Communities in Teso sub-region traditionally depend on livestock, agriculture and gang fishing to supplement their diet and household income. However, fading cultural practices have since crippled the fishing.
Gang fishing involves neighbouring homes going to swamps in large groups to catch fish using traditional gear such as spears and baskets. “It is a practice that united communities in Teso. They knew when mature fish would be available in the swamps and went out fishing as a group when the time came,” a former Iteso paramount chief, Mr Paphras Imodot, said.
Catching fish before it was mature was forbidden in the communities and any one found practising the activity would be punished by clan heads. Local elders across Teso formed regulations to ensure that usage of the swamps was communal.
Mr Stephen Enokokin, a member of the Iteso Cultural Union, said the practice fostered the spirit of sharing.
Fishing seasons were keenly observed with the main species trapped from the swamps, including cat fish caught during the rainy season and mud fish for the dry season.
Leaders put a self-regulatory system meant to protect particular swamps to ensure that the fish stocks were not depleted and nobody was allowed to use the swamps for personal gains. “The swamps belonged to the community. It is where cattle from each home would be taken for grazing but these values have disappeared,” Mr Christopher Amorut, an elder from Ngora District, said.
However, Mr Amorut says fish stocks in wetlands have reduced in the region due to uncontrolled cultivation of crops like rice in swamps, a practice that was prohibited in the past. “Growing crops in wetlands was discouraged in Teso because that is where the livestock would freely graze. It helped in reducing conflicts over animals that would destroy people’s crops,” Mr Amorut said.
Soroti District environment officer Francis Opolot said most wetlands in the region in the past provided alternative source of nutrition but have dried up due to cultivation of crops.
“A few years to come there will be no wetland, fish that naturally grew in the swamps is no longer there,” Mr Opolot said.
And as the fish stock depletes, and communial fishing dies out, it is clear one of the bolts that held Teso together has loosened. Due to a strong attachment to wetlands, a section of elders has rejected proposed plans by government to lease out a chunk of Agu Wetland in Ngora for sugar cane growing.