Ministry of Agriculture officials have put the current production from capture fisheries at 461,000 tons and from aquaculture at 111,000 tons
Fish scarcity has hit the country, leaving 13 fish processing industries out of business.
According to Vincent Ssempijja, the Minister of Agriculture, the closure of these fish processing factories, which has left over 500 Ugandans jobless, is largely attributed to declining stocks and conflicts among fishing communities on major lakes—Victoria, Albert and Kyoga.
“Generally the declining stocks have led to a drop in fisher’s incomes, conflicts in fishing communities on Lakes Albert, Victoria and Kyoga and closure of 13 fish processing establishments. This calls for critical and urgent interventions to avert the problem” Ssempijja said last week, in a brief to Parliament on the country’s ailing fish sector, which has continued to register drastic falls in production since 2013.
The minister’s statement comes after New Vision published a riveting exposé indicating that major lakes in the country are drying due to continued drought, a move that has been dire to the fisheries industry. In the investigative series, New Vision also showed how fishing communities’ illegal fishing methods and trade in immature fish are depleting the stock from major water bodies in the country.
The other problem, Ssempijja said, is the onslaught that a new breed of weed dubbed—Kariba, has taken on two vital lakes—Albert and Kyoga. The weed was detected in 2013 but Ssempijja said the country has not succeeded in weeding it out of Lake Kyoga and Albert.
“The weed has over the past years increased in spread and magnitude hence threatening the fisheries subsector,” he said.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that a human being should take 1-2 portions of fish per week. Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids, proteins and vitamin D, which are fundamental for human health.
Egypt stops funding
With Egypt, which has been supporting control of water hyacinth since 1999, planning to stop financial support, Ssempijja has called for an “immediate stop gap response” to be developed by Government so that Kariba weed is contained.
“While the Arab Republic of Egypt has been supporting the weed control process since 1999, the support has since dwindled and interventions in the control put to halt,” he said.
Ssempijja, however says, in the meantime: “As the support from the Arab Republic of Egypt ends, equipment (exactors, weed harvesters, barges, boats, bulldozers, elevators and trucks) remain for use in the weed control program.”
To manage the devastating weed Government needs sh4b.
Decline in exports
Although the fisheries sub-sector in Uganda contributes significantly to poverty reduction, economic growth and national development, the export fish index has in the last decade dropped from 36,616 tons in 2005 to 17, 597 tons in 2015.
Ministry of Agriculture officials have put the current production from capture fisheries at 461,000 tons and from aquaculture at 111,000 tons.
Government has attributed the drop in fish exports to illegal and over fishing.
“The sub-sector has over time experienced decline in fish catches in the major water bodies. Driven by the increasing population and the corresponding demand for fish in the region and international markets, the use of indiscriminate methods have led to over fishing,” Ssempijja said.
The minister said illegal and unrecorded immature fishing cost the country $429m (sh1.5b) annually.
The vice of illegal fishing, Ssempijja said, stems from the weak governance—in terms of legal and institutional frameworks that are supposed to sustain the fishing industry.
Yet, according to Ssempijja, if managed well, the fisheries sector can spur Uganda to the 2020 target of achieving a middle income status.
For Government to revive the fisheries sub sector a number of proposals have ben table—ranging from reforming the fisheries management and directorate, procurement and issuance of fishing vessel identification number plates, registration of all boats and the recruitment of 10 fisheries inspectors at every border post to curb illegal fishing and trade.
Ssempijja said reviewing the National Fisheries Policy and the amendment of the Fish Act are the other strategies that Government is cooking.
Crafting in the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) into the monitoring and surveillance of water bodies has already commenced.
“The Ministry plans to undertake a new enforcement arrangement in form of a joint fisheries protection unit composed of technical officers from the directorate of fisheries resource, Police, UPDF, Uganda Revenue Authority (URA), Uganda fish processors and exporters association and civil society organisations,” he said.
According to Ssempijja, the major objective of this joint enforcement strategy is to prevent, deter and enforce jointly national fisheries concerns on land and water. Curbing trade in immature fish, control of importation and usage of illegal fishing gears, lake monitoring and surveillance and stamping out illegal fishing activities are the other roles this task force is expected to perform.