Date: 15 April, 1999
From: Henderson, Kathleen
Source: Daily Nation News agency [edited]

Fish poisoning - East Africa
(Lake Victoria)

Kenya Health Minister Jackson Kalweo withdrew the fish poisoning alert, saying fish consumers could now eat fish without fear.

Fishing resumed in Lake Victoria yesterday after a two-week ban was lifted. Sources said some of the fish processing factories closed after the government issued an alert over the poisoning of fish have been re-opened.

A spokesman of the Asat Beach fishermen in Kisumu, Mr Silas Ogolla Nyinya, said "There has not been fish poisoning in the Nyanza Gulf but we will fight those trying to introduce it. Our policy is to sell clean fish to Kenyans and buyers in Europe."

Date: 15 April, 1999
From: Henderson, Kathleen
Source: East African News agency [edited]

Even if Kenyan medical authorities had not alerted the public to the poisoning of fish on Lake Victoria, a recent crackdown by the Uganda Government and the Nyanza provincial administration against the practice had already made waves in the Ksh5 billion ($79 million) industry.

Protests by Members of Parliament (MP) from Nyanza and Western provinces, which produce the bulk of Kenya's fish, and threats of court action, are unlikely to alter the Moi government's position on a matter of national safety and commercial hygiene.

Kenya's action came in the wake of a ban by Uganda on fish sales in Kampala after three residents died from poisoned tilapia [fish]. Uganda has mounted checks on major landing sites and sent a delegation to Europe to pre-empt a ban by its main export buyers.

Few are aware that by the middle of February, 1999, 51 cases of fishermen using poison had been taken to court in Kisumu, in the wake of a crackdown ordered by the Kisumu District Commissioner, Mr Ali Korane. He might have been responding to pressure from fish processors anxious to avoid a repeat of a 1997 ban by the European Union, which shut out fish imports from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania for close to a year following a cholera outbreak. [But the EU has re-imposed the ban - Mod.JW]

Director of Medical Services, Prof. Meme told The East African [news agency] that fishing by poison mostly affected tilapia, which thrives in shallow waters. Fish caught deeper in the lake was largely safe. "We have mobilized the fisheries department, provincial administration and health officials to contain the situation," he said. Lake Victoria is Kenya's biggest source of fresh water fish, supplying at least 170,000 tons a year. Out of the 177,408 tons of fresh water fish caught in Kenya in 1996, 171 419 tons was from the lake.

Together with fresh water fish from Lakes Turkana, Naivasha, Baringo and Jipe, it earned the country Sh271 million in 1996.

Nyanza province's 9 fish factories process Nile perch and tilapia for export to Europe, the Middle and Far East and South America.

Scientists H.D.J. Mrosso of the Tanzania Fisheries Research Institute in Mwanza and Kenneth Werimo of the Kenya Fisheries Research Institute in Kisumu, who have studied the fish poisoning problem, found the practice most serious in Tanzania, where a greater variety of poisons are used, especially around Musoma. It is only slightly less severe in Uganda and Kenya.

Agricultural pesticides and poisons extracted from plants are the chemicals of choice. Tanzanian fishermen commonly use Thiodan and Diazinon and plant extracts from Euphorbia tirucalli and Tephrosia vojeli. In Kenya, fishermen also use Triatrix. Their plant extracts come from Cassia fallacina, Cassia didymobotra and Albizia gummifera.

Researchers say pesticides only came into significant use in Kenya in the second half of last year. Of the plant extracts, Cassia fallacina is more poisonous to fish than Albizia gummifera, while the most potent of the pesticides is Thiodan. Fish killed by Diazinon and Thiodan are mainly Nile tilapia and Alestes [fish]. The chemicals kill within 6 hours of being consumed by human beings.

Mrosso and Werimo say that fish removed from the water within 30 or 60 minutes of being exposed to poison have a firm texture, but those which stay in water more than an hour after attack had "bleached or pale gills with foam." The fish spoils rapidly when stored at ambient temperature or exposed to the sun.

With last week's government intervention in the problem, courts are expected to impose stiffer penalties than the Ksh 5000 routinely imposed on fishermen convicted of using poison. Indeed, because custodial sentences [jail] are rare in these cases, the leniency of courts has been one of the obstacles to the Fisheries Department's campaign against the practice. The other has been a requirement that fish samples be taken to the Government Chemist in Nairobi, 350 kilometres away.

A fisheries officer, Mr Sebastian Onyango, is quoted in the latest issue of East African Alternatives, a Nairobi Monthly, as saying that some of the poisons break down quickly after being ingested by fish and are not easily detected when the samples reach Nairobi. Another problem was delays in releasing test results.

"Here you are threatening fishermen with the law. You arrest one of them red handed but soon after, he's back in business after either getting a bond or a fine. It doesn't help at all," Mr Onyango said.

Poisoned fish causes diarrhea, vomiting, excessive sweating and abnormal salivation [in human consumers]. It could also cause pneumonia-like symptoms. There is growing suspicion that some of the cholera outbreaks commonly reported in Nyanza may in reality be cases of poisoned fish eaten by villagers.

Fish vendors' retail businesses have virtually collapsed since the government issued the alert and banned night fishing.

Why have fishermen resorted to a method which threatens their customers and their own livelihood? Hezekiah Otula, 52, who fishes from Uhanya beach in Bondo District, blames it all on exploitation.

Net fishing, he says, can earn a villager Ksh500 ($8.20) a night, the profits having been taken by middlemen, but with chemicals "you can earn up to Ksh15,000 ($246)."

Even as the alert he issued takes its toll on the industry, Prof Meme says the problem will be solved in a few months. The government, he says, is aware of specific beaches in Busia, Siaya, Kisumu and Homa Bay districts where poisoning was rampant and would deal with them directly.