One of the World's Biggest Lakes Is Dying and We're to Blame
At Ibrahim Mohammed's fish stall, business is slow.
He's sitting behind a wooden table piled with a dozen tilapia and Nile perch at the market in Katoro, a roadside town in northern Tanzania. The fish—a staple of the Tanzanian diet—came in that morning from Lake Victoria, an hour's drive north. Around us, hundreds of shoppers are snatching up pineapples, textiles, and motorcycle parts. But Mohammed explains that basic economics is keeping customers away from his fish.
"There's less fish," he says. "So the price goes up, so customers can't afford to buy."
In the two years Mohammed has operated this stall, the retail price for both species has doubled. An average Nile perch has gone from roughly $2 to $4; tilapia from $4 to $8. That's far above the overall rate of inflation.
Stories like Mohammed's are becoming common among vendors and fishermen across Tanzania. The freshwater fishing industry here is nine times larger than the ocean fishing industry, and it's a vital source of income for more than 2 million people, according to the United Nations. Half of the freshwater haul comes from Lake Victoria.
Nile perch makes up the majority of the catch. An invasive species that has dominated the lake for half a century, it's driven many of the native fish to extinction, earning it a reputation as an ecological disaster. For fishermen, though, it has become a cornerstone of the economy.
But over the last several years, locals here say, fish yields have begun to drop. The culprit: a worrisome combination of overfishing and climate change.
Hard statistics are notoriously difficult to come by, as the resource-strapped federal fisheries agency struggles to keep tabs on an industry composed almost entirely of small-scale, informal operators. But a 2013 government auditpainted a disturbing picture. Between 2009 and 2011, according to the audit, yields of Nile perch on Lake Victoria fell about 5 percent.