Govt officials ‘at centre of Nile perch depletion’

The government will have it rough trying to control illegal fishing of Nile Perch in Lake Victoria because its own officials are at the centre of the illicit business, according to stakeholders in the industry.

The business is wreaking havoc on the fish population in the world’s second largest freshwater lake—and policymakers appear unable to do little more than wring their hands and complain.

Presenting his 2011/2012 financial year audit findings in Dodoma in June this year, Controller and Auditor-General (CAG) Ludovick Utouh said the Nile Perch could well be extinct in the next few years if the trend continues.

The number of fishermen who use illegal gear, especially small mesh nets, rose rapidly in 2011. As a result, the volume of immature Nile Perch caught went from about 83,157 tonnes in 2008 to 84,782 tons in 2010 in Mwanza, Mara and Kagera regions.

According to Mr Utouh, the difference between the minimum required stock and available stock of Nile Perch shows that the supply of fish in 2011 exceeded the minimum set by 57 per cent—leaving stock of estimated at 64,141 tons for regeneration at an estimated rate of 0.3.

The Citizen investigations established that some surveillance officials—employed by the government to control illegal fishing—own gear that is unacceptable. 

Such equipment includes beach seines (kokoro) and monofilament nets, which have been outlawed for purposes of controlling catching of immature fish in order to promote breeding. 

“In fact, what they do is that whenever they seize the outlawed monofilament nets, they return and sell the very same gear to other fishermen,” said a fisherman who sells his catch at Kamanga Ferry landing site.

People he described as “Bwana Masamaki” (surveillance officials) are the true owners of beach seines that operate openly at landing sites in the Lake Zone, he claimed.

“There is this man who owns more than four beach seines here in Mwanza, but I hear that he has others in Bukoba,” said our source, who has also engaged in fishing at Kayenze in Mwanza, Bukoba and Ukerewe.

“These Bwana Masamaki cannot arrest fishermen who use illegal gear since their business is the same…you cannot get the remedy to illegal fishing without dealing with surveillance officials first,” he alleged. “When they seize our beach seines, it is a hoax. After a while, they give back our gear. They can do nothing because we know their business very well.”

Another fisherman said it is common in Kayenze for surveillance officials to own fishing gear. “I can give you the names of all officials who own beach seines,” said the fisherman. 

“I used to operate one of the fishing gears owned by a government official but he fired me after I recorded some losses.” It is difficult, though, to catch the government officials who own fishing gear because they know when surveillance takes place and organise their work around that. 

“After the exercise is over, they bring back their gear and it is hard to take them to account,” he added.

In Magu in Mwanza, a businessman who did not want to be named said the situation is serious and the government must move to control the situation.

“These are not rumours,” he added. “They are facts and government officials who are involved in this business are well known. Industries that process immature Nile Perch are well known but no action has been taken. Immature fish is exported every day and that is also well known.”

According to Mr Utouh, catching immature fish not only affects the ecosystem but also the fishing community because it suffers financial loss. “The income of Mwanza depends mainly on fish,” he said. “If this industry collapses, many people are going to suffer in this region and the entire country.”

According to the CAG, the current Nile Perch stock does not support further fishing for commercial purposes.

Mr Fabian Maiga, a surveillance officer based in Kayenze and one of the officials alleged to own illegal fishing gear, denied the claims, saying the accusations were intended to tarnish his image.

He added: “My family used to be involved in fishing 10 years back but, after the death of my father in 2002, we are no longer in the business. Even in the days he was a fisherman, the family never used outlawed gear.”

Surveys in the lake have reportedly established that some fishermen use poison to boost their catch. 

According to Mr Maiga, legal action has been taken against some of the culprits. “I think they may be the ones spreading this story against me,” Mr Maiga told The Citizen in a telephone interview. “It is not true that I own any fishing gear—legal or illegal.”

A man identified as Musa Kisusi, allegedly one of the government officers who own illegal gear, dismissed the claims. “I don’t know any type of fish,” he said on the phone. “I am a cotton farmer; ask me anything about cotton and I will tell you.”

The Fisheries Monitoring Control and Surveillance Officer in Mwanza Region, Mr Lameck Mongo, had this to say: “I don’t want to comment on allegations. Give me the names of alleged officers so I can deal with them.”

According to Mr Mongo, there have been similar allegations over the years, but no one has ever offered evidence that can help track down culprits. There are 739 Beach Management Units.

In his Budget Speech, Minister for Livestock Development and Fisheries David Mathayo said surveillance officials carried out 2,999 investigations and seized 58,191 illegal fishing nets countrywide.

“The government will also continue to provide education on the effects of illegal fishing on the country’s economic development,” he added.
Source: The Citizen, reported by  Veneranda Sumila from Mwanza, Tanzania
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