Ugandans at least spent close to Shs50b on fish imports for the year ended December 2019 despite being one of the biggest fish producer in East Africa.
The country, which is the biggest export source of fish for much of the East African region, equally spends on imports from as far as China, according to a Ministry of Finance report, which analyses about 1,500 imported products from the period ended December 2019.
The report indicates that fish imports worth $13m (Shs50b) were shipped into the country with salted, dried, smoked and fish meal fit for human consumption, which cost $12m (48b), dominating the list.
Other fish imports in the period, according to the report seen by Daily Monitor, included fish fillets, fish meat all in fresh, chilled and frozen form, which cost $202,752 (Shs770m).Live fish, frozen and chilled fish leeks during the period under review cost Uganda nearly $200,000 (Shs745m).
The country also imported crustaceans, mollusks and aquatic invertebrates (some of which were live, fresh and chilled) worth $125,500 (Shs476m).
Uganda continues to be a net import, importing goods and products, such as vegetable, which are abundantly produced here.
Mr Sujal Goswami, the Uganda Fish Processors and Exporters Association chairman, yesterday told Daily Monitor it was difficult to understand why Uganda was importing fish and related products yet: “it is not a fish eating country because most of what is produced is exported in chilled, frozen and smoked form.”
However, he noted, he was only aware of one particular import – fish maws.
In the same period, according to Bank of Uganda data, Uganda exported fish worth $176m (Shs670.7b).
The exports, according to the date were mainly in frozen, chilled or smoked form. But this was a decline from the $215m (Shs817b) that the country fetched from exports in the same period in 2018.
Mr Goswami told Daily Monitor fish exports were recovering from a slump of 2013 due to “government intervention through which it is fighting poor methods of fishing.
The fisheries sector continues to be an important social and economic driver, leaping other sectors to become Uganda’s second largest foreign exchange earner with a 2.6 per cent GDP and 12 per cent to agricultural GDP.
The industry is recovering from years of bad fishing that had led to serious depletion in terms of production about 10 years ago.
According to Mr Goswami, the depletion had created serious inefficiencies that led to the closure of a number of fish factories in the process.
According to data from Uganda Fish Processors and Exporters Association, at least four fish processing factories including Marine and Agro, Ngege, Iftra and Gomba, have resumed production after years of being redundant.
Government has been driving a number of interventions key among them registering fishing boats that have appropriate gear, implementing closed fishing in breeding areas to allow fingerlings to grow, and establishing aquaculture and cage fishing that mainly seek to allow the industry recover.
Deploying military and police around lakes and fishing grounds to enforce acceptable fishing standards has been another measure that seek to curb illegal.
Uganda is also coming up with the Fisheries and Aquaculture Bill that will embed new fisheries enforcements into law. It will help to direct all illegal earnings to the national Treasury.
Uganda’s unregulated fish catch is estimated at $430 million annually.