project. Ultimately the whole exercise lost meaning since the haplochromine stocks collapsed due to Nile perch predation.

Industrial or quasi-industrial handling and processing of fish from Lake Victoria during the Pre-Nile perch era can be traced back to the 1920s, when fresh tilapia were being shipped on ice by rail from Kisumu to major urban markets in the Kenya hinterland. Ice-chilling of fish was tried in a small way in the 1960s at two pilot centres in Uganda, one of which was Masese on Lake Victoria near Jinja, but with no lasting success. Some trial industrial-style processing of Haplochromis products was also carried out in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but was never developed commercially. The most successful early effort at industrial processing of fish in Uganda actually took place in the western part of the country in the form of the TUFMAC operation started in 1950 on Lake George, in the Kichwamba Region. This and two other smaller, private operations which were subsequently established in the same region may have retarded developments in large-scale commercial processing on Lake Victoria to some extent, in that they effectively dominated the market in frozen fish fillets for many years. But they did serve as a precedent and the equipment from at least one of them later was transferred to serve a tilapia filleting plant in Kampala in the 1970s. The eventual demise of first the Kichwamba and later the Kampala tilapia filleting plants was a direct result of the disruptions of the “Economic War” mounted during the dictatorship of Idi Amin. A progressive deterioration of the business and investment climate which characterised this and the ensuing episodes of misrule and civil strife up into the 1980s greatly discouraged any new initiatives in fisheries industrialisation.

The radical changes in species composition that marked the beginning of the Post-Nile perch fisheries regime began to be observed around Lake Victoria during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Within a period of a few years Lates moved from being a trace component in commercial catches to become the dominant one. Although there were predictions of ecological and economic disaster for the Lake, the Nile perch “boom” has thus far proved to be a rather spectacular success in terms of the benefits it has delivered to local fisherfolk and the fish consuming populations of the three riparian states. Whilst the basic multi-species, multi-gear, artisanal canoe-and-gillnet character of the fisheries has remained intact, commercial operations lakewide now depend overwhelmingly on the exploitation of Lates, the Nile tilapia Oreochromis niloticus, also an introduced species to the Lake, and the indigenous small pelagic Rastrineobola (= dagaa or mukene locally). Contrary to popular belief, tilapia catches have actually increased quite dramatically in recent years. Rastrineobola is at present hardly exploited in the Uganda portion of the Lake, even though it constitutes a very active and valuable fishery in the other countries.

The Nile perch succession has brought many new industrial fisheries initiatives in its train. But unfortunately there has been a distinct lack of collaboration and coordination between the three riparian states with regard to how these should be planned and managed for the optimal benefit of all concerned. Industrialisation has been particularly noticeable in Kenya. Numerous fillet processing plants have been established there since the early 1980s, and some industrial trawling has commenced as well. Mechanised fishing operations are most extensive in Tanzania, where the use of trawling boats is a well-established practice from the time of the attempt to start up an industrial Haplochromis harvesting and fish meal industry. In Uganda the Sino-Uganda Joint Venture was recently set up to engage in pair trawling operations from a base at Entebbe. The record of pilot fishing carried out thus far is very poor, although it may be too early to judge on their profitability. Generally, however, very serious doubts about the wisdom of mechanised fishing in the Lake can be raised, since in terms of generating wider socio-economic benefits they do not perform anywhere near as well as the existing canoe-based artisanal fisheries.

With regard to industrial fish handling and processing, several facilities have lately been launched in Uganda and are in a good position to capitalise on the soaring catch levels of Lates and Nile tilapia. Exports of premium products, especially frozen and fresh chilled fillets and whole fish, are expected to climb very dramatically from their rather modest current levels. Whilst this can be looked upon as a positive development in terms of forex earnings, extreme care must now be taken lest the industry expands to a condition of over-capacity, as has happened with negative effects in Kenya. Questions already arise in connection with existing processing plants in Uganda, bearing upon potential adverse socio-economic consequences for local artisanal fishing operators, processors, traders, and consumers, and particularly on the issue of resource sustainability. Additional expansion of industrial fish processing in the country does not seem advisable at this time.

An exception is the animal feed industry, which has made increasing use of Rastrineobola argentea of late. Further development of the mukene fishery as a source of both human food and animal feeds should be given a high priority. The species is greatly underexploited in the Uganda waters of Lake Victoria in comparison to the Kenya and Tanzania sectors. Immediate steps should be taken at the official level to remove the restriction now in force on night fishing operations, and to encourage through extension efforts the wider adoption of mukene fishing technology.

