THE government has said categorically that it will impose stern measures that might include the introduction of mobile courts of law and military intervention to eliminate illegal fishing and destruction of Lake Victoria environment and its resources.
Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan hinted early this month about the measures after she received reports on the alarming acts of illegal fishing in Lake Victoria. Illegal fishermen are, in the eyes of the state, economic saboteurs.
The vice president spoke tough against the destruction of the environment of the lake saying: “These acts will not be tolerated any further and my office will institute strict punitive measures against the individuals involved.”
According to VP Samia, fighting illegal fishing and other acts of destruction will become a national agenda instead of leaving the battle against criminals to be waged by the affected regions alone.
“We are witnessing a sharp decrease in revenue from the fishing industry as opposed to the past and that scenario should be dealt with henceforth. The government will provide every support possible in this noble crusade,” stressed the VP.
The state has other plans on its cards. It is encouraging a widely practiced fish farming initiative with the upshot being sealing the current deficit which stands at 400,000 tonnes a year.
A workshop on Tilapia Aquaculture has been told that offshore fishing was not productive enough. The gathering was also told that although the nation consumes 700,000 tonnes of fish annually, irresponsible fishing that has also caused environmental degradation has reduced the amount of fish catches especially in Lake Victoria.
It is this shortfall of 400,000 tonnes of fish which prompts the nation to import about 200,000 tonnes from China annually. Nevertheless, while urging small-scale fish farmers to help out, however, the State needs to look elsewhere.
It is imperative to mention here that reforms in the marine services are required so that Tanzania can earn more revenue from deep-sea fishing. National benefit, so far, from deep sea fishing is small.
Indeed, Tanzania has a wide sea territory that teems with fish. The nation has potential for vast fish populations that, quite often, attract foreign companies. Many foreign fishing ships come to fish in our territorial ocean waters because of the available fish, especially the celebrated tuna, and our weak regulations in licensing.
Yes, they pay 50,000 US dollars to fish tuna. But we do not have capacity to monitor the whole fish catch, do we? So, Tanzania Deep Sea Fishing Authority (DSA) should review its licensing regulations alongside possible revival of ‘Tanzania Fishing Company (TAFICO)’.
Tanzania has been losing a lot in deep sea fishing just because of not ‘thinking out of the box’ much to the advantage of foreign companies. This includes questionable use of Tanzanian flags by foreign ships. And many local seamen are denied jobs in the ships.
On the home front the scenario was almost as bad during the year under review. A survey determined that 400 species of Lake Victoria fish had virtually vanished. One reason for this unfortunate situation was the presence of the Nile perch which are voracious eaters of lesser fish.
But the Nile perch are not the most notorious culprits. The presence of illegal fishermen is the main canker. Some fishermen use dynamite to blast fish colonies or their breeding grounds ruining the ecological balance of the lake.
The fishermen also use banned gear such as gillnets, monofilaments, beach seines and others. These fishing gear have been banned mainly because they catch all sorts of fish including the young.
Some fishers trap fish using Thionex or Thioden which are poisonous chemical compounds that are dangerous to human health. The medical world is aware that apart from being potential killers, Thionex and Theoden can cause impotence in men.
Now, this is chilling. But whatever the case; the State must eventually slam the brakes on illegal fishing. It is imperative to mention here that these fishermen are economic saboteurs who should be stopped in their tracks.
It is possible to replenish some of the vanishing fish stocks in the lake if illegal fishing is brought to a complete halt. But Tanzania is not the only country that is grappling with illegal fishermen.
Illegal fishing is rampant almost the world over. Let us take West Africa for example. In fact, if governments in western Africa could end illegal fishing by foreign commercial vessels and build up national fleets and processing industries, they could generate billions of dollars in extra wealth and create around 300,000 jobs.
The scale of the losses is enormous. Instead of jobs and development, the livelihoods of artisanal fishers are being decimated by foreign fishing fleets, which operate virtually unchecked.
For the first time, researchers used detailed satellite and tracking data to analyse the two main practices of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing: the activities of reefers – large-scale commercial vessels that receive and freeze fish at sea.
They also tracked the transportation of fish in large refrigerated containers that are subject to less strict reporting requirements. In 2013, they followed reefers off the coast of western Africa and found vessels from China, Holland and South Korea operating there, with fish exported globally.
Among the 35 reefers operating in the region that year, routes were consistent with the transfer of catches from fishing vessels to reefers, including inside the exclusive fishing waters of Senegal and Ivory Coast, countries that have banned ship-to-ship transfers of catches.
The tracking data also revealed the extent of IUU fishing via transfers on to container ships. About 84 per cent of illegal fish is taken out of the region in this way, making it hard to stop illegally caught fish entering the global supply chain.
If regional governments end illegal fishing and build up fish processing industries and indigenous fishing fleets, they could generate $3.3bn (£2.5bn), eight times the $400m they currently raise by selling foreign rights.
By developing their fishing sectors, western African governments could create up to 300,000 new jobs, with artisanal fishers connected to consumers.
According to one previous estimate, more than half of the stocks in the stretch of coast from Senegal to Nigeria alone have been overfished, with IUU fishing believed to account for between one third and half of the total catch.
In Tanzania, it has come to light that It has come to light that some Lake Victoria fishermen take spears, arrows, bows and even guns to the fishing grounds. The main reason for this anomaly is that the fishing grounds are also battle zones these days.
A fight between men in two fishing boats is now common. The bone of contention, survivors of the fishing fights say, is fish catches or fishing gear or longstanding rivalry. Killings often occur during these battles, which often occur away from prying eyes.
Here, intervention by law enforcement agents is simply impossible. In some cases such fights or killings go unreported. It is also on record that fishermen attack patrol boats in a quest to deny law enforcers chance to see their banned fishing gear.
In such incidents lobbing spears or firing guns at each other is rife. This is chilling news but whatever the case; the State must eventually put the brakes on this mayhem. Some of the fishermen who flex their muscles in the frightening fights are illegal fishermen.