Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi are formulating laws that will govern the establishment and management of fish cages in Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika.
The East African countries hope this will manage cage fishing especially in Lake Victoria.
According to fishery officials from the said countries, this will conserve aquatic environment and to protect the source of livelihood of fishing communities along the two lakes.
Cage fishing is an emerging fish rearing method in water bodies that is used to supplement the dwindling fish production through capture and traditional fishing practices.
Fish is bred, fed and raised in plastic or metallic cages from juvenile stage up to maturity before they are harvested for sale to sustain the ever increasing population and high demand for fish.
Its benefits have seen a lot of investors introduce new cages in Lake Victoria and this is seen as a threat to a lot of activities including blockage of transport routes used by water vessels.
Cages in Kenya already cover five per cent of the lake with majority being in Homa Bay County, according to Kenya Fisheries Service.
Investors are extending the same to other countries sharing the lake with government officials now worried that more cages would affect other activities in the water body.
Lake Victoria Fisheries Organization (LVFO) wants establishment and operation of cages to be done in an environmentally sustainable manner which is in conformity with laws and regulations governing environment, fisheries, water navigation and other provisions in law.
The origination also wants the laws governing the practice to be harmonized in all counties because the lake is a shared resource.
Consequently, it has started training fisheries officials on good management practices and biosecurity measures on cage fishing.
The knowledge will be disseminated to cage fishing operators in respective countries to encourage sustainable cage fish farming and protect Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika from possible pollution and reduce conflict.
LVFO based in Jinja- Uganda, undertakes the programme by training trainers of trainers (ToTs) for success of the programme.
The organization has completed the first training exercise in which it trained four ToTs from each of the four East African Community member states.
The ToTs are expected to train a minimum of ten trainers in their respective countries, culminating in a total of 40 trainers.
LVFO Deputy Executive Secretary Anthony Munyaho, Kenya Fisheries Service (KFS) Assistant Director Christine Etiegni, Tanzania’s Director of Aquaculture in the Ministry of Fisheries Nazael Madalla, Uganda’s Assistant Commissioner in charge of Aquaculture Andrew Alio and Burundi’s Directorate of Livestock in the Ministry of Agriculture Desire Irutimana presided over a training exercise in Homa Bay Town, recently.
Mr Munyaho said their objective is to promote cage fish farming in a harmonized and sustainable manner to minimise conflict with other water users.
He argued that human population in East African community member states is growing and there is a need to have alternative sources of food.
“Capture fisheries are on the decline and the current population outweighs the quantity of fish produced from Lake Victoria and other water bodies. We encourage farmers to practice cage fishing to support food security, but in a way that conforms to laws,” he said.
To minimize confusion on the management of cages, all the EAC states will come up with laws that control fish farming.
A consultant has already been identified to develop a draft policy which will be presented to senior officials from the member states for amendment before being adopted.
Mr Munyaho said cage fish farming is the only way to address fish shortage in East Africa but in a manner that is applicable to other lakes in EAC.
Ms Etiegni said Kenya has up to 5300 cages which are distributed from Busia, Siaya, Homa Bay and Migori counties.
She said KFS is implementing regulations for protecting Lake Victoria from harmful practices which may endanger aquaculture and cause conflict.
Some of the issues KFS is looking at is to protect the 13 demarcated fish breeding areas in Lake Victoria where cages should not be placed.
Ms Etiegni said anybody who wants to place cages in the lake must work closely with the community and the government before for environmental conservation.
“There have been complains from fishermen that cages are taking up space in the lake. The community has power to block investors from placing cages in the lake. Investors must work closely with institutions like NEMA and KFS,” she said.
Cage fishing is yet to take root in Tanzania.
Mr Madalla said his county has 500 registered cages.
The government in the neighboring country is however ready to set aside some seed money to promote cage fishing in Lake Victoria.
“Among the measures the government of Tanzania has taken to support fish farming is waiving VAT on fish feeds to make imports affordable to farmers. We are also encouraging fish farmers to embrace the practice to promote food security,” Mr Madalla said.
The Ugandan government is also supporting its local feed producers to encourage farming in their country.
Mr Alio said feed is the most expensive aspect of cage fish farming.
“80 per cent of fish feeds in Uganda are imported. We are supporting local feed producers to reduce expenses involved in cage fish farming,” he said.
Meanwhile, in Burundi, the government is yet to start supporting cage fishing which should be done in Lake Tanganyika.
Mr Irutimana said the training will equip farmers in his country with knowledge on cage fish farming.