By Joel Ogwang
Fish is a delicacy rich in nonefat proteins. It is also profitable, especially for fishermen whose only investment is in fish harvesting gear.
While this God-given resource has to be enjoyed, both for food and revenue, greed has sidestepped sustainability of the fisheries resource, risking the industry’s survival.
As 2013 goes to bed, the question how illegal fishing can be wiped out in its entirety is still a big one not just for Uganda, but all the other East African Community (EAC) countries. Here are highlights from the sector.
President endorses fish ban
President Yoweri Museveni endorsed a move by Mukono district leaders in May to impose a fishing ban in the area between July and October every year to allow fish to mature.
The step, considering that fish revenues constitute a big percentage of revenue for Mukono and other districts bordering Lake Victoria, was one worthy of emulation.
The President also supported the ban on the importation of illegal fishing gear used in catching immature fish.
Rise in trade deficit
Uganda’s trade deficit rose by 14% in June from the previous month, driven up by imports, amid falling commodity exports due to the euro area crisis, announced Bank of Uganda.
The country’s trade deficit climbed to $252m in June, from $221m in May, as balance of payments position was expected to worsen in the months ahead as the Euro Zone crisis curbed remittances, foreign direct investment and earnings from exports of commodities.
Europe is the main buyer of Uganda’s fish, flowers and coffee. It is also host to a number of Ugandan immigrants who usually send money back home.
Fish prices fall
In November, a kilogramme of Nile Perch cost sh7, 000, compared to sh13, 000 in October. A medium sized Tilapia fish also costs about sh25,000, down from about sh35,000 months ago.
Fish is plenty during April and May, as well as November and December.
The Government is planning to introduce fishing holidays in a bid to enable the fish breed and increase stocks.
Fisheries state minister Ruth Nankabirwa said the Government collaborated with Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) to strengthen security on border points to hinder the entry of illegal nets into the country.
It also investigate and arrest culprits involved in catching immature fish.
Fish exports have over the years emerged as Uganda’s second major non-agricultural foreign exchange earner, with exports to premium international markets rising from $0.40m (about sh820m) in 1998 to over $145m (about sh297.3b) in 2008.
However, this fell to $117m in 2007 and finally $82m in 2010 as the country exported 15,600 tonnes of processed fish. The free-fall continued well into 2011, with 14,500 tonnes of fish exported, a drop from 18,000 tonnes in 2009.
The peak exports was 37,000 tonnes in 2005. Of the 660,000 tonnes of fish produced, 100,000 tonnes of the Nile Perch are processed for export to EU markets, with 100,000- 150,000 tonnes salted and dried or smoked for regional markets.
Sustainable and prudent harnessing of fisheries resource still eludes Uganda, with 60% of fish traded in local and regional markets being immature and handled under unhygienic conditions. About 300,000 tonnes of fish are traded locally, according to data from the department of fisheries resources, Entebbe.
Formal regional trade earns $35m on average, whilst Illicit and informal regional fish trade has grown from under $10m a year five years ago to $70m today. Illegal fishing practices culminated in a $60m (about sh120b) loss in returns in 2008, $39m in 1996, $28m in 1997 and $34m in 2000.