By Gerald Tenywa
Until 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 bring you views from Mukono residents on the proposal to ban fishing in the district for three months to allow the lake to fallow.
Two weeks ago, President Yoweri Museveni endorsed Mukono’s proposal to impose a fishing ban in the area between July and October every year. The ban is to allow fish to regenerate and replenish the lake’s dwindling stocks due to over-fishing.
In a delegation led to State House Entebbe, by the district chairman, Francis Lukooya, Museveni also supported the ban on the import of illegal fishing gear blamed for depleting the lake.
The proposal has sparked off bitter reaction from the residents, who say they have no alternative source of livelihoods. They also say while the ban is well-intentioned, the Government has no capacity to stamp out illegal fishing, which is a worse evil.
Three months without fishing on Lake Victoria means a lot to Fred Ssembajjwe, a resident of Katosi landing site in Mukono district given that his source of income depends on fishing.
“If the lake is closed to fishing, there are three million people who depend on the lake for their daily survival. What does the Government have in store for them?” Ssembajjwe wonders. “Social upheavals around the landing sites and the islands will escalate because survival is tied to fishing.”
Other fishermen like Fred Mukasa, who has lived all his life on the lake blames the Government for neglecting water bodies and fisheries. “While closing the lake could allow the fish to regenerate, it will not take away illegal fishing,” says Mukasa.
“Government should first look at its failures before closing the lake.”
Mukasa says Mukono is bleeding as a result of reduced revenue yet it has to provide services to the population and that is why it is taking drastic action.
Enforcing the ban
Lukooya says the President has promised to provide enforcement. He also says they were consulting different stakeholders including the Fisheries Department and the fishermen to assist with the policing of the lake during the ban.
“About 70% of the fishermen have been consulted,” says Lukooya adding that this will be followed by a district council debate and resolution.
According to the Fisheries Department, fish increased from 1,664 tonnes valued at $1.4m in 1990, to 36,615 tonnes valued at $143.6m in 2005. By 2011, the fish exports to overseas markets and revenue had dropped to 16,480 tonnes.
On alternative source of livelihood when the lake is closed, Lukooya says the discussion over the issue started last year and this means that fishermen should have prepared.
“We are not going backwards. People are taking this grudgingly, but they will be happy come October,” he argued.
Experts speak out
Dr. Oguttu Ohwayo, a senior research officer at the National Fisheries Research Institute says Mukono single-handedly may not go far in addressing the issue of dwindling fish stocks on Africa’s biggest fresh water lake.
“I do not know whether Mukono has the right to close the lake,” says Ohwayo, a private consultant. He adds, such a ban should probably come from the Government in consultation with the neighbouring states on advice from a common lake basin organisation such as Lake Victoria Fisheries Organisation.”
Another challenge is that the lake has no definite boundaries that are respected by the fishermen.
“So the fishermen will simply migrate to other parts of the lake and this many cause conflicts. We need a common position. Closing certain areas on the lake or closing certain areas to breed?” he queries.
Ohwayo also pointed out that politicians tend to think that the solution to illegal fishing lies in deploying groups of militias on the lake.
He, however, says these work in the beginning, but become complacent in the long run.
Masitula Namaganda, a field assistant with Katosi Women Development Trust says the lake is experiencing problems because of docile fisheries department that has weakened over the years.
The problem, according to Namaganda is the poor management mechanisms that have failed to deliver sustainable fishing on the lake.
Mukasa agrees with her pointing out that the Fisheries Department does not have the capacity to check illegal fishing. “Can you imagine the Fisheries Department does not have transport to monitor the lake?” Namaganda asks.
“As long as you do not have strong institutions, the lake will face destruction. Without strong regulation the lake benefits a few fishermen dealing in illegal activities and lawful fishermen are losing out,” she observed.
Politicians and fishermen feel enough is enough. They have started discussing and appreciating sustainable fisheries from different perspectives.
Lukooya is one of the leaders, who has been grappling with the depleted lake and is stepping into the deep waters. He insists that if the ban succeeds, Mukono will become a model to other districts.
“We know fish know no boundaries and migrate. That is why we want our neighbours in Kalangala, Buikwe and Buvuma to cooperate with us,” says Lukooya, adding that with or without them nothing will stop Mukono on the ban to replenish the lake.
CONTRIBUTION TO DISTRICT REVENUE
Lukooya told New Vision that fishing used to contribute about 20% of the district revenue. This, according to Lukooya has dipped to less than 5% and about 40% of Mukono’s population derives their livelihood from fi sh. “Fishermen are many on the lake to allow the fish to replenish,” he says.
“When we close the lake there will be a lot of fish by the time we start fishing in October. It is a risk to take such a decision politically, but I know everybody will be happy in the end.” “Fishermen are ignorantly suffering because they waste a lot of fuel on the lake and harvest only two kilogrammes of fish in a day. Closing the lake is a sacrifice and if it succeeds it will become an annual event,” Lukooya explains
IT'S YOUR TURN
How you can save the lake
Did you know that by donating to a civil society group such as the Wildlife Clubs of Uganda or Go Green Campaign would go a long way in promoting conservation education that would help change the mind set of people and nurture young people into responsible citizens?