Overfishing "annihilating" Uganda's Nile Perch

A fisherman paddles his boat on the shores of Lake Albert, October 24, 2007. REUTERS/Tim Cocks

KAMPALA (Reuters) - Overfishing on Lake Victoria has seen Nile Perch stocks drop 81 percent to 370,000 metric tons in 2008 from 2 million metric tons three years ago, “annihilating” the species, Uganda said Thursday.

Fishing is one of Uganda’s leading export earners. The east African nation boasts four major lakes -- Victoria, Lake Albert, Lake George and Lake Kyoga.

“We are catching immature, juvenile fish so they have no chance to reproduce,” said Fred Mukisa, state minister for fisheries. “It is annihilation of the species, the situation is very bad and it must be reversed,” he told journalists.

Uganda’s fisheries ministry said the price of Nile Perch was rising, but earnings still dropped to $115 million last year from a record of $143 million in 2005.

Mukisa said Uganda would adopt a zero-tolerance policy with illegal fishing on the lake -- shared with Kenya and Tanzania -- a practice Kampala hoped to eradicate by the end of the year.

“We must aggressively go fish farming ... that is the only way we can feed our people,” he said.

Reporting by Hereward Holland; Editing by Jack Kimball and Paul Casciato