Ukerewe, an island on ambitious mission to restore fishing status

Ukerewe fisherman set nets in Lake Victoria to catch fish. The main activity for the island’s residents is fishing. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • The majority of Ukerewe inhabitants fish, although is is getting harder and harder to catch enough fish due to rising human activity

Ukerewe. Ukerewe is a 500-square-kilometre island. It is Africa’s largest lake island and Mwanza’s largest island.

It is made up of 25 wards that make up the Lake Zone, which has 38 islands, 20 of which are occupied by its residents.

Whereas 14 are seasonal, the remaining four are in good shape because they have not been touched.

The major Lake Victoria islands in Ukerewe include Bumbiri, Kome, Komasi, Gana, Ikuza, and Nazinga. Ukerewe, Ukara, Rubondo, and Maisome.

It goes without saying that there is a lot to see and do, such as beaches, forests, caverns, gorgeous sunsets over the lake, and the abundance of fish in the vicinity, but it is the other way around.

The island is fairly rustic, with dirt roads, and just a few fish can now be caught there.

In order to ensure the island’s economic efficiency, Ukerewe District Commissioner Mr Hassan Bomboko told The Citizen that they have embarked on various ambitious plans and have begun implementing some of them to ensure access to fish, with the goal of restoring vegetation, avoiding illegal fishing, and making the island economically efficient and a tourist attraction.

“As you are aware, fishing is the most popular formal and casual activity among inhabitants. Because 90 percent of Ukerewe is covered by water and 10 percent by land, everyone is active in fishing activities and only a handful in farming,” he said.

To guarantee there are enough fish and to avoid illicit fishing, he says they are currently focused on educating communities about aquafarming and assisting them in establishing fishponds.

A fishpond is an artificial freshwater river or lake that holds fish, usually for commercial purposes such as stocking lakes and streams or wholesaling.

He also mentioned that they are building an enabling environment for people by encouraging them to form organisations in order to receive loans from the local government authority to develop small businesses and projects.

Other efforts are being made to ensure that wananchi continue to conserve water sources, educate fisherman on the best times to catch fish, and provide fish time to reproduce. To avoid damaging the island’s ecosystem and hurting fish, production activities must be done within 60 metres of the island.

He said: “Residents here are used to polluting the environment, illegal fishing, and cutting trees. To fight climate change, in our district we are currently emphasising planting trees, and in the next three years we are targeting to plant two million trees.”

“We have so far started planting trees for shade. We have also allocated farmland and started to plant some trees for orange fruits. We are happy that our district now has its own farm for oranges and other fruits,” he said.

Mr Bomboko noted that Ukerewe district council has also entered into a partnership with the Tanzania Forest Service Agency (TFS), and the agency has already planted trees for vegetation and timber to fight against carbon monoxide, which has a lot of effects on climate change. He added that so far, 800,000 trees have been planted, and soon 100,000 more will be planted to reach a total of 900,000 trees.

“To implement the project accordingly, we intend to use various national events such as the Uhuru Torch, Union Day, and other related celebrations to encourage and educate the residents on the importance of tree planting,” he said.

He noted that they are going to use every opportunity to talk to Ukerewe residents on issues related to the environment, climate change, fishing, tree planting, and economic empowerment.

According to him, there has been a great wave of illegal fishing activities that depend on water and the blue economy and use tools that are not suitable for fishing, which contribute to the extinction of fish.

“Fish of many kinds were once present, but the majority are now extinct,” he said

Explaining further, Mr Bomboko said that they are currently planning to look for investors in the islands that have not been fully utilised. Currently, there are four islands here that have not yet been touched, and their features have potential for tourist attraction; thus, getting potential partners would boost the economy in the district.

The assistant director of Ukewere district council, of Ukewere Mr Goodluck Mtigandi, said that despite the fact that income collection has not been constantly achieved, it is difficult to say that the lack of revenue collection was caused by climate change.

Though he admitted that in the past they used to have different types of fish, he insisted that the ecology of fish indicates that there has been predation.

“Due to a lack of nutrients and feed for fish in the islands, there is every sign of predators, and some small fish might be eaten by other fish. Therefore, we cannot directly say that a lack of fish is directly the outcome of climate change. It is very normal that when there is inaccessible food, fish and other organisms tend to eat each other, so the low collection of revenue cannot be directly linked with climate change,” he said.

Mr Mitigandi noted that sometimes the change of Lake Victoria itself can contribute to the extinction of fish, and a lack of a good environment for fish reduces fishing breeding.

The population of people has also led to a high consumption of fish, but pressure or demand for fish as a substitute is lacking.

He noted that authorities with the mandate to do research should conduct scientific research and come up with a concrete solution, stating that climate change alone has contributed to the extinction of fish in Ukerewe.

Adding that, though I am not an expert on fish, wild animals have the habit of migrating, so it is possible fish might have migrated.

According to him, in order to ensure the availability of fish, they are currently implementing a fish campaign to fight against illegal fishing.

Illegal fishing has also contributed to the extinction of fish because the facilities used to fish contribute to silverfish being fished to a large extent.

Explaining about collection revenue from fish, Mr Mtigandi noted that in 2019/20 they estimated to collect Sh1.5 billion; the actual amount collected was Sh1.04 billion, or about 73 percent.

2020/22 estimate income collection was Sh1.8 billion; actual collection was 0.904 million, or about 50 percent, while 2021/22 estimate collection was Sh1.09 billion; actual collection was Sh1.09 billion, which is Sh102 billion.

This is the year 2022–23, and the target revenue estimate is Sh1.39 billion.

This story has been funded by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation