On Africa's Largest Lake, Fishers Suffer Falling Stocks, Rising Demand

Dan Morrison and Sean Bryan on Nsazi Island, Uganda
for National Geographic News
March 13, 2007

Smoking cigarettes and drinking their morning tea, the men stood in clumps at the shore of Uganda's Nsazi island in Lake Victoria. Some oiled the outboard motors while others untangled miles of monofilament netting. The talk was of fish and cash.

Africa's largest lake, Victoria is home to catfish, lungfish, and multitudes of tiny silver dagaa, or silver cyprinids. But Lake Victoria's real prize is an invasive species introduced by British colonizers: the fatty Nile perch, a favorite in Europe's supermarkets.

The perch accounted for exports worth 250 million U.S. dollars in 2005, but they're fading fast.

According to the Lake Victoria Fisheries Organization, stocks of the valuable fish are in rapid decline from overfishing and pollution.

The annual catch has fallen from 1.29 million tons in 2001 to 820,000 tons in 2006, the group says.

The shortage has driven up prices, which only worsens the fish's plight.

High demand ensures that even more migrants will come to fish Lake Victoria, which straddles the borders of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.

"It's the only way you can get money these days," said Boniface Walimbwa, a student at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda's capital.

"I work here with my brother on the weekends, and I'll probably come for good when I graduate. I'm [from] the wrong tribe for a government job."

Racing Against Themselves

Around ten o'clock the boats started pushing off Nsazi island's stony beach, crews of three and four zipping into the deep expanse of the world's second largest freshwater lake.

The fishermen were in a race against themselves.

Continued on Next Page >>


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