Water hyacinth threatens fishing on Uganda's lakes

Some of the fishermen at Kanara Landing Site on Lake Albert sort fishing nets. The majority of the fishermen have abandoned their activities because of water hyacinth that invaded the lake in 2019. PHOTO/ALEX ASHABA

What you need to know:

  • The unchecked spread of water hyacinth is also encroaching on areas once inhabited by native aquatic flora and fauna.

Leaders in the Kasese District are struggling to contain the rapid spread of water hyacinth in Kazinga Channel, a major fishing ground.

Fishermen say the green vegetation floating on water adversely affects fishing activities.

The channel, spanning 32 kilometres, connects lakes; George and Edward in southwestern Uganda. 

Fishermen first noticed the presence of water hyacinth in 2021, and since then, it has continued to spread.

Mr Wilson Kizza Nzaghale, the Sub-county Fisheries officer for Lake Katwe, said despite efforts to educate the community on the importance of uprooting the weed, the rate of multiplication renders containment efforts futile.

“We have sensitised people about the need to uproot the weed whenever they come across it. However, we are simply handicapped because we cannot do much about it anymore,’’ Mr Nzaghale.

Mr Issa Twikirize, a fisherman at the Katunguru Fishing Site, said its presence has caused extensive damage to their fishing gear, particularly nets and hooks. This has made their business non-profitable because they spend a lot of money buying fishing gear.

“When you go fishing, especially at night, sometimes you lay your net in the waters only for it to return without the hooks and any catch. This plant has been a complete disaster, and I am afraid that if no action is taken, the entire channel could be covered,’’ he said.

Mr Were Bakya, another fisherman, said: “Every time I go to the waters, I would attempt to cut the weed and come with it. However, when you do that, you spend more time in the water and end up spending more money on fuel.”
He further noted that the majority of fishermen rely on loans to sustain their businesses.

“Mr Ojede Kadiri, the chairperson of the Katunguru Community Development Association, said the water hyacinth has facilitated illegal fishing activities.

“Even the marine officials are no longer reaching all sides of the channel, some of our people are beginning to explore new routes to fish illegaly,’’ he said.

Mr Erisania Kithaghenda, the Kasese District Principal Fisheries Officer, said the weed may have been introduced by fishermen who share Lake Victoria and the Kazinga Channel.

“Some of our fishermen use nets from other lakes; this particular weed could have spread from a net previously used in Lake Victoria. And it is now fast-spreading, covering about two kilometres of the 32-kilometre stretch,” he said.

He added that the district has reached out to the Ministry of Water and Environment for assistance, but they are yet to receive a response.

Ms Harriet Okomo, a project officer at Mobb Initiative for Sustainable Development, a community-based organisation working around water ecological conservation, says the district needs to adopt a multipronged approach in addressing the hyacinth issue.

“I have seen elsewhere in Kisumu [Kenya] where the local government has worked with other development stakeholders and the community to encourage mechanical removal of the weed and train people about how to make crafts from it. When the community begins getting money, they will work harder to eliminate the weed,” she added.