Lake Victoria had a fish fauna dominated by 500+ species of haplochromine cichlids that made up more than 80% of the fish mass. The five main trophic groups caught with bottom trawlers in the sub-littoral areas of the Mwanza Gulf were: detritivores, zooplanktivores, insectivores, molluscivores and piscivores. The detritivores (13+ species) formed the most important guild, making up 60–80% of the number of individuals, followed by the zooplanktivores (12+ species), which comprised 10–30%. In the 1980s the haplochromines from the sub-littoral and offshore areas (estimated at some 200 species) vanished almost completely. Commercial trawl fishery, the upsurge of the introduced Nile perch, and an increase of eutrophication were potential causes of this decline. In the 1990s, when Nile perch was heavily fished, a recovery of some haplochromine species was observed. We studied the decline and partial recovery of the different haplochromine trophic groups in the northern part of the Mwanza Gulf. The rate at which the trophic groups declined differed; the relatively large piscivores, insectivores and molluscivores were the first to disappear from the catches. The small detritivores and zooplanktivores declined at lower rates, especially the latter group. From the beginning of the 1990s a resurgence of both groups was observed. By 2001, the zooplanktivores had reached their previous level of abundance, but their diversity declined from more than 12 species to only three. Though four detritivorous species began being regularly caught again, they constituted only about 15% of the number of individuals, while the zooplanktivores made up more than 80%. The patterns of decline and recovery indicate that, though fishery played a role locally, predation by Nile perch and eutrophication were the main factors determining the fate of the haplochromines. However, it has so far been impossible to establish the causal relationship between the two, and the relative impact of each of these phenomena separately. The potential effects of the changed trophic dominance, and the importance of the haplochromines for the ecosystem and a sustainable fishery, are discussed.

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