The Nile perch in Lake Victoria: Local responses and adaptations

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Introduced into Lake Victoria in the 1950s, the Nile perch has gained fame for prompting rapid regional economic growth and for driving scores of endemic fish species into extinction. This study uses oral and archival data to trace the historical development of the Nile perch fishery on Lake Victoria. Particular emphasis is placed on local responses and adaptations to (1) the Nile perch itself; (2) the abrupt integration of the Lake Victoria fishery with the global economy; and (3) the ecological changes that the Nile perch has precipitated. I also attempt to situate Lake Victoria's history in the larger debate about environment and African livelihoods. Because so much of Lake Victoria's species diversity has been lost within one generation - biologist E. O. Wilson (1992) has called this process 'the most catastrophic extinction episode of recent history' - the lake is an ideal case study with which to examine 'local' perceptions of biodiversity. The data suggest that species diversity is important and highly resolved in the worldviews of Lake Victoria's fishermen; yet, although the will for conservation is present, poverty obstructs its realization. These findings are discussed in relation to other work on indigenous environmental knowledge and ecological ethics. I argue that 'intrinsic' valuation of species diversity and ecological processes may be more widespread in rural societies than has traditionally been assumed by natural and social scientists, and that the preponderance of social studies highlighting oppositions between Western science and ethno-science, and between conservation concerns and local livelihoods, may have blinded us to synergies between them. More effort is needed to understand fully the nuances in these complex local ecological worldviews, perhaps via 'social histories of extinction' that explore the local consequences of species loss.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)510-538
Number of pages29
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2005
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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