The Potential for Aquaculture in Lake Victoria and Implications for Wild Fisheries and Fish Commodity Markets

Aquaculture (farmed fish) surpassed wild capture fisheries as the major source of fish production to the world in 2014. On one hand, aquaculture promises to fill the gap left by declining wild fisheries and to provide the world with a reliable, affordable form of fish. On the other hand, aquaculture can have negative consequences such as pollution, inequitable distribution of benefits, and ecological impacts on the wild fish harvested to produce fish feed. These tradeoffs are becoming increasingly evident around Lake Victoria. In the face of stagnating wild fisheries in Lake Victoria and a surging human population around its shores, aquaculture may improve food and livelihood security in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. An international team of researchers from three U.S., one Canadian, and three African institutions are investigating the potential for Lake Victoria-based aquaculture and the implications for wild fisheries, global and local supplies of fish, and regional economic development. Researchers will investigate how global demand for fish affects local markets and the fishers who supply them, how the distribution of benefits from aquaculture can be made more equitable, and how building aquaculture facilities in and near lakes affects the ecology and economics of wild fisheries. This work fills a critical gap in knowledge about the links between aquaculture and wild fish, and it will increase understanding of how emerging markets in developing countries can be structured to promote sustainability and equitability. Given links between poverty and political violence, improving food and income security in East Africa will promote development in a part of the globe with strategic importance to the United States. This project will also build technical and analytical capacity at three East African research institutes, train students in socio-ecological systems modeling, and engage a diverse international, interdisciplinary research team.

This project investigates the dynamic links between the ecology of Lake Victoria (a natural system), the economy of its surrounding fisheries (a human system), and the bridge between these systems created by aquaculture. Within the natural subsystem, dynamics of fish abundance are regulated by predation, competition, and lake productivity. Within the human subsystem, dynamics of demand for fish are driven by local fish consumption and global fish exports. The natural subsystem supplies fish catch to the human subsystem, and the human subsystem impacts fisheries through fishing effort. Aquaculture links these systems through additional production of fish and response to demand. This research will investigate the effects of aquaculture on wild fisheries and food commodity markets through an ecosystem accounting model (MIMES) that links lake biological dynamics with human socio-economic dynamics. New environmental, biological and socio-economic data will be collected through trawl, acoustic, and questionnaire-based surveys. New and existing data will be synthesized with GIS. The expansion of a forecasting model (International Futures or IFs) will investigate effects of global demand dynamics on our system. Finally, MIMES will be used to assess scenarios of aquaculture growth and tradeoffs in fish population dynamics, food security, and income security in the Lake Victoria basin. 

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Lake Victoria