It may also be possible to promote the use of other small-sized fish through the development of fish powder products to enrich cereal meals and, to some extent, through the capture of live fish for the aquarium hobby trade.

Another aspect of fisheries commercialisation that warrants attention at this juncture is crocodile farming. Following a long campaign from the 1920s to the 1950s aimed at eradicating wild stocks as a means of protecting gillnet fisheries interests, official policy became more conservation-minded by the 1960s and steps were eventually taken to protect the reptile through a ban on hunting and trading in skins. The UFD also became involved in exploratory captive rearing, with a view towards the promotion of a crocodile farming industry. These efforts were abandoned as a result of the civil and economic disruptions that afflicted the country from the early 1970s. An effort to re-evaluate the situation and establish the feasibility of crocodile farming should now be mounted.

4.2 Recommendations

A number of recommended courses of action have been suggested either explicity or implicitly in this report, and it is appropriate to list them in review by way of conclusion.

4.2.1 Trawling

Although in need of further monitoring, on present evidence the trawling operations of the Sino-Uganda Joint Venture have proved to be totally incompatible with the interests of artisanal fishers. Bearing this in mind, and also considering that increased industrial fishing pressure on existing stocks of fish is likely to have deleterious effects, it is recommended that:

4.2.2 Industrial food fish processing plants

In view of the many reservations which can be raised about the possible negative effects of industrial filleting plant operations on the social and economic welfare of local fisherfolk and fish consumers, and because of the uncertainty surrounding the issue of resource sustainability, a more cautious approach to further development of industrial processing capacity in the Lake Victoria fisheries is indicated. Pending further monitoring and investigation, it is suggested that:

4.2.3 Development of the Rastrineobola fishery

The Rastrineobola or mukene is a much underrated fish resource in Uganda at the present time. Lakewide stocks of this fish are thought to be undergoing a substantial increase as part of the process of species adjustments attendant upon the Nile perch succession. In Kenya and Uganda Rastrineobola serve as a valuable food fish in addition to their use in the animal feeds industry.

4.2.4 Other utilisation of small-sized fishes

Limited production of Haplochromis powder protein concentrate for supplementing cereal meals currently takes place in Uganda, and could possibly be expanded. Also with regard to greater utilisation of small-sized fish, there may be some scope for the development of a “cottage industry” in the capture and supply of live fishes for the international aquarium trade.

4.2.5 The crocodile industry

Although the world crocodile skin remains strong, and experience in other countries in Africa, Asia, the South Pacific, and the Americas has been encouraging (Bolton 1989), no effort has been made to date by private entrepreneurs to develop commercial crocodile rearing farms in Uganda. It is understood however that several parties are now showing an interest in such enterprises.


Beauchamp, R. S. A., 1955. The danger of overfishing existing stocks of Tilapia with particular reference to Lake Victoria and the Kavirondo Gulf. In Annual Report of the East African Fisheries Research Organisation (1954/55) : 30–4.

Bergstrand, E., and A.J. Cordone, 1971. Exploratory bottom trawling on Lake Victoria. In African Journal of Tropical Hydrobiology and Fisheries 1(1): 13–23.

Beverton, R. J. H., 1959. Report on the state of the Lake Victoria fisheries. Lowestoft, England, Fisheries Laboratory, (unpubl. rep.).

Bolton, M., 1989. The management of crocodiles in captivity. FAO Conservation Guide 22. Rome, FAO: 62pp.

Bon, J., and K. H. Ibrahim, 1975. Small furu could boost the fish harvest from Lake Victoria. In Fishing News International (July 1975): 32–33.

Bowser, D. (Former General Manager of TUFMAC, 1952–60; and Former owner of Ankole Fisheries, 1960–72), 1990. Personal communication.

Crutchfield, J. A., 1959. Report on fish marketing in Uganda. Rome: FAO (mimeo).

Dhatemwa, C. M. (Senior Fisheries Officer, UFD), 1990a. Personal Communication.

Dhatemwa, C. M., 1990b. The export of fish and fish products in Uganda -- a need for capacity building. Paper to be presented at the Symposium on Post-Harvest Fish Technology. CIFA, Eighth Session, Cairo, Egypt, 21–25 October 1990 (In preparation).

Dhatemwa, C. M., 1990c. Fish processing and marketing in Uganda: Institutional Aspects. Paper to be presented to the Technical Consultation on Management of Fisheries of Lakes Edward and Mobutu, Kampala, Uganda, 17–21 September 1990. (In preparation).

