Lake Victoria is one of the African Great Lakes, and the second largest lake in the world covering 68,800 km2. The lake is shared by Kenya (6% by area), Uganda (43%) and Tanzania (51%). It has a mean depth of 40m, maximum depth of 84m, shoreline of 3,450km, a water retention time of 140 years and a catchment area of 194,200km2, which extends into Rwanda and Burundi.

Lake Victoria fisheries provide employment, income, and export earnings to the riparian communities. It is a source of water mainly taken without treatment, and is used for transport. As well as their food value, the fish species are of important evolutionary significance and have been extensively studied. More information on the socio-economic benefits of Lake Victoria fisheries can be found on Benefits from Lake Victoria fisheries: reducing poverty and contributing to economic growth.

Lake Victoria Basin

The lake basin has the fastest growing population in East Africa, of over 30 million, a third of the combined population of the East African States. Much of this population derives its livelihood directly or indirectly from the lake resources.

The three East African Partner States designated Lake Victoria and its basin as an economic growth zone because of its great economic potential, which includes a productive fishery, freshwater for domestic, industrial and agricultural use, hydropower generation, aesthetic value, recreation and tourism, transport and the unique biodiversity along the shorelines and on the islands.

Main commercial fisheries

Lake Victoria fishery is mainly a commercial fishery, with artisanal fishers, working from canoes propelled either manually or with outboard engines. There are three main commercial fish species in the lake:

Fresh dagaa close up
Nile perch was introduced to Lake Victoria in the 1950s and 1960s and led to the huge boom in the fisheries in the 1990s, attracting investment, more fishers and the construction of processing plants. Around 75% of the Nile perch landed is exported, mainly to Europe, the US and the Middle East, making a significant contribution to employment, income, GDP and foreign exchange.

Nile tilapia was also introduced to the lake in the 1950s and 1960s and mainly serves the domestic and regional markets, contributing to food security as well as income and employment.

Dagaa (also known as mukene and omena) is a small sardine-like fish, most of which is dried and sold either for human consumption or for animal feed. Dagaa serves the local and domestic markets, but much is exported within the region, particularly the Democratic Republic of Congo, and even to Southern Africa. Its an important fish for the poor, as it is cheap and highly nutritious.

Other fish species

Before the introduction of Nile perch and Nile tilapia in the 1950s and 1960s, Lake Victoria had a multi-species fishery of over 500 endemic fish species, the dominant species being the tilapiine and haplochromines. Haplochromines were dominant in catches, but are a small bony fish, not always popular for consumption. Other important species included Bagrus spp. (catfish), Clarias spp., syndontis spp., Schilbe spp., Protopterus spp., and Labeo spp. Many of these species declined with the introduction of the Nile perch (Lates niloticus) and Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus), due to predation by Nile perch, hybridization by Nile tilapia and increasing fishing pressure. More information is given about the status of all of the stocks in Status of the Fish Stocks.

Fisheries management

Efforts to manage the lake have been going on since the late 1800s. For much of the last 100 years, the management approach has been based on top-down enforcement of management measures, with little consultation with, or participation of, fishing communities. This has now changed. Co-management of the fisheries is now being implemented, bringing fishing communities together with government to manage the fisheries – making decisions, collecting data, recommending policy and legislation and improving compliance. More information about co-management is given in Co-management of the Fisheries of Lake Victoria.