Lake Victoria, the world’s second largest fresh water lake is under threat from irresponsible human activities. Therefore, until World Environment Day on June 5 Vision Group media platforms will run investigative articles, programmes and commentaries in a campaign to save the lake. Today, GERALD TENYWA explores how illegal fishing gear has affected the fish industry and the country at large.
The first weapon against illegal fishing is in the hands of customs officers at the borders located many kilometres away from Lake Victoria.
But the customs officers working for the revenue authorities in East Africa are more interested in collecting import tax than protecting the fish industry, which is losing billions due to illegal fishing.
“It is unfortunate that illegal fishing gear imported into the country is replacing the legal one,” says Dr. Maggie Kigozi, a private consultant and former executive director of the Uganda Investment Authority (UIA). Kigozi adds that the illegal gear should be placed on the banned list.
In a new report authored by Kigozi, the importation of monofilament, which is an illegal net with the most devasting results, has increased by 500% in the last eight years. She says the monofilament, if left in the lake, will keep on trapping and killing millions of immature fish under what she termed as “ghost fishing.” “It is the worst of all illegal fishing gear,” she adds in an interview.
Other illegal fishing gear that has increased drastically in the last eight years is the gill nets with a rise estimated at 100%.
While arguing that revenue authorities of the East African countries should be engaged in curbing illegal fishing gear, Kigozi pointed out that fisheries management has been left to Fisheries Department. “It cannot be a few people engaged in protecting the lake.”
The revenue authorities in the East African countries sharing the lake, Kigozi says, are not empowered to impound the illegal fishing gear and have to call on the officials of the Fisheries Department, who are located at only big border points and also district offices.
She says that illegal fishing gear would be controlled with the participation of all the stakeholders including the Uganda National Bureau of Standards, the National Environment Management Authority, the community, the Police and the media.
In her report entitled, Support to the Lake Victoria Fisheries Organisation (LVFO) to develop and harmonise legal instruments for the involvement of revenue authorities for the impoundments of imports and exports of illegal fishing gear and fishery products in Lake Victoria basin, Kigozi says her interaction with the top executives of the revenue bodies of East Africa showed that they were not aware that many nets cleared at the border points were illegal.
Kigozi adds the LVFO and the East African Community were engaged in dialogue to change the law so that the customs officers can impound illegal fishing gear and fisheries products. The illegal nets, according to Kigozi’s report are mainly imported from China, India and South Africa.
Dr. Maggie Kigozi, a private consultant (left), and Perus Logose, the fisheries inspector at Kiyindi landing site
Fishermen speak out
Dirisa Walusimbi, a fisherman at Ggaba landing site agrees with Kigozi. “We have been holding a similar view for decades, but the Government has never implemented it,” says Walusimbi, adding that banning imported nets would reduce illegal fishing by about 50%. “Illegal fishers are about 70% and some fishermen use home-made illegal nets.”
Walusimbi cited beach-seine also known as kokota as one of the most destructive fishing gear, which is made locally. “The fisheries department and the Beach Management Units (BMUs) should intensify the operations to eliminate illegal fishing gear,” she says. “What we are experiencing is increased illegalities on the lake and law enforcement has weakened.”
Abdul Kyaye, the BMU chairperson at Zinga landing site in Busamuzi sub-county, Buvuma , wondered why the Government risks the fisheries industry for peanuts in form of taxes on imported fishing gear.
Views from fisheries experts
Perus Logose, the fisheries inspector at Kiyindi landing site, Buikwe district cited inadequate facilitation of the fisheries staff as one of the challenges that has the fulfilment of their mandate.
Majidu Nakwaki, the Buvuma district fisheries officer, says banning importation of inappropriate fishing gear would help address the problem at the entry points rather than the costly measures of seizing and destroying them in the country.
Civil society organisation speak out
Richard Kimbowa, the head of Uganda Coalition for Sustainable Development says the law to empower revenue officers is good, but it has a limit. “Government would spend less to manage the lake if BMUs were empowered.”
The country director of the World Wide Fund for Nature, David Duli, says it is a matter of coordination between the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) and the fisheries department.
The two parties, Duli says, should borrow a leaf from Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and the way they have worked with URA to curtail wildlife crime. The three East African countries should work together because Lake Victoria is a regional lake and an international water body.
“The civil society could play a role by mobilising the communities and create awareness about the illegal fishing gear and how to recover it from the lake,” he says.
URA speaks out
James Kisale (left), from the URA customs law enforcment department says the authority does not allow the importation of illegal fishing gear . But that because of the porous borders, some are smuggled into the country.
“We have since the beginning fo the year impounded over 10,000 illegal fishing nets and we plan to hand them over to the fisheries department,” Kisale told New Vision.
Kigozi says she has given the three EAC countries something to think about.