Fish decay is not uncommon among fishermen in Lake Tanganyika but what is alarming is the amount of spoilage and the time they take to go bad.
Over a half of the Lake Tanganyika perch catch are wasted because they rot even before they are brought to the landing site.
For the few that reach the landing site deteriorate And for sprat and sardines, the loss is insurmountable due to poor drying methods.
Some blame use of gillnets, known here as ‘makila,’ for perch decay and even claim the nets may contain poisons, but others blame the fishermen for not preserving their fish catch in ice or cooler boxes to keep them fresh.
Those who blame the fishermen say fish spoilage has increased because they are fished too early when the fishing nets are cast in evenings and are left dead in the nets until morning hours when fishermen return to the landing sites.
They argue that as soon as a fish dies after being trapped in their nets, spoilage begins and by the time when the fishermen return to the landing sites in the morning a big chunk of their catch is already rotten.
The situation is made worse because many fishermen do not take ice blocks or cooler boxes with them.
“Gillnetting (fishing method using gillnets) is the reason for fish spoilage,” says Betina Tito, a local artisanal fish processor at Kibirizi market.
Ms Tito, who buys fish from fishermen when they reach a landing site and process them before selling to other traders at a profit, blames the government for introducing the gill nets.
“Since when you learned people allowed `makila fishing’ so much fish rot even before they are brought to ‘Mwaloni (a landing site),’ she tells the Daily News at Kibirizi market.
A fishwife from Katonga area in Kigoma, Celestina Mperekeza, blames the fishermen using gill nets for fish spoilage.
She says when fishermen set out to the lake in evenings and cast their nets, they do not look at their catch until late in the morning hours when they are about to return to the landing site.
“It is fishermen fault. They fish them very early.
A fish caught in the evening will definitely go bad when it reaches here in the morning,” says Ms Mperekeza at Katonga landing site and fish market.
He views are shared by some, like Ahmed Omari, a fisherman who also owns fishing boats at Katonga fish market.
He says fish go bad because they are fished too early and spend hours trapped in the nets before they are brought at the landing sites in the morning.
“A fish that is caught at seven in the evening will have already gone bad by the morning when it is brought to the shore,” he says.
When Lake Tanganyika perch, famous here as migebuka begin to rot they are thrown out, sometimes in the lake before even before they reach the landing site.
However, it is different for sprats and sardines for they are sold as animal feed when they begin to decay.
“When they have begun to decay we sell them as they are and they change their use,” he says noting that the price goes down according to the quality.
But some fishermen say the poison claims on gillnets are baseless.
Kagoma Iddi, a fisherman at Kibirizi landing site says it is not true that the gill nets contain poison.
He says fish spoilage has become a serious problem because fishermen are just being careless. “The poison story is not true.
These are just lies. The government recognises gill nets. Fish spoilage is result of carelessness of the fishermen.
They don’t inspect their nets after casting them in the evenings,” he says.
“The fishermen sets out to the waters in the evenings and cast their nets.
The fish may have been trapped in the nets, die and begin to decay and the fishermen do not know until they lift their nets in the morning hours.”
Silei Mashaka, a fisherman at Kibirizi says he thinks the problem of fish spoilage is due to ignorance to some fishermen who are reluctant to use cooler boxes during fishing.
“The ice cubes are available here at Kibirizi and cooler boxes are not hard to find but some would not use them for some flimsy excuses,” “When you come with fish catch that have already began to rot you will have to beg your customers to buy and accept low price, but when you come with fresh fish you dictate the price,” he says.
To put the problem of fish spoilage in perspective, the Director General of Tanzania Fisheries Research Institute (TAFIRI), Dr Ismael Kimirei says about 40 to 60 per cent of fish catch decay even before they reach the landing sites.
For sprat and sardines, the problem becomes worse when it rains because they cannot be dried properly.
He shares the views that perch spoilage is mainly due to reluctance of fishers to go with ice cubes and cooler boxes in their fishing expedition.