Dunn, I. G., 1989. Fisheries management study in the Queen Elizabeth National Park. Mission report for EEC Project No. 4100.037.42.44, Conservation of Natural Resources. Rome, AGRICONSULTING.

Ford, V. C. R., 1955. The trade of Lake Victoria; a geographical study. East African Studies No. 3. East African Institute of Social Research. Kampala, Uganda: 66pp.

Garrod, D. J., 1960. The fisheries of Lake Victoria, 1954–59. In East African Agriculture and Forestry Journal, 26(1): 42–8).

Garrod, D. J., 1961. The history of the fishing industry of Lake Victoria, East Africa, in relation to the expansion of marketing facilities. In East African Agriculture and Forestry Journal, 27(2): 95–9.

Gooding, B.T., 1969. Development of design and construction of fishing boats in Uganda. In Occasional Paper No. 2. Fisheries Department, Ministry of Animal Industry, Game and Fisheries. Entebbe, Government Printer: 22–23.

Graham, M., 1929. The Victoria Nyanza and its fisheries. London, Crown Agents for the Colonies: 255pp.

Greboval, D. F., 1989. Socio-economic issues for planning in support of fisheries management. Report prepared for the Fifth Session of the CIFA Sub-Committee for the Development and Management of the Fisheries of Lake Victoria. Mwanza, Tanzania, 12–14 Sept. 1989.

Jackson, P. B. N., 1972. The need for a trawl fishery on Lake Victoria. In Occasional Paper No. 4. Fisheries Department, Ministry of Animal Resources. Entebbe, Government Printer: 8–10.

Kanyike, E. S., 1972. The present-day fishery of the Uganda waters of Lake Victoria. In Occasional Paper No. 4, Fisheries Department, Ministry of Animal Resources. Entebbe, Government Printer: 2–6.

Kirema-Mukasa, C. T., and J. E. Reynolds, 1990. Marketing and distribution aspects of Lake Victoria fisheries in Uganda. (Paper to be presented at the Symposium on Socio-Economic Aspects of Lake Victoria Fisheries, Kisumu, Kenya, 24–27 April 1990.) SEC Field Report No. 16. FISHIN Notes and Records. Fisheries Statistics and Information Systems. FAO/UNDP Project UGA/87/007 (In Draft).

Mann, M. J., 1970. A resume of the evolution of the tilapia fisheries of Lake Victoria up to the year 1960. In Annual Report of the East African Freshwater Fisheries Research Organisation (1969): 21–6.

Nyholm, E., and P. S. Whiting, 1975. Fresh water fish economic studies in Kenya, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania (1967–71). A report prepared for the Lake Victoria Fisheries Research Project. Rome, FAO, FI:DP RAF/65/049/2.

Ogutu-Ohwayo, R., 1988. Contribution of the introduced fish species especially Lates niloticus (L.) and Oreochromis niloticus (L.) to the fisheries of lakes Victoria and Kyoga. In FAO Fish. Rep., (388)):61–70.

Orach-Meza, F. L., E. J. Coenen, and J. E. Reynolds, 1989. Past and recent trends in the exploitation of the Great Lakes fisheries of Uganda. In Fisheries of the African Great Lakes. Occasional Paper No. 3. Fisheries and Aquaculture Unit, International Agricultural Centre, Wageningen, The Netherlands. (Also available as: Occasional Paper No. 1. FISHIN Notes and Records. Fisheries Statistics and Information Systems. FAO/UNDP Project UGA/87/007.)

Prado, J., 1990. Fisherman's workbook. Oxford, Fishing News Books (by arrangement with the FAO, Rome).

Reynolds, J. E., 1988. Evaluation and development of small pelagic resources: East/Central Africa. Project profile prepared for the Fisheries Industry Division, FAO, Rome (Mimeo).

Reynolds, J. E., 1990. Continuity or crisis? Management challenges for the shared fisheries of the Western Ugandan Great Lakes. SEC Field Report No. 15. FISHIN Notes and Records. Fisheries Statistics and Information Systems. FAO/UNDP Project UGA/87/007.

Reynolds, J. E., and D. F. Greboval, 1988. Socio-economic effects of the evolution of Nile perch fisheries in Lake Victoria: a review. CIFA Tech. Pap., (17) : 148pp.

Reynolds, J. E., and C. T. Kirema-Mukasa, 1989a. Visit to Kampala fish markets. SEC Field Report No. 4. FISHIN Notes and Records. Fisheries Statistics and Information Systems. FAO/UNDP Project UGA/87/007.

