Fish farmers have raised the alarm over declining fish stock in Lake Kivu due to illegal and unsustainable fishing practices, which are also pushing up prices.
A kilo of fish now costs an average Rwf2,500 from Rwf800 as demand overtakes supply.
Fish farmers in Rubavu and Rutsiro districts are worried about the declining fish stocks of sardines, locally known as Isambaza, which make up majority of fish population in the lake.
According to the fishermen, the cause of the depletion is mainly illegal fishing and the use of unregulated and destructive gears. Illegal practices include the use of fishing nets that target breeding fish.
“Fishing nets have been widely used and are to blame for the dwindling fish stocks,” said Jean Bosco Uwimana, a fisherman in Rutsiro District.
Data from the Ministry of Agriculture shows that production has dropped to four tonnes a day across the lake from 15 tonnes early this year.
“A kilo of fresh sardines is currently being sold at Rwf2,500. The price has been increasing since the start of the fishing season. Dried fish was being sold at Rwf4,000 and has recently increased to Rwf6,500 per kilo,” said Valentine Dukuzimana, a sardines seller in Rubavu District.
Business at Projet Pêche in Gisenyi sector in Rubavu District, the popular fish market in Western province, has been slowing due to low supply.
“We used to buy both fresh and dried sardines and fish and get clients from DR Congo and Kigali, but now the supply is reducing on a daily basis,” Ms Dukuzimana added.
An overview of the fish farming sector by the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources shows that fish stocks in most lakes have reduced and 12 hours of fishing now only produce two kilogrammes of fish per boat.
Official figures show that over the past three years, net fishing practices have greatly contributed to the drop in fish and sardines’ production from 75 per cent down to 45 per cent in Lake Kivu.
Robert Gatere, the head of the fish farming department in the Ministry of Agriculture in the Western region, said that net fishing practices are not allowed by the country’s fishing regulations and legal framework.
“If they are caught, Ngali — local taxes agents, fine them between Rwf50,000 and Rwf100,000 cash of penalties, which they pay without compromise and continue with their activities,” Dr Gatere told Rwanda Today.
“Beyond that you can’t arrest them due to lack of legal provisions to punish net fishing practices,” said Dr Gatere, adding that the quickest and most effective solution to fight the fish stock depleting is to have penalising provisions in place.
According to district officials, over the past two months, counter operations against illegal fishing in Lake Kivu carried out by the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources and Lake Kivu’s bordering districts, over 60 people have been arrested on charges of illegal fishing practices using fishing nets.
The end of the fishing season is now three months away and officials say that with the current fish stock depletion rate the season could last for two months and could either come earlier or last longer to save up on fish stock.
Besides calling for an end to poor fishing practices, fishermen co-operatives have been calling on the government to introduce high productive fish varieties than the current stock, which could gboost production.
However, ministry officials said such a move would require research before being implemented.