By Francis Kagolo
The Government has finally announced plans to implement the registration of boats and fishermen operating on Uganda’s lakes.
Jackson Wadanya, commissioner for fisheries in the ministry of agriculture, said 1250 boat registration number plates have been procured.
The programme will be launched Friday at Lambu landing site in Masaka district.
Speaking at a workshop organised by the Lake Victoria Fisheries Organization (LVFO) in Entebbe, Wadanya said the move is intended to curb illegal fishing which has characterised especially Lake Victoria for several years.
The plan to register fishermen and boats was first mooted by former fisheries state minister for fisheries, Fred Mukisa, in 2009.
However, Wadanya said its implementation delayed because of inadequate funds.
He said the ministry also needed time to scrutinize various samples of plates which were provided by different local suppliers and pick the best number plates suitable for boats.
According to Wadanya, each fisherman has to part with sh10,000 for registration and be issued with permits, number plates and log books for their boats.
The workshop in Entebbe attracted over 100 participants from across east Africa. The delegates observed the urgency of widening LVFO’s mandate from being a tripartite organization of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania to embrace all member states of the east African community.
They said the move will promote fish farming and uplift the fisheries sector in the region to greater levels.
Wadanya said overfishing and the use of illegal gear had depleted fish stocks.
Hotly scurrying behind coffee, fish had, over the years, emerged as Uganda's second major non-agricultural foreign exchange earner. Fish exports to premium international markets rose from $0.40m (about sh820m) in 1998 to over $145m (about sh297.3b) in the first quarter of 2008.
Over 80% of Uganda's fish for export comes from lakes Victoria, Kyoga, Albert and Edward, with the Nile Perch, Tilapia and mukene forming the mainstream of the industry.
The growth of the sub-sector, however, attracted colossal investments, with processing industries rising from two to 18 in the last 10 years. The industry supports the livelihood of nearly two million people in the country.
Currently there are over 200,000 fishermen in Uganda, many of whom are involved in illegal fishing using miniature nets.
Consequently, the country has started witnessing a fall in fish stocks, especially the most commercially viable Nile Perch.
Fish catches from Lake Kyoga alone dropped from over 150,000 tonnes in the 1980s to less than 40,000 tonnes in 2010.
Illicit fishing has dogged the fisheries sector in Uganda for so long, culminating in a whooping $60m (about sh120b) loss in returns in 2008, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
The earlier proposal by former minister Mukisa was to introduce a method where selected fishermen would be allowed to fish at different times in a given part of the lake. Fishermen would be monitored using satellite devices.
Any licensed fisherman found with illegal gear would have his license cancelled and his boat and number plate confiscated.