What you need to know:
- Uganda churns out at least 447,000 metric tonnes of fish, with Nile Perch contributing about 86,463 metric tonnes of total fish catch, and earns $153m (about Shs548b) annually in exports, while tilapia catch contributing 49,768 metric tonnes.
Fish exporters in the country have defended their call for Parliament to ratify a law banning the local consumption of Nile Perch, a delicacy to many Ugandans.
While appearing before Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture on Friday, the Uganda Fish Processors Exporters Association told the lawmakers that the proposal once approved will save the species from depletion.
The committee has been scrutunising the Fisheries and Aquaculture Bill, 2021.
Through their chairperson, Mr Sujal Goswami, the exporters say the law will also guarantee that the exporters have enough Nile Perch stock to feed into their businesses and ensure there is constant supply of the fish species to satisfy the tastes of foreign consumers of the widely sought-after delicacy.
“The business that we do right now is on the verge of total loss for the past months. We are in a perishable industry and have created a niche market in the European Union (EU), and we don’t want to lose that, but we are likely to get out of the market because in European Union, they prefer and import only Nile Perch. Why don’t you leave Nile Perch for exports and tilapia for local consumption and for equality and equity?” Mr Goswami argued.
Mr Goswami, who claims to shoulder a 22-year-long experience of exporting Nile Perch, says Uganda has gained a strong foothold in the European market over the years. He further reasoned that through the law, the country will derive immense revenue from the exports to the region and wider African continent.
The exporters insist that the proposal be approved by Parliament to protect Nile Perch, reasoning that it has a higher market as compared to the tilapia whose intake is low in Europe and other foreign markets that consume the delicacy.
The pushers of the proposed law also urged Parliament to strongly consider their plea because of the heavy threat of illegal fishing that is threatening the fish from extinction in our water bodies and in turn wipe out the country’s lucrative fish export business.
Government in January last year informed Parliament that the country churns out at least 447,000 metric tonnes of fish.
Of this, the ministry said, Nile Perch contributes about 86,463 metric tonnes of total fish catch, with tilapia catch contributing 49,768 metric tonnes. The Nile Perch was also said to be the most valuable fish species in Uganda, making a whopping contribution of $153m (about Shs548b) annually in exports.
But the radical suggestion was strongly opposed by some of the lawmakers on the committee.
“It is like these people are scared of competition and are also pushing government to legalise their fears for competition by putting it into law. Why are they barring us from eating Nile Perch?” Mr Charles Tebandeke, the Bbale County MP, wondered. “Nile Perch has many nutrients and it works as medicine, it is what I eat; that is why you see I look good...” he added.
Mr Tabandeke accused the exporters of hiding behind the proposal, saying they expect to use it as conduit for stealing fish maw from the fishermen as opposed to allowing the fishing community get better prices for the fish maw.
Fish maw refers to the swim bladder of large fish such as Nile Perch mainly when dry and other fish with similar bladders.
Fish maw is said to be a highly lucrative trade in China and Hong Kong, with a kilogramme of the rare commodity fetch between $450 (about Shs1.6m) and $1,000 (about Shs3.5m).
In reacting to the committee chairperson, Ms Janet Grace Okori-moe, who doubles as the Abim District Woman MP, promised to assess the proposals made before a defined position can be made. This is among the proposals that the committee has received from the various stakeholders in the fishing sector.
On Tuesday, the fishing community asked lawmakers to ensure that the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) be maintained on the country’s major water bodies on which fishing is done.
Considering that the country reaps heavily from the fish trade, the deputy chairperson of the committee, Ms Agnes Atim Apea, promised to rally legislators to ensure the fishing sector is allocated enough money in the next budget by the government through the line ministry.
About the bill
In March, the then government Chief Whip, who is now the Energy minister, Ms Ruth Nankabirwa, on behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture, tabled a Bill in Parliament meant to, among others, regulate all fisheries activities and aquaculture production in ways that enable future generations tap into the sector.
It encourages direct and indirect participation of all stakeholders involved in the sector.
It was later referred to Parliament’s Agriculture Committee for further scrutiny and detailed consideration, including where necessary to capture the proposals of other stakeholders involved in the sector.
The Bill that seeks to replace Fish Act, Cap 197 also proposes that the government formulates a directorate that will be solely responsible for the management of the sector.
If enacted in its current form, all persons found to be liable for catching undersized fish face seven years in jail or be subjected to Shs200 million fine. Persons that use poisonous substances, explosives or fire-arms to catch fish face eight years in prison.