Is the Nile Perch (Lates niloticus) a Ugandan indigenous or foreign fish species? Some secondary school geography books published here indicate that the Nile Perch is alien to Uganda. That the Nile Perch was introduced in Uganda from abroad, put in Lake Kyoga before it was introduced in Lake Victoria in 1960 by the British marine biologists.
In 2012, the New Vision published the book: Uganda: Building of a Nation in which John Babiiha, the former Vice President and minister for Animal Husbandry, Game and Fisheries, is credited for the advent of the exotic cattle and the Nile Perch in Uganda.
On page 28, the book said of Babiiha: “He is credited with the introduction of Friesian [black and white] cattle and the Nile Perch in Uganda”. And adds: “Emputa (Nile Perch) was his idea, reveals Rurangaranga”. The book quotes another book: 30 years of Uganda published in 1992 by Fountain Publishers. Edward Rurangaranga was an ardent supporter of the UPC government.
But, historical records about fisheries in Uganda reveal otherwise.
A scientific study conducted between March-July 1928 by Prof E.B Worthington, a British marine biologist, reveals that the Nile Perch is a Ugandan indigenous fish species. His research paper titled: A report on the fishing survey of lakes Albert and Kyoga indicated that the Nile Perch existed in Lake Albert but not in lakes Kyoga and Victoria.
In the same year, another marine biologist, Michael Graham from the British Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries was also sent to investigate about fisheries in Uganda. But the report about his research work in Uganda is scanty.
In the annual colonial report: Uganda Report for 1928, about fishing investigations in lakes in Uganda. The report in part said: “A further survey was carried out by Mr E.B Worthington on Lakes Albert and Kyoga and information obtained and the suggestion given by him for the lines which development of these under-exploited fisheries should follow, are likely to be of the at most value”.
It also added: “Mr Worthington has emphasised the commercial importance of the famous Nile Perch (Lates niloticus), but he is unable to recommend the introduction of such a voracious fish of prey into Lake Victoria where at present it does not exist, until further research has shown whether its probable increase there at the expense of the ‘Engege’ would be an advantage or not.”
Also in the excerpts of another colonial annual report for the year ending December 1930 titled: Uganda report for1930, about the fishing industry: “The principal edible fish of Lake Victoria is the Engene (Tilapia); the most promising fish of Lake Albert is the Nile Perch (Lates Niloticus).
In 1931, Prof Worthington returned and did another research on fishing industry in East Africa.
In his paper titled: A report on the fisheries of Uganda investigated by the Cambridge expedition to the East African lakes, it was to establish, among other concerns, why the Nile Perch existed in Lake Albert and not lakes Kyoga and Victoria.
Worthington concluded that the Nile Perch once existed in Lake Kyoga and Lake Victoria before it’s extinct. He also suggested that in future, the Nile Perch could be reintroduced in the lake.
After Prof Worthington second study on fisheries on lakes which included Edward, George in western Uganda and Turkana, Naivasha and others in Kenya, his report was adopted by the government of Uganda and in 1932, the Tilapia nigra species was introduced from Lake Naivasha in Kenya into Lake Bunyonyi, Mutanda and Murehe in Kabale.
The Tilapia Nigra were also put in Lake Nakivale in Mbarara in south western Uganda. The Uganda Protectorate annual report 1934 on social and economic recorded.
There is more evidence that the Nile Perch existed in Uganda long before Babiiha became minister for Animal Industry, Game and Fisheries in the first UPC government formed on May 1, 1962 and later became the vice president of Uganda and retained his previous ministerial post in the 1965 reshuffle.
The Uganda Herald newspaper of July 12, 1939, reported that the Uganda Chief Secretary J. E. S Merrick accompanied by Dr K. A Davies of the Geological Department and H. B Thomas, the commissioner of mines in Uganda went to Lake Albert in western Uganda on a trip funded by the African and European Investment Company Limited to see the progress on the project of the possibility of oil exploitation in the area. While there, they were shown the man who had recently caught the Nile Perch in Lake Albert.
And the paper wrote: “Near Butiaba recently, a Nile Perch played havoc in the nets of a fisherman on Lake Albert; it was described as the ‘father and mother’ of all fish in Uganda and weighed 250 lbs.  kilogrammes.”
In another book: Uganda 1961 which recorded the ‘State of the nation’ from January to December 1961 also had some important information about the Nile Perch.
Under the fisheries chapter, on page 65, it said: “Ngege (Tilapia) is the main economic species but many other kinds of fish find a ready sale, including Nile Perch, catfish, lungfish, elephant-snout fish and the sardine-size Haplochromis”.
On Page 67, it further revealed: “In Lake Kyoga where the Nile Perch were first planted in 1954, catches of these fish were made regularly in all areas, the largest specimen allegedly being over 100 lbs. [45.36] kilogrammes.”
In Lake Victoria
In Lake Victoria, Nile Perch were first put in 1960, apparently as immigrants from Lake Kyoga. Further fish were seen in commercial catches bringing the total to eight [caught]. All were in the Jinja area and the largest fish [Nile Perch] was 11lb about [5kilogrammes], the book recorded.
From the book: Mountain of the Moon by a British researcher Patrick M. Synge, he also wrote about the existence of the Nile Perch in Uganda.
On page 136, he wrote: “Lake Albert is renowned for the vast Nile Perch taken from there, some of which approach three hundred pounds.
We spent several days trying to catch a big one but without any success. We joined forces with an English visitor to the neughbouring Lake Albert Hotel, a Colonel well accustomed to the art of fishing and with a cunning array of lures. However, nothing availed, and we only caught a few Nile Perch of two to three pounds and some small tiger fish”.
Synge had been on the 1934/35 British Museum Expedition team to East Africa to study the flora and fauna of the Equatorial mountains in relation to their environment.
From the above, the origin of the Nile Perch points its roots to Uganda.
fish species in uganda
Fishing is a principal source of employment for the rural populations who dwell around the shorelines and on the islands of all the major water bodies in Uganda. Estimates indicate that anywhere above 70,000 Ugandans are involved in the fish business.
Fish that are the target of most commercial and subsistence exploitation include species of Nile Perch, Tilapia, the herring-like Alestes, Tiger fish, and the small pelagic “sardine” Rastrineobola.