ARUSHA, The six-nation East African Community (EAC) is taking steps to ensure maritime safety, boost environmental conservation as well as tackle illegal fishing to check a massive decline in the population of the Nile Perch in Lake Victoria.

Research carried out by the Lake Victoria Fisheries Organisation (LVFO) indicates that in 2015, there was a major decline in Nile Perch stocks from 1.2 million tonnes to 0.8 million tonnes while stocks of sardines went down to 0.7 million tonnes from 1.3 million tonnes.

This was revealed by the Chairman of EAC Council of Ministers, Dr Ali Kivenjija, who is Uganda's Second Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of EAC Affairs, in his budget speech to the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) for 2017/18.

He said the LVFO conducted the survey in order to estimate the amount of fish in the lake and the proportions available for harvesting. He also revealed that the results of the biennial Fishery Frame Surveys conducted last year recorded an increase of illegal nets (monofilaments) by 59 per cent. Dr Kivenjijai called for intensive surveillance to curb illegal activities.

Information generated from Catch Assessment Surveys indicated a decrease in the value of catches at landing beaches from 840 million US dollars to 591 million US Dollars. This is attributed to a decrease in the high value species (Nile Perch), he said in a speech to EALA members read out by Minister of State for EAC Affairs Julius Maganda.

Dr Kivenjija said the LVFO had initiated a programme to address the Nile Perch decline and to add value to the catch, specifically, sardines to contribute to food security and better income to the fishing community and increase intra-regional fish trade in EAC.

In 2017/18, the LVFO would address the issues by strengthening governance structures of the organisation, mobilise funding and resources for the organization to implement its programmes, harmonize regional policies, legislation and standards including facilitating the provision of a conducive legal and institutional framework for the development of aquaculture to meet the demand of fish regionally.

The Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC), he added, had retained maritime safety and security on the lake as a key priority during the upcoming financial year. The African Development Bank (AfDB) has approved funds to support the new multinational Lake Victoria Communication and Transport project to the tune of 25 million US dollars.

The key strategic interventions envisaged next financial year are the establishment and operationalisation of the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Mwanza, Tanzania; the production of charts in Lake Victoria; the supply and installation of aids to navigation and the operationalisation of oil spills and toxic chemicals contingency plan for the lake.

The LVBC also seeks to promote adherence to harmonised water resources management policies, laws and management instruments, enhance environmental and natural resources management, strategise mitigation of climate change, mainstream Population Health and Environment (PHE) and increase number of people with access to safe water.

Under promotion of sustainable utilisation and management of the natural resources within the basin, paramount activities were aimed to deal with environmental stress, with 396 industries in the basin trained and sensitised on resource efficiency and cleaner production technologies, as four waste water treatment facilities were put in place at Bomet, Homa Bay, Kisumu and Bukoba.