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< prev - next > Fisheries KnO 100368_Fishing out the Gene Pool (Printable PDF)
Fishing out the gene pool
Practical Action
Mangrove rehabilitation
In Kerala the 'backwaters', lagoon
areas, and mangrove swamps play
a key role in the natural marine
production cycle, and the ecology
of these water bodies is fragile and
probably unique. Traditional
fishing and farming activities
benefit from the seasonal
monsoon cycle, alternately
providing ample fresh water for
rice growing, and inflows of sea
water for the extensive culture of
fish and prawns. The damming of
these lagoons and 'backwaters' for
more intensive fish farming,
especially of prawns, is disrupting
this natural cycle of interchange
between the sea and inland water.
The increasing levels of industrial
pollution are also killing off
aquatic life and rendering the
waters unusable. The ever-
increasing demand
Figure 2: New innovations in artificial reef materials by
South Indian fishworkers include (a) stones inside bags and
(b) tyres attached to a concrete ring. Other innovations in
modular design from PCO and made out of (c) concrete or
Lake Victoria’s fish tale of
(d) bamboo.
Until recently the rich biodiversity of fish in Lake Victoria provided an important source of
employment, income and food for the lake shore communities in the three countries that
border its waters -Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya. Today the economic and social fabric of
these communities is disintegrating because of the disappearance of the small nutritious fish
species belonging to the genus Haplochromis, of which over 200 species used to be found in
the lake. Ms Irene F.P. Wekiya recently drew attentions to the central importance that the
Enkejje (Haplochromis spp) used to play in the social, cultural and economic life of the
Ugandan lake fishing communities. She explained the benefits derived by women (who
construct and use simple and effective fish traps) through the capture and marketing of
Enkejje. She also shows the benefits derived by malnourished children, for whom it is the
only palliative for measles and the common disorders of kwashiorkor and marasmus. There
are two main reasons cited for the disappearance of the Enkejje: over-exploitation caused by
the increased demand for the fish outside the fishing communities, and the introduction of
two species of carnivorous fish - the Nile Perch (Lates niloticus) and the Nile Tilapia
(Oreochromis niloticus). Over the last 20 years there has been a dramatic population
explosion of Nile Perch, a voracious predator that is alleged to have caused the decline of the
Enkejje and many other fish species indigenous to the lake. Ironically, one reason given for
the introduction of this species was to lessen fishing pressure on the stocks of Haplochromis.
The other ironic aspect of the Nile Perch story is that, although highly nutritious, it is not
well liked in the local communities. The rich flesh is highly prized, however, in the
restaurants of African capital cities and in the markets of the North. In Kenya this has led to
an investment stampede in intensive fishing technology and cold chain marketing
infrastructure to take this potentially rich protein source away from the hungry mouths that
need it, to the restaurant tables of the rich. Even if local people developed a taste for it, they
would be unable to compete with the prices offered by city merchants who, like the Nile
Perch, snap up everything available.
The rich diversity of aquatic species can be sustained in rivers, lakes and the oceans, but it
will require stronger controls at a local level, and the restraint of industrial fisheries, for it to
happen. If the plunder of fish stocks continues at the rate of the last decade, then it will not
take long for this source of basic protein to become scarce and unavailable to those who
need it most.