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Low funding, Illegal fishing cost Uganda sh96b in 2008

By Vision Reporter

Added 29th December 2008 03:00 AM

FOR any sub-Saharan African state, losing $60m can be hard to take. And, when that country is Uganda, it is disastrous. Uganda’s fish exports dropped by a whooping $60m (about sh96b) by the end of 2008.

FOR any sub-Saharan African state, losing $60m can be hard to take. And, when that country is Uganda, it is disastrous. Uganda’s fish exports dropped by a whooping $60m (about sh96b) by the end of 2008.

By Joel Ogwang

FOR any sub-Saharan African state, losing $60m can be hard to take. And, when that country is Uganda, it is disastrous. Uganda’s fish exports dropped by a whooping $60m (about sh96b) by the end of 2008.

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), this is the second biggest loss in revenue.

In 2003, $86m was lost, $39m in 1996, while $28m loss was registered, in 1997 and $34m in 2000.

The loss in fish revenue resulted from illicit trade in immature fish, insufficient funding and inadequate technical oversight that have necessitated the formation of Beach Management Units (BMUs).

Trade in immature fish has also had a negative impact on operational plants. Some industries are operating at between 30%- 50% of their full processing capacity.

But, the highlight of the sector came mid-year when Moses Kabuusu, the Kyamuswa MP, presented a tray of fish to Parliament to show the magnitude of the problem.

While some MPs held their noises because of the stench from the rotting fish, many implored him to hide them in a box!

“No, I don’t fear the smell of fish,” Kabuusu said.

The normal size of a mature Nile Perch is 20 inches; but Kabuusu said fish as young as four inches were being fished out of Ugandan water bodies.

The other problem is the exploitation of fish suppliers by processing plants Apparently, there is no recognised price for fish supply. Factories do not issue delivery notes for transactions, claiming the pay on a gentlemanly agreement that is often abused.

Some fish processing companies have been implicated in exploitation of suppliers.

“A supplier may deliver three tonnes of fish, but a factory declares 500kg as reject (not fit for international market),” says Fred Mukisa, the Fisheries state minister.

He says even then, they don’t return it to the supplier!”

Often times, the factories close shop, forcing the suppliers to keep fish for over 12-hours and by the time they open, almost half of the supply is declared reject.Worse still, there is no clear way of calculating the reject.
According to Mukisa, this is a plot to kick local suppliers out of business.

Over 80% of Uganda’s fish for export comes from lakes; Victoria, Kyoga and Albert, according to Fred Mukisa.
The Nile perch, tilapia and mukenne form the biggest percentage of fish in Uganda.

Mukisa says the industry was in shambles, with the worst forms of illegal fishing taking place in eastern districts of Bugiri, Jinja, Mayuge and Busia.

“The wise men, they say, came from the east; but I don’t know what is wrong with eastern Uganda,” he said in September.

Meanwhile, statistics at the fisheries ministry show that the sector employs 400, 000 people and contributes to the livelihoods of nearly sh1.5m Ugandans.
Since the opening up of premium international markets to Uganda’s fish, the country’s fish processing capacity has also grown from two factories to 18 in the last 10 years. Currently, the fish industry is Uganda’s second highest export earner after coffee.

Citing the successful fight against fish poisoning in the mid 1990s, Mukisa said his dream was achievable, but inadequate funding was his biggest challenge.

To counter the problem, the Government has closed seven fish processing plants that deal in immature fish.
“I am a Musoga, but when it comes to fighting illegal fishing, I won’t be compromised,” Mukisa said.

William Olaho Mukani, the director of animal resources at the agriculture ministry, says fighting illegal fishing is a responsibility of all Ugandans.

“No one should sleep when someone is depleting the fish stock,” he says.
However, the establishment of Beach Management Units has not restored sanity in the fishing mines.

The Government is coming out with stern measures to curb these illegalities. In Mukono for example, arrest of culprits has seen over 100, 000 undersize nets confiscated.

During an operation at Katosi landing site, 20 culprits were arrested, with 10, 000 undersized nets burnt in a joint two-week operation by the Association of Fisheries and Lake Users of Uganda, Police, Maritime security and BMU personnel.

The illegal nets are smuggled into the country, while some people even use bags used for planting flowers to catch fish.

Dison Lugemwa, the Uganda fishnet manufacturers’ Limited salesman, says his organisation manufactures only recommended nets.

“We manufacture 38, 000 pieces of nets of 4-inches and above monthly,” he says.

“But we are regularly inspected by the fisheries ministry for verification of quality,” he added.

As the new year approaches, Mukisa made a commitment to end illegal fishing in nine months. He said the fisheries law, would be made more punitive.

Mukisa said strengthening beach management units and coordination with the private sector to pacify the fishing industry would also be undertaken.
“I make a promise to restore normalcy on Ugandan lakes and ensure fish export volume rises again in the next nine-months,” he said.

With 2009 already in sight, should Ugandans expect a reincarnation of its second biggest exports earner? Time will tell.

Low funding, Illegal fishing cost Uganda sh96b in 2008

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