(Gazette, Jan. 23, 1997)

Gazette readers told us, when surveyed in 1995, that they wanted to read more about how faculty, staff and students at Memorial are involved in exchanges, research linkages, development projects and training programs in other parts of the world. In this issue we introduce a new monthly section where readers will find profiles of interesting international projects. In Passport, readers will find out how Memorial University is active in the promotion of education, research and community service beyond Newfoundland and Canada. We welcome submissions for this section, whether a couple of paragraphs describing an international experience, or a longer, first-person account (maximum 500 words). Write to Gazette, Room AA-1024, Arts and Administration Building, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's; fax 709-737-8699; e-mail We prefer to receive your submissions via e-mail, or on a disk in WordPerfect format. Photographs, accompanied by descriptions, are especially welcome.

Coping with Lake Victoria's fisheries crisis

Last fall, Dr. Steve Goddard of the Marine institute's School of Fisheries travelled to Kenya, Africa, where he observed firsthand the plight of the fishers of Lake Victoria. Dr. Goddard spent six weeks in Kenya, where he taught undergraduate courses in aquaculture and fish nutrition at Moi University, and worked with faculty there to develop new facilities to support aquaculture education and development. Memorial shares aquaculture expertise with Moi University through a linkage funded by the Canadian International Development Agency and administered by the Canadian Centre for International Fisheries Training and Development.

By Dr. Steve Goddard

On the main highway in Kisumu the familiar pale blue UN trucks ferry supplies through Kenya to impoverished nations of the region. On the same highway a reverse flow of thousands of tonnes of fish destined for the luxury markets of Europe and Japan head for the port of Mombassa.

Last fall, these images highlighted for me the conundrum of modern development issues and were formed during a spell working on aquaculture extension projects through Memorial's linkage to Moi University in western Kenya. Kisumu is one of the main fishing centres on Lake Victoria, Africa's largest freshwater lake. Bordered by Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, the fisheries of the lake have undergone dramatic changes over the past 20 years. Introductions of exotic species, eutrophication and over-exploitation of stocks have changed the fishery from a multi-species fishery dominated by native cichlids, to a fishery largely based on two introduced species -- the Nile perch and the Nile tilapia -- and the small native pelagic, Rastrineobola.

Predator problem
The greatest single event to impact on the fishery was the "official" introduction of the predatory Nile perch, at Entebbe, Uganda in 1962. This activity rang alarm bells around the fisheries world. The consequences of introducing a predatory species into a lake renowned for its unique and diverse fish fauna were unpredictable, and dire predictions were made as to the consequences. While there is little scientific data available, the results of this introduction -- seen from fish landing statistics -- are staggering in terms of the proliferation of Nile perch. Fisheries officials estimate that the current landings of Nile perch from the lake exceed 300,000 tonnes per year while the landings of other species have fallen significantly. Other environmental changes, possibly linked to dramatic changes in fish population structure, are also being seen.

While the future of the lake's fish stocks remains uncertain, the availability of a massive new resource has done little to benefit the millions of people living along its shores. The issues are complex and centre on the imbalance this new species has created in the operation of the fishery.

Perishable product
The fishery is primarily artisanal, based on the use of small canoes and sail boats. Fishers use baited lines and nets and commonly land individual Nile perch exceeding 100 kilograms. In addition to handling problems, the fish has a high fat content, which means that unlike the tilapias and small pelagics of the traditional fishery they cannot easily be sun-dried for preservation and distribution. Fishers have therefore been left in a position where their only solution has been to sell their perishable catch to export-driven processing plants which have sprung up to take advantage of this new resource.

Poor working conditions
Kisumu is a major processing centre with a dozen modern plants. Benefits to the fishing communities remain elusive. Fishers remain poor with prices for their catches controlled by the processors. At the hundreds of landing stages around the lake, women carry out their traditional activities: sun-drying tiny fish which are then carried in baskets long distances by foot to be sold for a few cents profit. Alongside these activities fleets of refrigerated trucks ferry Nile perch from the stages to the processing plants.

While some new employment in processing has been created, it is at the plants that the disparities of the system become shockingly apparent. At one heavily-guarded processing plant I visited, many hundreds of men, women and children worked under appalling conditions on the adjoining land, sorting through the discarded filleting waste. Scores of fires were burning to smoke any remnants of fish, while small fish pieces and bones were cooked in vats of oil previously rendered from the fish offal. This was the response of one desperate community whose inhabitants witness daily the misappropriation of one of the world's great fishery resources.

The future of the fishery is uncertain, although a stock collapse has long been predicted given the population strength of a major predatory species. In the meantime, traditional patterns of fishing and fish distribution have changed radically, and fewer, more expensive fish are available to feed a rapidly growing population.

Many of the issues in the Lake Victoria fishery are familiar elsewhere in the world, including Newfoundland. The problems of fish resource management are not new but still present an apparently insoluble challenge.

The lines of the proverb, "give a person a fish and you feed that person for one day; teach someone to fish and you feed that person for a lifetime" ring hollow around Lake Victoria. I drove from the lake and headed for Eldoret and colleagues at Moi University with a renewed passion for our planned activities in sustainable aquaculture. Show a person how to farm fish...maybe!