Low fish catch cripples Kalangala

As illegal fishing and pollution affect fish stocks in Lake Victoria, Kalangala District revenue falls.

Thursday July 3 2014

Fisheries and police officers burn some of the confiscated illegal

Fisheries and police officers burn some of the confiscated illegal fishing material at Lutoboka Fishing Village in Masaka. Photo by Issa Aliga 

By Henry Lubulwa

For an island district to survive, it has to rely on mainly maritime activity, and perhaps the allure of tourism. A kick from agriculture would boost revenue but as economic records since its inception in 1989 show, fishing is the livelihood for most residents on this landmass district in Lake Victoria.

In the past two decades, a large harvest of fish, banana, beans, maize and timber was shipped to the mainland, from this isle, earning individuals income and the district revenue in terms of taxation. This went on as fishermen and traders struggled to beat the challenges associated with the risks of water transport and illegal activities.

Most fishermen use motorised or oar-powered canoes, built from timber, to ferry their merchandise. However, even these were few! Transporters, eager to earn an extra back, would overload, leading to capsise accidents.

That was not the biggest challenge. Catching fish is not as easy as it sounds! Not like in the Biblical times when Jesus ordered weary fishermen, to cast their net just once more and they had a catch they could not draw from the waters. It takes much more.

To catch fish, it takes long hours of endurance, especially in the wee hours of the night, on the lake, drifting with nets cast. Some days are bounty while other can be of scarcity, returning to the shores empty handed.

The species most sought after on the lake include; Nile Perch, Tilapia, Dagaa (also known as mukene) and Bagrus (catfish). Nile Perch’s predatory ways led to the decline of many other species or the extinction of them.

Since the higher the catch, the more the earnings, fishermen have indulged in illegal fishing activity. The district leaders, beach management committees and the Fisheries minister, Ruth Nankabirwa, have tried to stamp out the vice but it persists just like any illicit but lucrative trade.

Tonnes of captured immature fish (mudeeke) and outlawed fishing gear have been burnt but fishermen still find a way of procuring or making more.

In fact, dissuading residents from illegal fishing has become a permanent feature in the President’s speech whenever he visits Kalangala.

“Banyankore (herdsmen) never eat calves! It’s a taboo! Calves help the herd to regenerate. Why do you capture immature fish?” President Museveni has asked on one of his visits.

But there is also the menace of pollution! Residents here have a bad practice or is it a belief that, “ennyanja tenoga” literally meaning that the lake can never get saturated. So they, of course erroneously believe, however much you dump into the lake (Victoria), there will be no effect.

The effect is there and will affect both the perpetrators and innocent bystanders. The purity of water had declined. There rotting of dumped refuse, as environmentalists warned, affects the oxygen levels in the water and hence the breeding of fish declines.

The farming activities on the shores and the rampant deforestation in the hinterland have all combined to affect both the water levels and brooding of fish. And now the fish catch has declined and local revenue in Kalangala has slumped.

Kalangala district leaders have been relying on these levies, supported by subventions from government, to monitor and run projects within the district and deliver services to people in the 62 out of the 63 habited sub-islands.

The district gets most of its local revenue from the lake through taxing fish products, companies in fishing trade and licensing equipment used to fish. However, this revenue has since 2007 been dropping. In October 2007, the district fisheries officer Mr Jackson Baguma told a meeting of stakeholders that there was a decline in the amount of revenue generated from the fishing sector.

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