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Biodiversity and Fishery Sustainability in the Lake Victoria Basin: An Unexpected Marriage?

This peer-reviewed article from BioScience is about the relationship between conservation and fisheries in Lake Victoria Basin. Lake Victoria is Africa's single most important source of inland fishery production. After it was initially fished down in the first half of the 20th century, Lake Victoria became home to a series of introduced food fishes, culminating in the eventual demographic dominance of the Nile perch, Lates niloticus. Simultaneously with the changes in fish stocks, Lake Victoria experienced dramatic changes in its ecology. The lake fishery during most of the 20th century was a multispecies fishery resting on a diverse lake ecosystem, in which native food fishes were targeted. The lake ended the century with a much more productive fishery, but one in which three species--two of them introduced--made up the majority of the catch. Although many fish stocks in Lake Victoria had declined before the expansion of the Nile perch population, a dramatic increase in the population size of Nile perch in the 1980s roughly coincided with the drastic decline or disappearance of many indigenous species. Now, two decades after the rise of Nile perch in Lake Victoria, this species has shown signs of being overfished, and some of the native species that were in retreat--or even thought extinct--are now reemerging. Data on the resurgence of the indigenous species suggest that heavy fishing of Nile perch may enhance biodiversity; this has spawned renewed interest in management options that promote both fishery sustainability and biodiversity conservation.

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