Nile perch spawns boom and bust for African fishermen
January 2, 1999
MWANZA, Tanzania (CNN) -- Since its introduction to Lake Victoria, the Nile perch has proved a blessing to some and a curse to others.
"We started seeing Nile perch in the mid-1980s," said Jacob Maiseri, a supervisor at a Tanzania fish factory. "We started seeing a few specimens, a fish or two, and at that time they were giant ones, even above 100 kilos."
The large, fecund fish thrived in the lake -- which borders on Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda -- and spawned an export industry. Factories sprang up to skin, trim, fillet and freeze the catches of Nile perch and send them by air to Europe, Japan and the United States.
The factories "are booming," Maiseri said. "It's a mushrooming of factories, and there are so many people getting jobs."
The fish factory workers earn $50 to $150 a month in Tanzania, where jobs are short. The Nile perch has also generated work for as many as 30,000 fishermen.
But the introduction of the Nile perch to the area also has created problems.
In Kenya, the boom in fish exports has put many local fishermen out of business, since they are unable to compete with large commercial operations, and has also made good fish hard to find in local markets.
The Tanzania government hopes to avoid those problems by banning commercial fishing boats, as well as exports of tilapia -- a fish native to Lake Victoria.
Tilapia -- more tender than the Nile perch and more subtly flavored -- is the fish Tanzanians prefer to eat. While the tilapia was previously threatened by the influx of the predatory perch, the growing export demand is driving down the perch's population and allowing the tilapia to once again thrive.
Factory owners say up to 200 tons of Nile perch are being hauled out of the lake each day.
Correspondent Catherine Bond contributed to this report.
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