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‘Killing the golden goose’: Lake Victoria’s illegal fish trade

07 November 2004

 According to a Guardian report from Tanzania in September 2004, three species of fish, providing the main source of livelihood for over 30 million people around Lake Victoria, may disappear due to illegal fishing and smuggling.

 Fish is often transported through illegal routes to neighbouring Kenya and Uganda.

 According to a local source reported by the Guardian, 'Unscrupulous traders have an upper hand. They are not paying a single cent in revenue. The government has lost control of the lake'.

Editorial comment

 Resource riches in Lake Victoria's fishery have led to a booming illegal business between the three riparian east African countries "Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya. Large quantities of unprocessed fish, especially Nile perch and tilapia, are the subject of illegal trade.

 This trade is not only detrimental to the state of the resources (it is reported that Nile Perch of 2 cm are being marketed), it is also detrimental to the legal export trade. Part of the illegally traded fish finds its way onto export markets like the EU, and this competes directly with legally traded fish. Legal operators, who have to comply with increasingly strict EU regulations and pay taxes to their national governments, are facing a competitive disadvantage compared to the illegal traders.

 Regional fish trade is potentially important for ACP countries, and should be encouraged, but this requires the lifting of various barriers, such as those involving the harassment of women traders by local officials at border posts, and the uncontrolled imposition of fines, taxes and bribes, often at gunpoint.

 ACP countries also need to develop the capability to control and discourage the illegal cross-border trade in fish products. In the case of Tanzania, checkpoints in the Mara and Kagera regions have been established, but it may be too little too late, given the extent of the problem. As a first step, controls must be established for the catching sector. In the case of Tanzania, the regional commissioner for Mwanza is reported to have said 'poor equipment was making it difficult to patrol the lake. We cannot monitor all fishing activities efficiently as we have no sufficient tools'.

 Such pressing issues should be included in the future dialogue between the EU and Tanzania regarding their fisheries relations. A sustainable exploitation of Lake Victoria’s fish resources is an issue not only for east African countries, but also for European traders and consumers.