Today we explore how lack of licensing systems on fishing have affected Lake Victoria.
By Joseph Ssemutooke
trueUntil World Environment Day, June 5, in a campaign, Save Lake Victoria, Vision Group media platforms is running investigative articles, programmes and commentaries highlighting the irresponsible human activities threatening the world’s largest fresh water lake.Today we explore how lack of licensing systems on fishing have affected Lake Victoria.
Eight months ago, Ambrose Olai, 29, packed his bags and left his home village of Chelekula in Soroti district. His destination was Lingira, one of the small islands that make up Buvuma district on Lake Victoria.
The purpose of his journey was to find new fishing grounds in Lake Victoria around Lingira Island. Olai had received information that the fish catch there was larger and brought in more money compared to Chelekula where he had been fishing on the tiny Lake Nyasala.
It took Olai three days to arrive on Lingira Island and the following dawn, he was already pulling his first catch out of Lake Victoria’s waters.
To secure him the right to fish on the island, Olai’s elder brother, who had come to the Island two years earlier, had talked to one of the leaders of the local Beach Management Unit (BMU), promising him a percentage of Olai’s catch throughout the first month of his operations on the island.
This is just one of the thousands of tales regarding how fishermen on Lake Victoria get into the fishing trade on the fresh water fishery.
A sneak peek into this free-entry-and-exit nature of fishing on Africa’s largest lake reveals one thing –what various stakeholders have cited as reason for the dwindling fish stocks in the lake.
In 2010, the East African Community (EAC) pointed out that the lack of proper fishing licensing system was a regional problem but more pronounced in Uganda.
The EAC said the other two countries that share Lake Victoria already had fishing activities on their parts of the lake controlled by licensing– as much as 85% and 60% of fishing on the Kenyan and Tanzania parts respectively.
What the law says
While the Ugandan law says that only those with valid licences can carry out fishing on any water body in the land, ironically the free-entry-and exit system of fishing prevails on Lake Victoria.
The Fish Act that requires all fishermen on all Ugandan water bodies to be licensed has been in place since 1964 and has remained part of all the constitutions the country has had ever since, simply undergoing modifications over the period.
It states that to fish in any waters of Uganda, a person must have a valid licence. Any fishing vessel in the country must have assigned registration letters and a serial number, and the serial number must be clearly and visibly inscribed on the vessel.
The law also spells out the amount a fisherman must pay to get a licence to fish in any water body, and the latest modification to the Act (2011) set the annual fee at sh100,000 for small-scale fishermen and sh200,000 for larger fishing boats.
The same law directly vests the powers of licensing and overall regulation of the fishing activities upon the ministry of fisheries. To that cause, the ministry has fisheries officers in every district, who are supposed to arry out the licensing and general regulation on behalf of the Government.
However, the commissioner of fisheries at the ministry, Jackson Wadanya, explains that in order to have fishing on the lake regulated all the way down to the lowest level, the ministry ceded some of its regulatory powers to Beach Management Units (BMUs), which are local entities set up by fishermen at individual fishing villages and landing sites to regulate their trade.
The ministry assigned the BMUs the role of registering the fishermen at the fishing village level and ensuring they fulfill the requirements to fish, after which the BMUs are supposed to send the fishermen to the district fisheries department for licensing.
Government efforts wanting
Records show there has been numerous attempts by the Government to correct the situation. These include an attempt to decentralise the licensing of boats in the mid-2000s, which failed and the process was reverted to the central government yet again.
Over the last two years there has also been an attempt to have fisheries officials at every major landing site, but the fisheries commissioner says this has been hampered by a shortage of funds and manpower.
Busia fisheries officer John Ochieng says when Parliament revised licence fees in 2010, there was hope it would seriously follow up and ensure the licensing process was initiated, but this never happened.
Ochieng blames the Government for not doing enough. However, Isaac Mugooda, a large-scale fish trader at Masese landing site in Jinja, says the fishing communities themselves are averse to registration and licensing, and there has to be sensitisation as well as use of force if proper regulation is to ever be achieved.
Children openly displaying an immature tilapia they fished out of L. Victoria
Failure to control fishing
However, what is happening on different fishing sites on Lake Victoria is far from what the law stipulates. Most fishermen are allowed by local BMUs or shadow authorities (where there are no BMUs) to fish.
According to a study by Dr. Winnie Nkalubo of the National Fisheries Research Institute, Richard Mugolo the CAO of Namayingo district, and UNESCO, on the regulation of fishing on the lake, the cause of the problem has been a failure to implement the guidelines spelt out by the law.
“There are few fishermen with licences,” says Ibrahim Sebere, a resident of Buvuma Island district. Sebere has been a fisherman for more than 10 years in more than 10 landing sites. He is now a resident fishing officer representing the fisheries ministry in the area.
“In reality, it is the BMUs regulating the entry and exit because they determine whether one can fish at a landing site or not,” Sebere says. “We who represent the Government arm have been more active in curbing illegal fishing, but we are yet to get into licensing and general granting of permission to fish.
Unfortunately many of the BMUs do not have the necessary skills, knowledge and power to effectively control fishing, leaving the industry without proper regulation.”
The commissioner of fisheries, Jackson Wadanya, admits that the control of entry into and exit from fishing is yet to get to a required position but right now, there are several bottlenecks.
“We have to rely on the weak structure, the BMUs, with few ministry officers supplementing their efforts. We try to sensitise the communities and simply hope things can get better. We do not have enough funds to set up an effective structure with enough manpower to the lowest fisherman, enforcing what the law says is hard,” he says.
Much as the ministry has accepted its limitations and ceded much of its power to BMUs, the BMUs have, on their part, not done well on regulating the fishing activities on the lake.
Last year, a field audit conducted on Lake Victoria found that out of 5,537 vessels docked at 138 landing sites, only 3,751 were registered by either the BMU or the fisheries ministry.
The same audit established that while all landing sites, through their local BMUs, were required to register all fishermen and vessels, 54% of the landing sites visited were operating without registers.
Only the districts of Kampala, Mayuge and Jinja were found keen on the registration of vessels and fishermen to an effective degree; while Buvuma, Busia, Mpigi, Masaka, Kalangala and Rakai did not have an effective registration system of fishermen and vessels.
Free-for-all access policy depleting stocks in L.Victoria