Lake Victoria's Nile Perch Boom: A Decade Ago, Nile Perch Was Only Caught on Lake Victoria for Domestic Consumption, but Today It Is in Heavy Demand in European and Asian Countries. (Countryfile: Tanzania)

Article excerpt

Every week, about five cargo planes from Ukraine, Holland and Belgium land at the Mwanza airport, on the southern shores of Lake Victoria, to carry an estimated 400t of fresh Nile perch fillets to European and Asian countries. These heavy cargo aircrafts reflect the rapid growth of fish processing plants in Tanzania's Lake Victoria region where the export of Nile perch fillets has been taking place for a decade now.

According to available statistics from the Lake Victoria Fish Processors Association of Tanzania, over the past decade, production of fresh Nile perch has increased more than fivefold: from 40,000t a year in 1990 to about 220,000t in 2001. In 1992, there were only two fish processing plants in Mwanza. Today the number has grown to 12 but by the end of this year there will be two more fishing plants in Bukoba on Lake Victoria's western shore.

Every year the exportation of Nile perch fillet and other related products earns the country about $90m, representing 15% of the country's foreign exchange earnings. Industry players says that if well managed, Tanzania's Nile perch exports can reach about $120m a year. The fishing sector earned neighbouring Uganda $87m last year, or 14% of the country's foreign exchange earnings. Tanzania and Uganda control 94% of Lake Victoria's waters, the rest is owned by Kenya.

"What's needed is to create sustainable fishing on Lake Victoria and take stern measures to ensure that no fresh Nile perch is smuggled through neighbouring countries" says Arko Bhagat, the chairman of the Lake Victoria Fish Processors Association of Tanzania.

Kithano Chacha, a leading fish trader in Mwanza, started as a small-scale fisherman with one boat 15 years ago. Today he owns about 500 boats plus a number of cargo, passengers and fishing ships under his umbrella company Mkombozi Fishing and Marine Services. He describes the Nile perch as the savior of Lake Victoria's economy, where it has directly and indirectly benefited about four million people. "Back then", says Chacha "nobody thought that Nile perch would one day become so highly prized on export markets abroad."

NILE PERCH NOW GLOBAL FOOD

What was once just consumed locally has today become a global food. Due to the Nile perch's growing popularity overseas, it is increasingly difficult for local people to afford it. In European and Asian countries, the consumption of red meat has gone down because of the health hazards attributed to it, paving the way for a rise in demand for white meat, particularly seafood. Five cargo aircraft fly into Mwanza's airport every week to carry fish fillets and other products to Maastrich in Holland, Brussels in Belgium and some Asian countries which also consume the Nile perch. It is an example of how a process of globalisation has taken place throughout East Africa's fishing industries.

The true value of Nile perch can be illustrated by the thousands of fishing camps located on various islands of Lake Victoria. …