The political season that has seen candidates campaigning for elective offices ahead of the 2021 General Election has instead led to a surge in illegal fishing activities on Lake Victoria.
Mr Stephen Mengo, a member of the Association of Fishers and Lake Users of Uganda (AFALU), on Monday said illegal fishing has resumed.
Mr Mengo said some politicians are instead bashing the operations that were mounted by the Fisheries Protection Unit (FPU) under the Uganda People’s Defence Forces marine.
“Many politicians are not talking about illegal fishing at this time because they are busy looking for votes and there is currently no control of fishermen who have also taken advantage of the political season as there is no enforcement,” he said.
He added: “As a result, there is an increase in undersized fish, especially in small markets as fishermen have leeway to fish without any supervision perhaps until elections are concluded next year.”
Government in 2017 set up the Fisheries Protection Unit (FPU), with Lt Col James Nuwagaba at the helm to crackdown on illegal fishing activities on water bodies.
Their activities momentarily reduced the vice, but the enforcers received criticism.
President Museveni recently replaced Lt Col Nuwagaba with Lt Col Dick Kirya Kaija.
Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga last year directed FPU to halt its operations, citing alleged mistreatment of the fishing communities.
Other fishermen at Masese Landing Site in Jinja City said government should trace the entry of illegal fishing gear that end up on the black market.
Mr Ali Okello, a fisherman, said illegal fishing is on the rise because if any government official openly castigates it, the fishing community will not vote for them.
Ms Sarah Nakito, who deals in fish, said the government relaxed illegal fishing operations because of the 2021 General Election next month, adding that since campaigns started, no serious punishments have been imposed on the culprits.
Meanwhile, fish has been identified as one of the key commodities to drive the Agro-Industrialisation (AGI) value chain investment areas.
In the quest to create more employment opportunities, government is strategically linking agriculture to industry through AGI programme in the National Development Plan III.
Fish presents clear avenues for Uganda to have a positive trade balance, add value along its value chain and has clear backward and forward linkages with other chains such as pharmaceutical industries.
Ms Winnie Nkalubo, the director of Research for the National Fisheries Resources Research Institute, on Monday said the AGI is being adopted as a model to shift from subsistence to commercialised farming.
“Government has set a target of 1.7 million tonnes of fish over the next five years. One million is to be obtained from aquaculture (ponds and cages), while 700,000 will be from captured fisheries (lakes and rivers).
“So far, we have about 120,000 metric tonnes from aquaculture and about 450 metric tonnes from captured fisheries. There are various interventions that have been proposed and if such interventions can be met then that target can be achieved,” Dr Nkalubo said.
Dr Nkalubo was speaking at a dialogue conducted by the Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC) in Jinja City. EPRC is a think tank in economics and development policy, oriented research and policy analysis.
The dialogue heard that the lucrative fish value chain, if well developed, will among others, create employment for Ugandan youth and women.
Mr James Kadali, the Buikwe District fisheries officer, called for improved fishing practices.Ms Peris Logose, a member of Kiyindi Women’s Fish Processors’ Association, called for adoption of different fishing technologies such as cancer-free smoker kiln, which rids firewood of poisonous smoke and solar tent driers that are efficient in drying silver fish (mukene).
“The youth should also get marketing skills that will give them exposure on how to communicate with clients and sell their products at good prices,” she said.