Socio-economic effects of the evolution of Nile perch fisheries in Lake Victoria: a review


J. Eric Reynolds
FAO Fishery Policy and Planning Division
D.F. Greboval
Fisheries Development Officer
FAO Fishery Policy and Planning Division

FAO, Rome

Reprinted 1989

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ISBN 92-5-102742-0

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During the Fourth Session of the CIFA Sub-Committee for the Development and Management of the Fisheries of Lake Victoria (Kisumu, Kenya, 8–10 April 1987), much attention was given to various aspects of the rapid spread of Nile perch (Lates niloticus) in Lake Victoria. The Sub-Committee stressed the pressing need for information on the Nile perch with reference to current and possible future effects upon riparian communities, further noting the lack of knowledge of socio-economic implications of recent changes in the Lake' fisheries.

A review of the situation was undertaken during the second half of 1987, organised by the Fishery Policy and Planning Service (FIPP) of the Fisheries Department of FAO. The results of field investigations are presented in this document on a country by country basis. A critical appraisal of the “Nile Perch Question” follows the country reviews. Overall characteristics and trends of the Nile perch fisheries are discussed and identified.


The authors wish to thank all of those who assisted their mission in various ways. Of the many people who provided help during the field visits, particular thanks are due to: Messrs. C. Rabour and E. Yongo (KMFRI - Kenya); Ms. O. Mosille and Mr. B Msuku (TAFIRI - Tanzania); Messrs. E. Kilosa and J. Mugarula (Dept. of Fisheries - Tanzania); and Dr. Orach-Meza (Dept. of Fisheries - Uganda). Members of the HEST group in Mwanza (Tanzania) kindly provided advice and much useful information. A number of colleagues offered valuable comments and suggestions on draft sections of the mission report. In particular we should like to express our gratitude to Mr. J. Ogari (KMFRI), Mr. J. Siwo (Dept. of Fisheries, Kenya), Mr. J. Bon and Ms. L. Gram (Nile Perch Utilization Project/KMFRI), Mr. K. Goudswaard (HEST), and Messrs. M. Mann, G. Ssentongo, F. Teutscher, and R. Welcomme (FAO/Fisheries). Ms. A.M. Van Lierde and Ms. P. Bowton-Silvestri patiently helped with the preparation of the manuscript and tables, Ms. Gloria A. Soave edited the bibliography. Mr. R. Coppola (FAO/Fisheries) kindly gave of his time to help sort out computer questions.

The authors would finally and most especially like to thank the scores of local fisherfolk, traders and businesspeople around Lake Victoria who made the mission field visits possible through their hospitality and cooperation.

DistributionFor bibliographic purposes this document should be cited as follows:
FAO Fisheries Department
FAO Regional Fisheries Officers
CIFA Mailing List
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):148 p.


The fisheries of Lake Victoria have undergone very substantial changes in recent years owing, in particular, to the rapid proliferation of the introduced Nile perch (Lates niloticus). There has been intense controversy over the impact of this introduced predator species on the fisheries of Lake Victoria, especially with respect to the ecological disruption caused on endemic species and its possibly adverse socio-economic consequences.

The present review of the socio-economic aspects of the evolution of the Nile perch fishery shows the impact of Nile perch to have been both profound and ambiguous. Globally, the Nile perch fishery has been so far an exceedingly positive development from an economic benefit and food resource point of view. On the other hand, some serious issues warrant careful consideration and further analysis. These relate to the distribution of benefits, especially with respect to the relative role of artisanal and larger-scale fishery operations, and to the fundamental question of sustainability. It is suggested that, under proper management, the fisheries of Lake Victoria and the Nile perch fishery in particular, could continue to provide high yields and substantial benefits for the riparian communities concerned.

Rome, 1989

© FAO 1988

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1.1 Recent Developments in Lake Victoria Fisheries: The Nile Perch
1.2 Background to Report
1.3 Field Visits


2.1 Introduction
2.2 Recent Trends
2.3 Current Observations
2.4 Summary


3.1 Introduction
3.2 Recent Trends
3.3 Current Observations
3.4 Summary


4.1 Introduction
4.2 Recent Trends
4.3 Current Observations
4.4 Summary


5.1 The Issues: Past Accounts and Current Observations
5.2 Further Research and Action: Recommendations

APPENDIX A - Tables and Figures

APPENDIX B - The Nile Perch Question: A General Review




Figure 1.1 Map of Lake Victoria Region

4.1 Uganda - L. Victoria Waters, Species Composition of Trawl and Commercial Gillnet Catches, Northern Sector 1981–1983

Table 1.1 L. Victoria Major Species Referred to in Text.

