Across the Nile Basin, population growth and, in many areas, the high population density are piling pressure onto land and water resources. Climate change, the overuse of resources, declining fish stocks, invasive species, habitat degradation, and pollution are the region’s scourge, and the Lake Edward basin is a case in point.
Lake Edward is the smallest among the African Great Lakes (AGL), with a surface area of 2,325 square kilometres. Its basin includes the smaller (250 square kilometres) but highly productive Lake George, connected by the Kazinga channel. The lake is shared between Uganda (29 percent) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (71 percent).
On the DRC side, Lake Edward is an integral part of the Virunga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and RAMSAR Convention site, with many spawning grounds, and is managed by the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN).
A natural bank for present and future generations.”
The Ugandan part of Lake Edward, part of the Queen Elizabeth National Park, has fewer spawning areas. The exploitation area, which is not part of the park, is managed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (Uganda).
In the Lake Edward Basin, small-scale agriculture provides an income for many, but fishing remains the leading economic activity among these communities. This intensive fishing effort has depleted fish stocks significantly, requiring interventions to reach sustainable levels again.
Rebuilding stocks in the long term is vital for future generations. “Lake Edward, well managed while protecting the spawning grounds for fish reproduction, remains a natural bank for present and future generations,” says Kambasu Katsuva Mukura Josué, Secretary-General of the Federation of Individual Fishermen Committees of Lake Edward. “Fishermen’s production will increase in quality and quantity to meet their needs and the needs of the riparian communities.”
Alongside environmental degradation, especially on the DRC side, the leading causes of the depletion of fish stocks are the weak application of regulations and the lack of harmonisation of fishery laws.
With ongoing wars and rebellions in the eastern part of the DRC and in particular in the province of North Kivu, Lake Edward has also been impacted by the violence, which speeds up the destruction of the aquatic ecosystem, influencing the decrease of the halieutic stock following the practice of the various illicit fisheries.
A range of illegal practices is destroying the spawning grounds or maternity areas of fish for reproduction as well as the opening of illicit fisheries with several landing points, increasing from three to more than ten (Vitshumbi, Nyakakoma, Kiavinyonge, Kamandi, Kiserera, Talihya, Lunyasenge, Katundu, Musenda, Kisaka, Kasindi Port). These activities are supported by a range of people, including armed groups and politicians, certain traditional chiefs or landowners, and certain state services.
The increase of the pirogues from 700 to more than 3,000 currently, and taking into account the demographic rate around the Lake Edward, the Congolese government, by means of the ICCN, in collaboration with its partners and other stakeholders in this sector of fishing, recognises 1,187 pirogues in six fisheries.
The destruction of the spawning grounds of species including Muramba, Taliha, Kamandi, and Magiso by the illegal fishermen has shrunk the yields for those fishing, sparking the trend of people violating the liquid borders within the lake.
The Ugandan navy often arrests Congolese fishers from Kiavinyonge, Kasindi Port, Kisaka and Nyakakoma in Katwe and Rwashama, and outboard motors, canoes, nets and other fishing equipment are seized. At the end of July 2021, 126 fishermen, including 54 from Kiavinyonge, 32 from Kasindi Port and 40 from Nyakakoma, were arrested and detained in Uganda in Katwe with more than 253 canoes, 223 outboard motors from Kiavinyonge, 81 canoes and 71 outboard motors and other fishing materials.
The lack of fish in the Congolese part is due to the weak regulation of fishing. An excess of pirogues is the root cause of overfishing, leading to a low production yield per pirogue.
Given the falling fish stocks in the Lake Edward and Albert Basin, the governments of the DRC and Uganda have recognised that the two states share a common interest in the conservation, utilisation and equitable management of shared natural resources. Back in 2018, they committed to ensuring the long-term conservation, management and sustainable use of the fisheries resources of Lake Edward and Lake Albert.
In this agreement, the governments of DRC and Uganda have recognised the need to establish a sustainable legal and institutional framework for managing the two lakes. The countries expressed their determination to cooperate to eliminate threats to fisheries resources and ecosystems.
The sustainable use of the fisheries and other natural resources of Lake Edward and Lake Albert is the goal of the Lake Edward and Albert Integrated Fisheries and Water Resources Management Project (LEAF II), a transboundary project that brings together Ugandan and Congolese actors. In part, it coordinated the joint patrols between DRC and Uganda in March 2021.
These patrols aimed at ensuring the protection of the spawning grounds, clearing fishing equipment not respecting the norms in the fishing enclaves of Lake Edward and dealing with illegal fishers caught fishing on the lake.
Fish are vulnerable to overfishing, especially when it occurs in spawning areas.”
These patrols concerned the whole lake but not the river Rwindi up to the river Ntumbwe due to the presence of Mai-Mai rebels in these places.
Director Rodrigue Mugaruka, Deputy Head of Site in charge of the anti-poaching programme for Virunga National Park, explained: “We spotted illegal fishermen in the middle of their fishing. Our elements engaged in coordinated patrols and carried out 35 patrols to fight against illegal fishing on the whole of Lake Edward, Congolese part,” he said, adding that 163 canals have been closed, and 27 illegal fishermen were arrested.
Joseph Matungulu Masirika, the National Coordinator of the LEAF II project in the DRC, said, “fish are vulnerable to overfishing, especially when it occurs in spawning areas. For the well-being of the fish, it is advisable to clear the illegal villages and the men and women carrying weapons illegally at the edge of the park, from the mouth of the Rwindi river to Muramba,” and added that it was essential to extending the series of meetings and coordinated patrols.
Such ongoing cooperation among leading actors in the region will help implement and enforce national environmental policy, legislation and procedures related to the aquatic ecosystem, securing valuable resources for future generations. Meanwhile, environmental education and public awareness should be strategies for maintaining community integration.