He says in the beginning the fishermen did not like to use ice boxes claiming they were spoiling their fish but after being educated they understood the importance of storing fish in ice boxes to keep them fresh and preserve their quality.
“We have held a number of workshops to educate them on use of cooler boxes.
They were using wood ice boxes which were however not good because they had openings.
We taught them how to prepare simple insulated ice boxes,” he says.
Dr Kimerei said the ice cubes were being produced at the Kibirizi fish market in ice making facilities installed during infrastructure upgrading work under support of Denmark through Danida in 2016.
The infrastructure upgrading included new pavement, drainage, vending stalls, water and sanitation systems, electrical installations, drying area for sardines (dagaa), storage facilities and the first ice block and flakes production in the region.
“The government has invested at Kibirizi in collaboration with Denmark government through DANIDAS.
There is ice making machine and the ice produced, for your information are supplied to the entire lake shores to help fishermen and the processors. “So government investment is on infrastructure.
For the time being we have that facility at Kibirizi but we know it is not enough.
More investments are needed in other areas.” He said flooding on some landing sites in Lake Tanganyika, the world’s second-deepest lake, had led to postponements of infrastructure upgrading plans which included installation of ice making facilities.
“Even at Kasanga port, the government had begun the process for installing ice making machine but the plans were put on hold due to flooding,” he said.
He said reluctance by some fishermen to use ice cubes and cooler boxes was due to ignorance on the importance of the facilities to preserve fish quality which is important in the whole value chain of fishing industry.
“The price is 500/- per kilogramme. Sometimes we need to change our attitudes.
The same fishermen borrow fuel for their boats and many times they can’t pay because they fetch lower prices because of the poor quality of their fish.
What they get is not enough to pay up their loans,” “If you ask them how much fish they throw in the lake after they decay which they could be kept fresh by using cooler boxes...I think they need to be educated.
Dr Kimerei says claims that the ice are expensive were baseless because their demand has outstripped supply and are being sold in Katavi and Rukwa regions and even beyond the borders of the country.
“I think the ice cubes are affordable and that is why they are sold as far as Katavi and Rukwa and even out of the country. And we say they are expensive,” he queries.
Why are gill nets (makila) blamed? Dr Kimirei says when fish are caught by other nets are loaded on the boat at the same time except for the gill nets where they are left until morning and then loaded into a boat.
The fish die from being trapped in the gills by the nets and they begin to deteriorate.
Their decaying speed is higher when they are in the water than those fish which are in dry place, he says.
Technically, when a fish is dead it decomposes faster in water than if it is placed in a dry place.
Thus, the fish are being brought to the landing site while they have already begun to deteriorate significantly.
The situation is made worse due to lack of ice or cooling boxes. What does the government do to address the problem?
The Director of Aquaculture in the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries, Dr Nazael Madalla, said the government is eager to reduce post-harvest losses of the artisanal small-scale fishery in Lake Tanganyika by rehabilitating existing landing sites and constructing new ones.
“Post-harvest loss in the small scale fishery is a challenge that is very dear to us because the over 40 per cent loss of fish catch is a big waste,” says Dr Madalla.
“We are trying to improve post-harvest facilities. One, we are rehabilitating a few selected landing sites.
It is not possible to rehabilitate them all at once, so every financial year we set aside funds for that purpose.
In other places we’re constructing new landing sites.” The government is also focused to promote cooperative societies in the small small-scale fishery sector to help artisanal fishermen, processors and other stakeholders along the value chain to access loans and financial support from banks and other institutions, he said.
Dr Madalla says fish spoilage was part of challenges of post-harvest losses in food production being addressed by the government under its 3rd Five-Year National Development Plan.
Artisanal fishermen, fish producers, traders and other stakeholders along the fishery value chain met in Kigoma last week to analyse the dynamics of the value chain of Lake Tanganyika sprat, sardines and perch at a FISH 4ACP value chain analysis validation workshop.
The workshop was organised by FISH 4ACP project which is supported by the European Union and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and implemented by Food and Agriculture Organisation.