East Africa Needs to Take Care of its Waters

A thriving trade in fish maw – made from the swim bladders of fish – could lead to the extinction of the Nile perch fish in east Africa’s Lake Victoria. Demand for fish maw has spawned such a lucrative business enterprise in the region that it is raising concerns of overfishing. The high profits involved mean that traders keep a low profile, and are secretive about their haul’s eventual destination, according to the women who gut the perch to extract the precious maw. Fish maw has various uses, including the manufacture of surgical sutures, but it is also a delicacy in China, where it is served in soups or stews in addition to being used as a source of collagen. It is also used to make water-resistant glue and in the production of isinglass, a refining agent involved in the manufacture of beer and wine. Ironically, Nile perch is an invasive species. It was introduced to Lake Victoria in 1950, and has been blamed for the disappearance of the native fish and interfering with the lake’s ecosystem. But it is now an important part of the local economy. According to a report commissioned by the German development agency GIZ in collaboration with the Lake Victoria Fisheries Organisation in August 2018, the Chinese agents supplying maw had better opportunities for business growth compared with others in Uganda. There is still little knowledge of this trade in the region, and this in itself contributes to unsustainable fishing. For example no guidelines or policy exist to regulate the fish swim bladder trade in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.


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