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Fish scarcity hits Uganda

By Vision Reporter

Added 22nd September 2007 03:00 AM

FISH has become scarce in Kampala and the districts surrounding Lake Victoria. As a result, prices have shot up dramatically. In the Kampala markets surveyed by Saturday Vision, Nile Perch now goes for sh4,000-5,000 per kilo, a five-fold increase in seven years. In 2000, it cost sh800-sh1,00

FISH has become scarce in Kampala and the districts surrounding Lake Victoria. As a result, prices have shot up dramatically. In the Kampala markets surveyed by Saturday Vision, Nile Perch now goes for sh4,000-5,000 per kilo, a five-fold increase in seven years. In 2000, it cost sh800-sh1,00

By Macrines Nyapendi and Gerald Tenywa

FISH has become scarce in Kampala and the districts surrounding Lake Victoria. As a result, prices have shot up dramatically.

In the Kampala markets surveyed by Saturday Vision, Nile Perch now goes for sh4,000-5,000 per kilo, a five-fold increase in seven years. In 2000, it cost sh800-sh1,000 per kilo.

Cut pieces of smoked, mature Nile Perch, that were a delicacy in Uganda in the past, have now virtually disappeared. Today, the smoked Nile Perch found in markets are the immature ones, some of them as small as a human palm, contrary to the law which prohibits catching immature fish.

Salongo Sembatya, fisherman at Ggaba, says the market for Nile Perch has become too competitive due to both scarcity and the large number of fish factories.

This means there is hardly any Nile Perch left for the local market. Most of the Nile Perch sold locally are those rejected by the factories, either because the fish is too old or because it has over-stayed.

some of the local people are now reduced to eating fish bones, locally known as fille or mugongo wazi.

“Fille is now on high demand because the Nile Perch is scarce. In the past, the bones, which remain after removing the fish fillet, were just thrown away but now people scramble for them,” says Sembatya.

The price of fille has risen ten-fold in a few years, from sh200 a heap to about sh2,000. Fille is named after the late musician Philly Lutaya, whose bonny frame shocked Ugandans in the early 1990s as he publicly announced that he was dying of AIDS.

Another fisherman, Dirisa Walusimbi, says all fishermen are suffering from reduced catches. “Ten years ago, a fisherman employing 50 nets would catch at least 100kg of Nile Perch daily. Now, with the same number of nets, you can only get between 20 and 30kg,” says Walusimbi.

Dick Nyeko, Uganda’s Commissioner for Fisheries, says prices have gone up because of the increased demand for Uganda’s fish on the international market.

“The prices are likely to increase even further because the Nile Perch is highly valued globally,” he says.

Thus fish, hitherto Uganda’s cheapest and most available animal protein, is rapidly becoming a meal for the affluent. Nyeko advises Ugandans to turn to other fish species, like Tilapia and Mukene, which are not on high demand abroad and more affordable.

“If anybody thinks that fish is a cheap source of protein, he had better think again,” says Nyeko. “The Nile Perch is regarded as sea food in Europe and served to special guests.”

But it is not only the local consumers and fishermen who are suffering. The fish factories, too, are affected by the increased scarcity. Many are operating below installed capacity and some have been forced to close down. Insufficient supply of fish, in addition to electricity shortages, forced at least three factories, Gomba, Uganda Marines and Byansi, to suspend their operations.

All the others are operating below 50% of their capacity, according to Dr. Levi Muhoozi, a researcher at the Fisheries Research Institute. That implies they are able to get only half the fish their factories can handle.

Muhoozi says the scarcity may also be a result of a seasonal variation in Lake Victoria’s fish population. The fish population in the lake goes up and down, he explains. The catches of fish decline during the dry season and recover during the rainy season.

However, he does not rule out over-fishing which, he says, is a global problem. “Fish exports have mounted more pressure on the lake,” he adds.

According to Farouk Bagambe, a founder member of the Uganda Fisheries and Fish Conservation Association, too many fishermen are hunting the little fish that is remaining in the lake.

Consequently, the daily catch per fisherman is declining and they resort to the illegal practice of catching immature fish. “Unless drastic measures are taken to address the problem, the lake will be depleted within three to five years,” says Bagambe.

Bagambe says controlling over-fishing is the cornerstone of sustainable fishing. “Fish is a renewable resource but their population will ultimately die out,” he warns.

Uganda has over 20 fish factories exporting over 30,000 tonnes of fish annually, and attractive foreign exchange earnings of $150million annually. However, this has come at a price as the massive exports have led to fish scarcity and price hikes back home.

Bagambe suggests that quotas be set for companies, as is spelt out in the Fisheries Act. This would be one way of regulating the activities of the fishing companies.

Fish scarcity hits Uganda

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