Stakeholders in the fishing industry have called for immediate attention by the Tanzanian Government and other stakeholders to avoid depletion of fish stocks in the Lake Victoria. The call has been made on behalf of the fishing fraternity through the chairman of the Fishers Union Organisation (FUO), Juvenary Matagili.
According to Matagili, the main challenges facing the fisher-folk result from the use of the heavily-polluted waters of Lake Victoria, corruption among some officials that are supposed to protect the industry, the HIV/Aids scourge, lack of entrepreneurial skills and enabling environment for their day-to-day activities, lack of awareness on hygiene, water sanitation and lack of other useful knowledge on health and environmental cleanliness.
However, his cry is not quite new as reports from the Lake Victoria Environmental Management Project (LVEMP) have also shown that the quality of Lake Victoria waters has declined due to unmitigated pollution – as well as an increase in water hyacinth which threatens not only the lives of fish stocks but also transportation in the lake.
Matagiri adds that it is very difficult to set priorities and remain focused amidst serious shortage of funds and lack of the requisite skilled labour force. Currently, FUO has an estimated budget of US$140,695, which is a drop in the ocean! He also reminds the world that at times, there is an intermingling of programmes set by his organisation vis-a-vis those proposed by the Government and other key players, both regional and international.
Generally speaking, the conduct of business in and around Lake Victoria – which borders the three East African Community countries of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda – has never been smooth. Oil spills and other pollutants like agrochemicals have been playing havoc with the lake waters. One strategy has been the establishment of Beach Management Units (BMU) and constant sensitization in mass media organs on the causes and consequences of pollution.
The fishing communities are mainly made up of local communities, namely the Zinza, Kara, Kerewe, Sukuma and other visiting communities from the neighbouring regions – particularly Mara Region. It is estimated that there are 2,450 PLHIV residents in ten islands along and within Lake Victoria – 55 per cent of them being women. The otherwise lucrative fishing industry has attracted not only bona fide entrepreneurs, but also other interested groups like commercial sex workers operating in local pubs, and fish mongers.
FUO was established on July 21, 2005 by small-scale fishermen along Lake Victoria. These included young fishermen, fish mongers and service providers within the fishing communities in especially the Islands. The FUO mission is about empowering fishing communities to have a prosperous life through the provision of information and technical skills, as well as capacity building and support by using participatory approaches for sustainable livelihoods and development. FUO has established networks with other closely-related organizations.
By Elias Mhegera
Director of Research and Investigations, Tanzania Journalists for Human Rights (Journorights)