There has been a silent death path left in Lake Victoria by a catastrophic natural phenomenon.
Since the abrupt death of fish in cages dotted over Lake Victoria last month, cage fish farmers have been drowning in debt amounting to millions.
“I work at this job every day to support my family. We would like it if the government could check and let us know how they will assist us with food and how we can send our kids to school, says fisherman David Ogal.
Because 90 fish cages were impacted, according to Edward Oremo, chairman of the Homa Bay beach management unit, the losses were expensive.
Oremo explains, “Every cage has roughly 6000 fish, and if you double it on the low end by 200 or 300 shillings per piece, you may even reach Ksh.100 million.”
The Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute claims that suffocation is to blame for the deaths of some Lake Victoria fish.
Potted upwelling, a natural occurrence where variations in wind direction impact the lake’s currents and create the mixing of deep and surface waters on some lake portions, is the source of the low oxygen levels.
The issue with the fish in the cage is that they are confined, so when there is that upwelling—which will take about an hour or less—the fish confined in the cages now lack that oxygen, according to Dr. Joseph Nyaundu, a researcher at KMFRI. “The water which is on the surface is light and has high temperatures it is forced to move away and the water from below comes up and occupies that space,” he adds.
Parts of Kisumu city have been plagued by a strong odor due to the dying fish for at least a month.
According to KMFRI, the 8000 acres of decayed water hyacinth and other aquatic plants that are being swept from the lake bottom and floating near the surface are to blame for the offensive odor. This stink is particularly strong in the afternoon when the sun is shining.
“Eating fish is uncomfortable for people. Even when you go to buy it, you are unsure of what might be inside,” says food merchant Emily Achieng.
Dr. Christopher Aura, director of fresh water systems at KMFRI, claims that the duration of the odor depends on the amount of organic waste present.
The unpleasant scent will naturally diminish and vanish only if there is significant rainfall to generate precipitation and strong gusts, according to Aura. “The organic stuff is the water hyacinth that has sunk and other aquatic plants that have sunk.”
Despite casting doubt on pollution claims, KMFRI has nevertheless urged greater caution, stating that while pollution may not be to blame for the current situation, the ongoing dumping of chemicals into the lake may accelerate the growth of hyacinth and other weeds, worsening the pungent odor that is released during upwelling.
Residents who live close to the shoreline must endure the odor until the skies open, clearing the air and providing a lifeline to the fish who are suffocating.