The Uganda People’s Defence Forces, working under the Fisheries Protection Unit, has been policing the waters of Lake Victoria since February 2017 to control illegal fishing and recover stocks of Nile Perch and Tilapia
The Uganda People’s Defence Forces, working under the Fisheries Protection Unit, has been policing the waters of Lake Victoria since February 2017 to control illegal fishing and recover stocks of Nile Perch and Tilapia.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni deployed the UPDF following complaints by stakeholders, including fisherman, government officials and traders, that fish stocks were declining significantly in the lake’s once thriving agricultural sub-sector.
Illegal fishing in Uganda currently involves the use of less than 7 inch fishing nets for Nile Perch and less than 5 inch fishing nets for Tilapia, resulting in the harvesting of immature fish, and also includes using boats less than 20 feet in length and without life jackets on board.
Illegal fishing was widespread around the Masaka and Kalangala Islands, which exported to Rwanda through the Mpondwe border, or to the Democratic Republic of Congo through the Ishasha and Bunagana borders.
Previous attempts to curb illegal fishing ended in 2015 after fisheries officers and Beach Management Units were disbanded over extortion and aiding the illegal trade of immature fish.
Now, the UPDF is cracking down on catchers and dealers of illegal fish to markets in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and South Sudan.
They are closing un-gazetted landing sites, destroying illegal fishing gear and increasing prosecution of dealers in immature fish.
Official proof of the impact of the new measure won’t be available until the completion of an assessment to ascertain the quantity of fish in the lake, with data collected in September 2017 by fisheries research institutes in Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya, who share the lake.
Initial figures point to a positive trend, however, with fish harvests reported to have tripled between the Masese Fish Landing Site in Jinja and Ggaba Fish Landing Site in Kampala, and from Kasenyi Fish Landing Site in Entebbe to Bukakata Landing Site that connects Masaka and Kalangala Districts, since February 2017.
As a consequence, fish prices to processing firms have fallen by over 50% to Shs7,500 per kg.
Amidst the decline in fish prices, however, competition between fish processing firms and local demand remains high, with Nile Perch typically exported whilst Tilapia is sold in local and regional markets.
Fish processing firms that had closed due to the rate of reduction in fish have since resumed operation; more than half of Uganda’s 23 fish processing and exporting firms had closed down within the last decade over declining fish supplies.
Recovery trends have also been detected in Tanzania and Kenya, as suspension on fish processing operations in a number of firms was lifted following an increase in fish stocks.
Experts say a six month ban on the harvesting of immature fish will be sufficient to allow them to grow to acceptable levels again.
The lake’s target biomass should be 1.4 million tonnes, with an optimal catch of 264,000 tonnes to reach this level.
The current catch would have to be reduced to 223,000 tonnes to reach this target.
The number of immature Nile Perch should also be reduced from 40% to 20% through the implementation and development of a regional strategy to prevent it being traded.
Recommendations to eradicate small hooks, establish new gazetted closed areas prohibiting fishing and strengthening fisheries regulations enforcement have also been made.
The Ugandan government has revised the 2004 National Fisheries Policy into the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Policy, currently before cabinet for approval, which will modernise and increase productivity in sustainable fisheries and the aquaculture sector.
It is also promoting aquaculture in an attempt to reduce pressure on Lake Victoria’s resources, with the sector currently growing at an average of 8% per year, and has set a target to increase production to 300,000 tonnes by 2020.
Agriculture minister Vincent Ssempijja said that the government planned to revive the fisheries sub-sector through various measures, including reforming fisheries management, issuance of fishing vessel identification, boat registration and by recruiting 10 fisheries inspectors at each national border post to tackle the illegal fishing trade.
There has been contention against the UPDF operations from the local population in some areas, however.
The UPDF claims that the Mumpu and Mutante landing sites are un-gazetted and is moving to have residents evicted.
Residents say this eviction has no legal basis and that, furthermore, many locals have already had to abandon fishing as they are unable to afford the specified legal fishing gear.
Chairperson of Buwunga Sub-County, Francis Kimuli, said that government support would help them buy the gear to earn a living and reject illegal methods.
The fisheries sub-sector contributes 3% of the national Gross Domestic Product in Uganda and 12% of its agricultural GDP.
It directly employs around 1.2 million people and more than 3.5 million indirectly.
Fish accounts for over 50% of the animal protein in Ugandans’ diet, with each person eating an average of 8kg of fish a year.
Ovia Katiti Matovu, Executive Director at the Uganda Fish Processors and Exporters Association, told The Independent: “We may not have the figures yet but the fact is that fish production in Lake Victoria has improved since the UPDF was deployed there.”
Read More: The Africa Progress Panel has said that illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in Africa’s coastal waters is having huge economic and social costs on dependent communities, including West African Commonwealth countries Ghana and Nigeria