Reynolds, J. E., 1989b. Notes on Kichwamba Region fisheries. SEC Field Report No. 6. FISHIN Notes and Records. Fisheries Statistics and Information Systems. FAO/UNDP Project UGA/87/007.

Reynolds, J. E., C. T. Kirema-Mukasa, and O. K. Odongkara, 1989. A trip to Jinja Town and UFFRO. SEC Field Report No. 3. FISHIN Notes and Records. Fisheries Statistics and Information Systems. FAO/UNDP Project UGA/87/007.

Reynolds, J. E., and F. L. Orach-Meza, 1989. Development and management of Lake Victoria fisheries -- deliberations of the CIFA Meeting, Mwanza, Sept. 1989. SEC Field Report No. 9, FISHIN Notes and Records. Fisheries Statistics and Information Systems, FAO/UNDP Project UGA/87/007.

Reynolds, J. E., J. Wandanya, and D. Nyeko, eds., 1989. Fisheries statistics and information management in Uganda: past approaches, current status, and future prospects. Field Document No. 1, FISHIN Notes and Records. Fisheries Statistics and Information Systems. FAO/UNDP Project UGA/87/007.

Rogers, J. F., 1969. Trolling for Nile perch (Lates niloticus in Lake Kyoga. In Occasional Paper No. 2. Fisheries Department, Ministry of Animal Industry, Game, and Fisheries. Entebbe, Government Printer: 7–10.

Rogers, J. F., 1970. Improved cement block fish smoking kiln. In Occasional Paper No. 3. Fisheries Department, Ministry of Animal Industry, Game, and Fisheries. Entebbe, Government Printer: 20–23.

Sastry, K. V. R., 1957. Interim report to the Government of Uganda on improvement of fisheries statistics. Rome, FAO, FAO/58/1/88.

Semakula, S. N., 1967. Survey of the present status of fish handling, preserving and marketing in Uganda. In Occasional Paper No. 1. Fisheries Department, Ministry of Animal Industry, Game, and Fisheries. Entebbe, Government Printer: 16–24.

Ssali, W. M., J. E. Reynolds, and A. R. Ward, 1990. Fish and fuel, food and forests: perspectives on post-harvest losses in Uganda. (Paper to be presented at the Symposium on Post-Harvest Fish Technology. CIFA, Eighth Session, Cairo, Egypt, 21–25 October 1990.) SEC Field Report No. 17. FISHIN Notes and Records. Fisheries Statistics and Information Systems, FAO/UNDP Project UGA/87/007. (In preparation).

Ssentongo, G. W., 1985. Recent trends in the fisheries of the Tanzanian sector of Lake Victoria. Rome, FAO (mimeo).

Stoneman, J., 1969a. Crocodile industry in Uganda. In Occasional Paper No. 2. Fisheries Department, Ministry of Animal Industry, Game, and Fisheries. Entebbe, Government Printer: 15–21.

Stoneman, J., 1969b. Notes on growth and feeding of Crocodilus niloticus. In Occasional Paper No. 2. Fisheries Department, Ministry of Animal Industry, Game, and Fisheries. Entebbe, Government Printer: 11–14.

TDRI (Tropical Development and Research Institute), 1983. Fisheries rehabilitation study: Uganda. London: TDRI (mimeo).

Tetty, E. O., 1988. The economics of Nile perch processing and distribution. Report prepared for FAO Project GCP/KEN/055/NET, Improved Utilization of Nile perch. Abidjan, INFOPECH: 33pp.

TUFMAC (The Uganda Fish Marketing Corporation), n.d. “27 delicious dishes made with TUFMAC quick frozen lake fish fillets.” (Pamphlet).

UFD (Uganda Fisheries Department), 1971. Annual report. Entebbe, Government Printer.

Wambayi, F., 1981. Tilapia fishery of Lake Victoria (Kenya). In Proceedings of the Workshop of the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute on Aquatic Resources of Kenya, 13–19 July 1981. Mombasa, Kenya Marine and Fisheriex Research Institute and Kenya National Academy for the Advancement of Arts and Sciences: 117–25.

Wasukira, J. (Marine Engineer, UFD), 1990. Personal Communication.

Witte, F., and P. C. Goudswaard, 1985. Aspects of the haplochromine fishery in southern Lake Victoria. In FAO Fish. Rep., (335): 81–8.

Top of Page Next Page