PLEA for a “Sick” Lake: Studying, Catching, and Eating Nile Perch on Lake Victoria, 1988–94

Thursday, January 4, 2018: 2:30 PM
Executive Room (Omni Shoreham)
John Doyle-Raso, Michigan State University
Someone surreptitiously released Nile Perch into Lake Victoria in the late 1950s, amidst debate about the potential impacts of doing so. By the 1980s, the perch population had grown exponentially and a loose coalition of African and other fisheries experts sought to draw the attention and funding of developmental organizations – particularly the World Bank and various countries’ international development agencies – towards the challenges facing fishing communities there. Ecologists and social scientists from around the world traveled to the lake, determined to study the food webs and commodity chains that they said underpinned such challenges.

This paper combines a cultural analysis of this loose coalition of researchers with a materialist analysis of their research infrastructure in order to show how local and international interests interacted to shape fisheries science, production, and consumption. I focus on the Michigan State University-based Project on the Lakes of East Africa, which received an International Peace and Security grant from the MacArthur Foundation to compare the “sick” Lake Victoria with the “healthy” Lake Malawi. The personal papers of the four social scientists who comprised PLEA illuminate a web of connections between fishing communities, East African governments, and international researchers. Debates between researchers about their credentials, racial identities, and relationships with capital and the state unfolded alongside attempts to reduce inequality in their access to research infrastructures, such as boats, computers, and libraries. The documents generated during these conflicts offer a rare window into historical connections between ecological research and environmental change.

<< Previous Presentation | Next Presentation