Buvuma- Authorities in the island district of Buvuma have blamed the slow pace of issuing boat number plates on officials from Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries whom they accuse of being lazy.
The exercise, which started seven years ago, and involves registration, issuance of permits, number plates and log books, was part of a government initiative to curb illegal fishing on various water bodies in Uganda.
It was partly intended to regulate fishing and avert depletion of fish stocks as a result of illegal fishing methods.
But Mr Abdul Magid Nakwaki, the Buvuma District fisheries officer, says out of the 5,300 boats estimated to be operating in the district, only 200 boats have fulfilled the requirements of the ministry and issued with permanent identification number plates.
“As a result of not issuing boat number plates, more unscrupulous fishermen with ineligible boats are coming to our area – something that has fueled illegal fishing,” Mr Nakwaki says.
Mr Nakwaki adds that it was unfair for the ministry to force some fishermen in the district to pay for the licence, yet many others are operating freely.
“The ministry is just reluctant on those who have not yet registered. Both those who have registered and those who have not are all engaging in fishing. What is the importance of number plates on their boats?” he asked.
Mr Bashir Ssenfuma, a fisherman at Lyabaana Landing Site, claims he fulfilled all the necessary requirements a year ago, but has failed to get his boat number plate.
For a boat owner to get a number plate, they must register with the district upon payment of a fee of Shs10,000, after which they are given introductory letters to the commissioner for fisheries in the ministry where they obtain forms to fill and pay Shs100,000 in the bank for license.
The owner is later issued with a number plate by the ministry after presenting a receipt. However, apart from paying Shs100,000 for a license and the number plate from the ministry, a boat owner is also supposed to pay an extra Shs50,000 to the district as user fee, which Nakwaki says is meant to cater for maintenance of the lake.
The Director for Fisheries in the ministry, Dr Edward Lukunya, says they have been constrained by lack of funds.
“The purpose of issuing number plates is to limit the number of those entering the fishing business. A few have registered and we delayed the enforcement due to lack of funds to conduct the operation on the lake,” he says.
However, he declines to reveal how much money the ministry needs to successfully conduct the exercise.
Mr Lukunya expresses worry that the delay to issue number plates will affect their plan to develop a national data base for all boat owners in the country.
“Currently, we cannot track down owners of boats when they engage in illegal fishing. Once we secure the funds and register all those people, it would be easy to track wrong elements and deny them licences in future,” he says.
Mr Alex Mabiriizi, the district chairperson, blames the ministry for centralising the boat licensing exercise, well knowing that it lacks a specific budget for it.
He says the process of registering and issuing boat number plates has partly been frustrated by soldiers who government deployed on the lake to fight illegal fishing.
“Our target was to register more than 100,000 boats, but we face a challenge of these army officers carrying out operations against illegal fishing. Many boats are destroyed in the process, so this forces many fisheries officers to abandon the exercise,’’ he says.
About the district
Buvuma District is made up of 52 islands with a population of 89,000 spread in the eight sub-counties and one town council.
Early this year, leaders from the three East African member states of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, which share Lake Victoria resolved that all fishing boats on the lake must have number plates before being authorised to ply the lake to arrest the near-to-nothing fish stocks situation.
In 2011, the ministry through the amended Fish Act 2010 re-centralised issuing of licences.
The ministry set Shs100,000 as annual license fee for small boats and Shs200,000 for large scale fishing boats.
This was aimed at regulating fishing activities and conserve lakes in the country.