“Red Sails in the Sunset….” an evocative photograph of small fishing boats in full sail on Lake Victoria, Kenya (circa 1950). Small single-sailed (lateen) craft set out in the morning for a day of fishing. 

Fishing - A Way Of Life

Fishing is the main livelihood of many of the people living along the shores of Lake Victoria. The small single-sailed (lateen) craft set out in the morning for a day of fishing. 

Up to the early 1950's, the lake contained over 500 different fish species, an enormous biodiversity by any standards. However, after this fish stock became increasingly under pressure in response to increased demand for fish products both within Kenya and from abroad. 


Fish Species Extinction

The decrease in indigenous fish stock was to some extent offset by the introduction of new species of Tilapia and the Nile Perch, a predator that can grow to huge size. This latter fish has been resposible for driving many of the indigenous fish species to extinction - some have called this the largest extinction event amongst vertebrates of the 20th Century. However, the arrival of the Nile Perch has resulted in a booming fishery industry as the fish is easily caught and has huge biomass.

Fish Processing Factories

Whilst up to the early 1950's most of the fishing was undertaken by local individual fishermen owning their own fishing boat and fishing gear, nowadays most of the fishing is undertaken by bigger boats with hired labour and much improved equipment. Onshore there are now fish processing factories to deal with the high demand.

Increased Malnutrition

Whilst this has brought increased money into the local economy, some fear that with much of the daily catch being exported away from the local community, it has contributed to an increase in malnutrition. Shanty towns have sprung up along the lake shore with few if any public services such as basic sanitation, electricity and clean water. It hardly needs said that Lake Victoria is becoming increasingly polluted.

'Darwin's Nightmare' - Year's Best Documentary

In 2004, a documentary film called Darwin's Nightmare was made highlighting the social and environmental effects of the fishing industry around the shores of Lake Victoria. Some called it the year's best documentary. Well worth looking at for anyone interested in  - and concerned about -  the impact of large-scale commercial industry, focused on exports to the western world, on local poulations (see the video).

Victoria - Second Largest Freshwater Lake

Lake Victoria, the second largest freshwater lake in the world, is one of the sources of the Nile River. The first European to see it was the explorer John Speke in 1858. He named it after Queen Victoria of Great Britain. The lake borders three East African countries - Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

Despite its massive size (about 69,000 sq km), it is generally quite shallow (average about 40m), with its deepest point reaching just 100 m. 

Popular Tourist Destination

The first record of the lake dates back to 1160 AD, when it was recorded on the maps of Arab traders.

 The lake contains 84 large islands within it, now popular with tourists due to their exotic natural surroundings and wildlife. 

Start Of The White Nile River

Lake Victoria sits in the western region of the Great Rift Valley at an altitude of 1134m above sea-level. The start of the White Nile is at the Ugandan town of Jinja. From there, it flows through as series of falls to Lake Albert and from there through the Sudan to Egypt. 

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