By Gerald Tenywa and Joyce Namutebi
UGANDA has declared its first ever water reserve, aimed at protecting the disappearing Nile Perch and other species in Lake Victoria.
Agriculture minister Hilary Onek said the protected area would be called â€˜Commonwealth Lake Reserveâ€™, in commemoration of the 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, which ended on Sunday.
He said the protection of the new marine park would begin in December and be spearheaded by the agriculture ministry until funding from donors is found.
The reserve, stretching 6.5km south of Munyonyo and 10.4km east of Entebbe, occupies about 100 square kilometres out of the Lake Victoriaâ€™s 34,800 square kilometres.
It covers the islands of Mukusa, Sanga, Kawaga Light House, Tavu, Kizima, Miru, Mukusa and part of Kimmi, which are all uninhabited.
Commercial fishing will not be allowed in the area, while sport fishing will only be permitted under strict conditions.
The marine park is meant to protect biological diversity, as fish will be able to breed undisturbed.
â€œSimilar reserves worldwide regularly see a five-fold increase in fish stocks compared to nearby commercial fishing areas,â€ Onek said.
â€œExcess fish populations within the marine park will in time migrate or spill out into nearby commercial fishing grounds, thereby increasing the catch for neighbouring communities on a sustainable basis.â€
He noted that fish exports were one of the biggest foreign exchange earners in Uganda. Besides protecting fish, the reserve is expected to lead to a growth in the number of bird species and wild animals, such as otters and hippos. In addition, it will have an area where scientific research can be carried out.
â€œI believe that the establishment of the Commonwealth Lake Reserve will play a large role in attracting tourists to Uganda,â€ Onek noted.
The State Minister of Fisheries, Fred Mukisa, said the surrounding fishing communities would be sensitised about the new protected area. â€œWe expect the community to embrace this concept because is will help them secure their future,â€ Mukisa said.
Dick Nyeko, the fisheries commissioner, revealed that the measure came as a result of concerns over the depletion of the wild Nile perch and other fish stock in Lake Victoria. â€œWe have been consulting for three years on the establishment of the reserve,â€ Nyeko told The New Vision.
â€œThe protection of fish is important because the Nile Perch, which is under pressure, will get replenished and the communities near the reserve will benefit from increased catches.â€
Uganda is a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity, which requires it to protect endangered species from extinction.