As Africa celebrates Africa Day, The Hook takes a look at how fishing in Africa has developed and what role it plays in the lives of many African Fishing communities.

As a form of sustaining livelihoods for many families, fishing is a vital industry in Africa, contributing both to livelihoods and food security.

It is estimated that nearly 6 million fishermen and women live in poverty, many in rural Africa (FAO, 2014). Yet the fish trade generates livelihoods for more than 100 million people (FAO, 2014) and represents a critical source of nutrition.

The recorded history of fishing in Africa leads to Egypt. The ancient river Nile was full of fish; fresh and dried fish were a staple food for much of the population. The Egyptians invented various implements and methods for fishing and these are clearly illustrated in tomb scenes, drawings, and papyrus documents. Simple reed boats served for fishing (Wikipedia, 2016).

Woven nets, weir baskets made from willow branches, harpoons and hook and line (the hooks having a length of between eight millimetres and eighteen centimetres) were all being used. By the 12th dynasty, metal hooks with barbs were being used.

As is fairly common today, the fish were clubbed to death after capture. Nile perch, catfish and eels were among the most important fish. Some representations hint at fishing being pursued as a pastime (Wikipedia, 2016).

Today, fishing is prevalent all over Africa, and currently, according to East Africa News, Tanzania and Angola are two of the top fishing nations in Africa.

Uganda ranks sixth in the category of the world’s top inland water capture, while Tanzania occupies the eighth position (East Africa News, 2014).

“The two countries are the leading producers of fish captured in inland waters, mainly rivers and lakes, due to increased exploitation of the resource using both traditional and modern methods in the past decade.” says the organisation.

The East African region is endowed with some of the largest freshwater lakes in the world, which harbour substantial resources for fishery. Lake Victoria which is shared by Kenya (6%), Tanzania (49%) and Uganda (45%), covers a surface area of 68,000 km2 and the shoreline length is 3,400 km.

The lake is home to about 350 species of fish. The commercially important fish species of Lake Victoria are Lates Niloticus (Nile perch), Oreochromis (Tilapia) and Rastrineobola argentea (Dagaa). The other species include Alestes, Barbus, Clarius, Haplochromis, Labeo, Mormyrus, Protopterus, Schilbe and Synodontis (East African Community, 2016).

Lake Victoria and other lakes such as Lake Turkana (in Kenya), Tanganyika (in Tanzania) and Kyoga (in Uganda) provide ample opportunity in fishing, fish processing and fish by-product processing, as well as in the supply of fishery-related equipment and storage infrastructure such as fishing nets, cooler transporters, processing equipment, packaging materials, and freighters and cargo planes.

However, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is warning that countries on the continent face a sharp decline in fish catch, unless they embrace sustainable fishing practices and respect the ecological balance in river and lake ecosystems.

“Fish stocks in many African water bodies are declining through a combination of over-fishing invasive species and habitat degradation,” says FAO.

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