Exotic introductions to the fishery of Lake Victoria: What are the management options?


*Corresponding author. Email: rmnjiru2002@yahoo.com


Lake Victoria is Africa's most important source of inland fishery production, exhibiting annual catches of ≈ 400 000 mt. The predatory Nile perch, Lates niloticus, and the herbivorous tilapiines, Oreochromis niloticus, Oreochromis leucostictus, Tilapia zillii and Tilapia rendalii, were introduced in Lake Victoria in the 1950s and 1960s. Nile perch were introduced to convert the abundant, but bony, haplochromines to fish flesh, while the tilapiines were introduced to boost the declining fishery. Since that time, the fisheries of Lake Victoria have undergone dramatic social and ecological changes. The catches increased tremendously, changing the fishery from artisanal to commercial, in turn increasing fisher income and employment opportunities. However, there was a decline and, in some cases, the disappearance of many indigenous fish species, especially the haplochromine cichlids. This reduction was attributed to overexploitation, predation, and competition and hybridization with the introduced species. The decline of the native fish species has had impacts on the trophic and ecological status of the lake. Nile perch now dominate the formerly complex food web. The loss of phytoplanktivorous haplochromines has contributed to an increase in algal blooms, reduction in water quality and occasional fish kills. Water hyacinth, Eichhornia crassipes, invaded Lake Victoria in 1988, with high rates of infestation in shallow waters and bays, which are breeding and nursery grounds for most fish species. Catches of Nile perch decreased following the infestation, while those of Nile tilapia, lung fish (Protopterus aethiopicus) and mud fish (Clarias gariepinus) increased. Haplochromines species also showed some signs of recovery. In view of all these changes, the future of the Lake Victoria fishery is uncertain.