1.2 L. Victoria - Fish Production by Country and Species 1975, 1979 and 1985

1.3 L. Victoria - Total Fish Production by Species, 1975, 1979 and 1985

2.1 Kenya - Fish and Marine Products 1974–1986

2.2 Kenya - L. Victoria Waters, Catches per Net, Nyanza Gulf 1920–1968

2.3 Kenya - L. Victoria Waters, Annual catches by species 1974–1985

2.4 Kenya - L. Victoria Waters, Mean Prices to Fishermen by Species 1976–1986

2.5 Kenya - L. Victoria Waters, Value of Catch by Fish Species 1976–1986

2.6 Kenya - L. Victoria Waters, Illustrative Annual Cost and Earnings for Non -Motorised Nile Perch Canoe Fishing Unit

2.7 Kenya - L. Victoria Waters, Illustrative Annual Cost and Earnings Projection for Motorised Canoe Fishing Unit

2.8 Kenya - Exports of Nile Perch Fillets by Destination, 1987

3.1 Tanzania - Fish and Marine Products 1969–1981

3.2 Tanzania - L. Victoria Waters, Comparison of Mean Catch Rates for 1969–70 and 1984–85 Trawl Surveys

3.3 Tanzania - L. Victoria Waters, Annual Catches by Species, 1975–1985

3.4 Tanzania - L. Victoria Waters, Number of Fishermen and Vessels, Catch and Effort Levels, 1970–1985

3.5 Tanzania - L. Victoria Waters, Gear and Equipment Enumerations, Mwanza Region, 1970–1986

3.6 Tanzania - L. Victoria Waters (Mara Region), Mean Prices to Fishermen by Species 1976–1986

3.7 Tanzania - L. Victoria Waters (Mwanza Region), Mean Prices to Fishermen by Species 1983–1986

3.8 Tanzania - L. Victoria Waters (Mwanza Region), Exports of Fish Products, 1985

3.9 Tanzania - L. Victoria Waters (Mara Region), Value of Catch by Fish Species, 1976–1986

3.10 Tanzania - L. Victoria Waters Illustrative Annual Cost and Earnings for Non-Motorised Nile Perch Canoe Fishing Unit

3.11 Tanzania - L. Victoria Waters Illustrative Annual Cost and Earnings for Motorised Nile Perch Canoe Fishing Unit

4.1 L. Victoria, Estimates of Standing Stocks of Major Fish Species by Country, 1968–1971

4.2 Uganda - Quantity Value of Fish Landed By Lake Region 1970–1981

4.3 Uganda - L. Victoria Waters, Annual Catches by Species, 1975–1982

4.4 L. Victoria - Distribution of the Different Types of Fishing Gear Used by a Sample of Fishing Vessels

4.5 L. Victoria - Total Nominal Catches of the Artisanal Fisheries by Country, 1968–1979

4.6 Uganda - L. Victoria Waters, Trawl Mean Catch Rates by Species, Northern Sector

4.7 Uganda - L. Victoria Waters, Major and Minor Landing Sites

4.8 Uganda - Price Indices Reflecting Species Preference by Regions Around Lake Victoria

4.9 Uganda - Fish Prices Relating to the Kampala Market

4.10 Uganda - L. Victoria Waters, Cost and Earnings of Representative Fishing Units

5.1 L. Victoria - Estimated Value of Total Production in 1975 and 1985

5.2 Estimates of Gross Economic Benefits Derived from the Transformation of the Lake Victoria Ecosystem

5.3 Comparative Financial and Economic Performances of Traditional Canoes and Trawling, Nile Perch Fishery in Mwanza Area

5.4 Uganda - Lake Kyoga, Total Annual Catches, 1981–1982


  1. Research was carried out during 1987 in order to assess the socio-economic aspects of the evolution of Nile perch (Lates niloticus) fisheries in Lake Victoria. Statistical and other documentary sources were reviewed and direct observations collected during short field visits around the lakeshore in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.

  2. There has been intense controversy over the role of Nile perch in the Lake, with some observers taking the view that the dramatic proliferation of the introduced predator has had disastrous consequences for the ecology of the Lake and its dependent fisherfolk, and others taking milder or more positive views.

  3. Background literature and press accounts are reviewed and main points of argument over the “Nile Perch Question” identified and discussed. These points bear on issues of: ecological disruption caused by the depredations of Nile perch on endemic fish species stocks; the loss of crucial subsistence and commercial resources for lakeshore communities; resentment towards Nile perch by local people; adverse social and environmental impacts due to local processing methods used on the fish, which place great demands on scarce fuelwood supplies; and the general economic displacement of artisanal fishermen and petty traders occasioned by the Nile perch presence.

  4. Recent trends in the development of fisheries within each country's portion of the Lake are examined, and current observations based on the field visits reported. It is stressed that vital statistical and other documentary information on the circumstances of those involved with harvest and post-harvest sectors of the fisheries is quite deficient.

  5. The main points of argument in the Nile perch controversy are reconsidered in light of the country situation reviews. Impressions gathered during the course of these reviews cannot be regarded as definitive because of the preliminary nature and brief scope of the research exercise. But they suffice to show that the impact of Nile perch has been both profound and ambiguous.

  6. There are grounds to dispute allegations that the Nile perch has been an economic tragedy and has no appeal for fisherfolk and consumers. The authors found that the Lates fishery has been an exceedingly positive development from an economic benefit and food resource point of view. Because of Lates, fisherfolk are earning more money and riparian populations are eating more fish. Production from Lake Victoria in recent years appears to have increased almost threefold in both tonnage and value from the levels prevailing in the (pre-Nile perch) 1970s.

  7. On the other hand some serious or potentially serious problems were identified. These relate to issues of equity - access to productive resources and distribution of benefits - in both the harvest and post-harvest sectors of the fisheries. The growing involvement of wealthier entrepreneurs and industrial firms in the fishery warrants careful consideration. Large-scale trawling, processing and export marketing operations could compromise artisanal harvesting activities as well as the small-scale processing and trading concerns which are often run by women. They could also lead to shortages in the supply of fish for local marketing and consumption. Apparent trends towards depletion of fuelwood supplies associated with lakeside processing of vast amounts of Nile perch, and the existence of severe distribution and marketing system constraints, are worrisome questions as well.

  8. Nile perch is now a permanent and salient feature of the Lake, and every effort should be made to exploit this new resource for the maximum economic benefit of the lakeshore communities. The Lates population has thus far exhibited an explosive growth, as could be expected for a newly introduced predator with extensive virgin prey stocks upon which to feed. This situation is unlikely to continue in the long term, however. Predator-prey stock balances will gradually stabilise with attendant reduction in the Nile perch population, which is also subject to ever-increasing fishing pressure. Already there are signs of overexploitation in the Nile perch fishery of Kenya waters.

  9. The issue of sustainability is absolutely fundamental. Future prospects are reviewed based on experiences with transformations in the fishery regime of Lake Kyoga, which shares certain features with the Lake Victoria situation. It is suggested that under proper management the Nile perch fishery could continue to provide high yields and substantial benefits for the fisherfolk of Lake Victoria.

  10. In addition, the impressive development of the pelagic resource of the Lake must be considered. The Rastrineobola argentea fishery is growing into an industry of outstanding promise.

  11. Securing a continued high level of production from the Lake Victoria fisheries in the future will depend crucially on the kind of management and development initiatives that are taken now. The reports offers a number of suggestions in this regard.

  12. Reliable resource and fishing effort assessments are vital but are not presently available. It is hoped that other projects now in the pipeline will help to correct these deficiencies.

  13. Immediate consideration should be given to measures to regulate the expansion of gillnet fisheries for Nile perch in all the riparian states, to control the growth of industrial Nile perch processing in Kenya, and to stringently control or prohibit beach seining and industrial trawling throughout the Lake.

  14. It is also noted that measures are called for in relation to the following areas: the development of the R. argentea fishery in Uganda; simplifying procedures for importing material to manufacture fishnets in Kampala (Uganda) and Mwanza (Tanzania); shoreline infrastructure development in Tanzania and Uganda; the introduction of improved (more fuel efficient) techniques for local fish processing everywhere around the lakeshore; and the exploration of export trade possibilities in Nile perch products from Tanzania and Uganda.

  15. Although much research work has been devoted to the fisheries of Lake Victoria in general, and more recently to the Lates question in particular, the emphasis has largely been on biological, ecological and technical aspects. Socio-economic perspectives have been greatly neglected, even though they are essential to sound planning and effective management and development of the fisheries.

  16. It is strongly urged therefore that programmes be mounted in each of the riparian states to fully and systematically develop socio-economic perspectives, in order to address with better understanding the various issues and questions in urgent need of resolution.


Exchange rates during July-September 1987 were as follows:

Kenya:US$ = KShs 16.5
Tanzania:US$ = TShs 65.0
Uganda:US$ = UShs 60.0


CIFACommittee on Inland Fisheries for Africa, FAO
DFKDepartment of Fisheries - Kenya
EAFFROEast African Freshwater Fisheries Research Organization
HESTHaplochromis Ecology Survey Team (Univ. of Leiden)
KMFRIKenya Marine and Freshwater Research Institute
LBDALake Basin Development Authority (Kenya)
MAIFMinistry of Animal Industry and Fisheries (Uganda)
TAFIRITanzania Fisheries Research Institute
UFDUganda Fisheries Department
UFFROUganda Freshwater Fisheries Research Organization