Mass die-offs of tilapia have been reported in Lake Victoria

people standing next to a pile of dead fish
Tilapia farmers on the Kenyan side of Lake Victoria have reported widespread mortality

The deaths began in September and continued into November, particularly in Kenya’s Kisumu County
© Paul Cage Fish Farmers Group

The deaths started in September and continued until November, especially in Kisumu County. According to one news agency, 364 million fish are believed to have died, with total financial losses estimated at more than 1.4 billion Kenyan shillings ($11.4 million).

Many farmers did not know what was causing the fish die-off – some blamed the discharge of industrial waste and raw sewage around Kisumu city. However, according to the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI), the fish die-off was due to upwelling – water temperatures reaching 28°C, oxygen levels falling below 3 mg/l and increased suspended sediments.

“Upwelling, which has led to nutrient enrichment (internal and external), has led to increased algal blooms and water hyacinth populations in the lake, which rapidly decompose and deplete the oxygen content of the water. “This is a natural phenomenon in the sea when dense, nutrient-rich water, deoxygenated from the bottom of the water column, is replaced by nutrient-depleted surface water near the coast, causing fish to drown,” said Dr Christopher Aura. Director of Fresh Water Systems at KMFRI.

Dead fish floating on the surface of the water
Dead tilapia in sea cages

Fish kills are caused by water temperatures reaching 28°C, oxygen levels falling below 3 mg/l, and increased suspended sediments making it difficult for fish to survive.
© Shamba Nixon Cage Fish Farmers Group

He also added that many of the affected farmers do not follow best aquaculture practices: some exceed recommended stocking densities, use substandard feed and use banned antibiotics.

The organization is now raising awareness of upwelling and mitigation measures and is advising farmers to move cages to deeper waters and purchase water quality kits to measure dissolved oxygen levels.

Safina Musa, a researcher at KMFRI in Kisii region, said the affected areas of the lake include Ogal, Asat, Kobutho and Achuodho beaches, warning farmers not to throw rotten fish back into the lake as it will worsen the situation.

Mixed reactions from farmers

Stephen Ogal, founder and CEO of Alachi Riat Aqua-fish Group in Migori County, lost all 7,000 fish in a 6m x 6m x 7m cage. However, he is optimistic and has already recovered 2,000 fingerlings in the affected cage.

“I don’t think the fish will die again because the other cages were not affected, I stocked up and observed the fish to recover the losses,” he said.

He also asked the government to support the affected cage farmers.

“We are only asking the county government to support us in terms of finger donation to recover the losses we have experienced in the last few weeks,” he said.

Ogal established his cage farming business in 2018 with a KES 1.5 million ($12,000) grant from the Israeli embassy, ​​which was used to purchase cage materials and other start-up funds. Currently, he has only five cages. His other four cages (measuring 5m x 5m x 4m) are unaffected and currently hold 5,000 fish each.

Kenya Cage Farmers Association secretary general Anthony Makkayani also has cages in the lake but is not personally affected.

a dead fish floating on top of a sea cage
The rise has had different effects on tilapia farms

Some farms suffered minimal losses, while others were destroyed
© Shalton Cage Fish Farmers Group

“The first mistake came from the farmers themselves, because they did not understand what kind of business they were dealing with and therefore did not need expert advice, site selection, stocking density, type of feed, etc. they did not adopt best management practices, including

According to him, the first incident at Dunga beach two months ago and the results showed that the farmers’ management is responsible because the wild fish in the area are not dying. Mckayany added that some farmers had been advised to remove cages from shallow areas of the lake due to seasonal upwelling, but they had ignored the directive..

Gwend Nyadhi farmers cooperative SACCO Ltd chairman Paul Okech said: “Most of the affected areas are in Kisumu County. We have members across Migori, Homabay and Siaya, but Kisumu county has been affected to a great extent. “My family has invested in cage farming, but so far we have not been affected by our location.”

Victory Farms, one of the region’s leading tilapia producers, was not affected by the incident.

“Our farm was not affected at all; the lake is large and can be caged. Our cages are located in Sindo, while most of the farmers who lost their fish are located in Rachuonyo,” said Victory Farms Chief Development Officer Cesar Asiyo.

Fred Obudho, CEO of Greatlakes Feeds, said: “15 of our customers were affected and lost 45 tonnes of fish, forcing some farmers to stop farming altogether.”

Call for political support

Okech called on the local members of parliament and the county council to engage with the various fish farmers associations as he feels that local politicians do not take fish farming as a serious business as Central state and Rift valley leadership cares. milk and tea respectively in their regions.

“These other leaders are doing their best to make sure that policies and legislative frameworks are very clear and support their people’s initiatives,” he said.

a white stork standing next to a tilapia pen
Local residents urge MPs to contact various fish farmers’ associations

The deaths affected fish feed suppliers, fish sellers and consumers
© Shamba Nixon Cage Fish Farmers Group

The deaths affected fish feed suppliers, fish sellers and consumers. Confusion and panic ensued, prompting some of the still-unaffected farmers to harvest their fish prematurely, leading to limited cold storage capacity in the region and logistical challenges. However, the government then ordered that all fish be removed from cold storage and buried to prevent transmission of pathogens.

Support has been provided by the government and the private sector to help the affected fish farmers in the area. Kisumu Governor Prof. Anyang Nyong’o issued a press statement on November 9, saying they would buy fingerlings worth KES 2 million ($16,000) and fish feed worth KES 1 million ($8,000) to be distributed to affected fish farmers. help them recover and recover from losses. The governor said they will take a multi-pronged approach to remediate the pollution and conduct an assessment of the lake’s capacity regarding the location(s) of cage installation and compliance with established guidelines for proper placement of cages. He urged farmers to consider enriching the lake with native species through a targeted breeding program.

Great Lakes Feeds visited some of its affected customers and offered them 5,000 fingerlings free of charge to compensate for their loss. Victory Farms also pledged their support, saying, “As leaders in cage fish farming, we sympathize and appreciate that farmers’ losses translate into lost dreams, lost incomes, food and nutrition insecurity and many other losses along the value chain. We are working under the leadership of HomaBay County BMU [beach management units] and the County Government where Victory Farms will donate 175,000 fingerlings to affected farmers.

canoe next to tilapia pens
Local businesses offered support to the affected farms

While most cage farmers believe pollution or foul play is behind the fish kills, tests show that the deaths are linked to upwelling.
© Shamba Nixon Cage Fish Farmers Group

The result

Although most cage farmers believe that pollution or foul play is behind the fish kills, tests show that deaths are related to upwelling and exacerbated by poor location and management of some farms.

Cases show that cage fish farmers need training in water quality assessment. At the same time, the government should implement a strict policy on farm location and cold storage and value added units should be further developed to support the growth of the industry.

Proscovia Alando

Proscovia Alando is a social entrepreneur interested in making the Kenyan aquaculture industry sustainable and inclusive, especially for women and youth. He is the founder of Samaky Hub, a startup that offers advice to fish farmers, and co-founder of Ressect, a startup that specializes in breeding black soldier flies as an alternative protein for animal feed. He plans to build a circular farming system that combines fish, black soldier flies and native plants. Proscovia gained an MSc in Sustainable Aquaculture at the University of Stirling after winning a Commonwealth Fellowship.

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