Fishing for fun turns a tourism product on Africa’s biggest island

16Aug 2016
Lusekelo Philemon
The Guardian
Fishing for fun turns a tourism product on Africa’s biggest island

JAMES Bunani is one of the fishermen in Lake Victoria for more than 20 years. Bunani and his colleagues, fishing for them means catching a wide range of fish species for food and income. It has been so for years.

Rubondo Island National Park is located in the south-western corner of Lake Victoria. It is about 150 km west of Mwanza, the second busiest commercial city in Tanzania after Dar es Salaam.

The 39-year-old national park is an important breeding ground for both migratory birds and fish species—Tilapia and Nile perch) as for a long time it stood to be the only area in the waters of Lake Victoria which was well protected and preserved.

The number of visitors is not encouraging as compared to parks located in the country’s northern tourism circuit.
Authorities managing this Lake Victoria’s sanctuary recently came up with a new tourism package—“fishing for adventure”.

The new tourism package is sustainable and is one the initiative of diversifying tourism industry in the park located in Africa’s largest inland basin.

The new move also is intended to capture the intention of international fishermen, who always looks for the best fishing waters in East Africa, and Tanzania in particular.

Being the smallest park in Tanzania and east Africa, it offers a wide range of good fishing grounds, which can be used as a tool to attract as many tourists as possible.

“It is a unique park compared to others in Tanzania; it has few wild animals as other parks do. Here we’ve wild animals such as vervet monkey, chimpanzee, sitatunga, hippopotamus, crocodiles, and bushbuck, that’s why we came up with this idea of venturing promoting fishing tourism,” says Misana Mwishawa, chief park warden.

Currently, the island which is located in east central Africa along the equator and borders the countries of Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya attracts a small number of visitors each year, mainly game fishermen and bird enthusiasts.

“We have started promoting this new tourism product and our hope is to see the number of visitors going up … our interest is to see more people are coming in this island,” the park official says.For the new idea to be successful, fishermen are not allowed to fish in the area close to the park and this makes this area to be a safe haven for fish species.

“That’s why we still believe that more visitors will be interested in this new tourism venture as it is to hunting tourism.”
In this kind of tourism, a tourist is not allowed to kill the caught fish. It’s fishing for fun as a ‘fisherman’ is supposed to return the fish back into the water.

“…there are people who can enjoy catching the fish. To us, this is one of the sustainable tourism, as fish is left in the water and continues with its own life,” the park warden stresses.

Geita Rural MP Joseph Kasheku supporting the initiative taken by the park managers, says the area offers good fishing grounds and breeding sites that make a good home for fish to stay as they are not disturbed by anyone.

“I am sure, this will make this park to generate enough income compared to the current situation,” the lawmaker said, describing the park as key for sustaining fishing industry in Geita and Mwanza regions.

Deputy Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism Ramo Makani suggests the need for the park surroundings to be protected by involving local communities in curbing illegal fishing.The minister describes Rubondo Island as an important area for socio-economic development.

“I believe when the park starts receiving a good number of tourists, local people will benefit from tourism aspect, that’s why it’s important to make the area free from encroachers,” he suggests, warning fishermen who involve themselves in dynamite fishing and other prohibited fishing gear in their localities as its impacts will also affect fish the breeding sites.
Makani explains that tourism is the leading sector for bringing in foreign exchange and contributes 17.2 percent to the GDP.

He adds: “As government, we’re determined to boost tourism industry so that we earn more revenues from this sector.”
Among the government’s plans towards promoting the sector is revamping zonal tourism offices so that they heavily venture into promoting domestic tourism.”

According to the minister, in September this year, the government will start ranking all tourist hotels across the east African nation.

“The idea is to know the number and services offered by hotels …this will also make us aware of the status of hotels and advice tourists accordingly.”