The Fisheries Protection Unit (FPU) of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) working closely with the Fisheries Directorate under the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) may be forced to suspend all fishing activities on Lake Wamala after fish stock continued to drop in recent years, due to illegal fishing practices.
FPU has revealed following an expedition to different landing sites across the shores of Wamala last week which point to an imminent collapse of operations owing to nearly depleted fish stocks in the lake.
The freshwater Lake covered by districts of Mityana, Mubende, Kasanda and Gomba is a major source of catfish, lungfish, and tilapia. Approximately 5000 people earn a living directly from Wamala while an estimated two million rely on the lake for food.
The recommendation comes on the heels of a similar maneuver across the seventeen districts surrounding Lake Kyoga for over five years that yielded results.
Betty Nanyange, a fishing boat owner says the lake is running out of fish, especially lung fish which is a delicacy in the region. “Sometimes we go days without a good catch, yet we are meant to pay workers and taxes, on top of servicing loans,” she stresses.
“We have been able to ascertain that there is little or completely nothing to catch in the lake, we have to leverage the lessons picked from Lake Kyoga in order to foster change here as well. This can help Uganda ensure food security and as well generate enormous revenue,” notes Uganda Federation of Fisheries Associations’ Elly Wasajja.
The projected collapse of activity poses a current of pain and worry through the fishing communities as well as a drop in expected revenue at the local government level and the national coffers. This presents a divide between authorities and locals over the impact of the decision to halt fishing.
However, some fishermen believe the move to halt operations is a ploy to eliminate them from business.
FPU boss, Lt. Col. Dick Kaija says the move lies in the best interests of all, and is geared towards sustainable exploitation of the lake resources.
According to FPU, only a handful of fishermen and boat owners have been able to pay the mandatory sh150,000 to sh175,000 annual tax and in similar fashion only a few of these have the necessary standard gear to permit them to operate.
Kaija notes that the fishermen were given a three-month grace period to make payments at the beginning of this year but only a small section complied. Fishermen or businessmen without the required licenses are required to halt operations in the meantime.
“At this stage, we are doing enforcement, those that are unable to pay, their boats are impounded until they can make payments next year January because the system is already closed. If they have arrears, they are required to clear it all in order to operate again” he stressed.
Locals revealed to this publication, that there is a clear disconnect between the local government and the Uganda Revenue Authority.
Mike Kyeyune, a fisherman reveals that district officials continue to solicit undocumented monies from them promising to issue them with licenses.
Mityana Municipality Mayor, Faustin Mukambwe Lukonge contends that they have been unable to realise the projected revenue from the Lake.
In 2017, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni Instituted the Fisheries Protection Unit to foil illegal fishing practices and bring back sanity to the sector.
According to the World Bank’s collection of development indicators, the total fisheries production in Uganda was reported at 760,545 metric tons in the year 2021, with projections to hit 2 million by 2027.
In 2022, Uganda exported Fish worth USD 166m which is approximately sh619 Billion ahead of sugar and agricultural produce such as beans and maize.
Drops in global fish stocks continue to pose a threat to food security, rendering some fish species extinct and the trend continues to escalate due to the illegal fishing gear employed relying on data provided by multi-national corporations.