Fish stocks have drastically reduced in Lake Victoria in the past one month, rendering fishermen and fish dealers unemployed.
At some landing sites, which are usually a beehive of activity, there is no business going on.
Sector players are blaming the situation on the ongoing mass death of fish, particularly the Nile Perch, which has left the lake with no stock. This has also pushed the fish prices high.
Currently, a kilogramme of Nile Perch sells between Shs14,000 and Shs16,000 at various fish markets in most urban centres, up from Shs12,000 a month ago, while Tilapia costs Shs12,000 compared to Shs7,000 a month ago .
However, traders say the prices change depending on the quantity of fish supplied daily.
Since December, communities living in and around the shores of Lake Victoria have been complaining over the growing number of dead Nile Perch being washed ashore.
The most affected landing sites are in the districts of Wakiso, Buikwe, Buvuma, Kalangala, Masaka, Jinja and Kyotera.
The dead fish are not only an eyesore but also emit an odour.
The reason for the mass deaths of seemingly healthy fish remains unclear, leading to speculation of possible poisoning, limited oxygen or adverse temperatures in Lake Victoria.
In both Jinja and Buikwe districts, fishermen say they have tied up their boats and fishing gear due to lack of fish.
Livelihoods at stake
The fishermen say when Nile Perch started dying, it scared away other fish species, which is now threatening their livelihoods.
Mr Fred Batambuze, a fisherman at Tongolo Landing Site in Buikwe District, says they return with fewer fish and sometimes nothing.
“We are idle because even those who enter the lake to catch fish return with nothing. We don’t have money and taking back our children to school during this period is going to be very difficult,” he says.
Mr Robert Mugoya, a fish dealer at Masese Landing site in Jinja City, says he is contemplating returning to his village and focus on farming.
“It is now very clear that we will not have mature fish in the lake for several months and I plan to use this period to prepare my garden and see whether I can earn some money,” he says.
During our visit to Masese Landing Site at the weekend, we found some fishermen doing other businesses such as vending agricultural produce to make ends meet.
Mr Samuel Okiror, a fisherman at Issi Landing Site in Buikwe District, says had government released the Emyooga funds (presidential initiative to fight poverty), they could have used part of it to start up some businesses.
“Fishing is our sole source of income and since fish is not in the lake, life is becoming hard here,” he says
The vice chairperson of the Association of Fisheries and Lake Users of Uganda (AFALU) in eastern region, Mr Joseph Lukwago, says the death of Nile Perch in Lake Victoria has greatly affected the fisheries sub-sector.
Back to square one
“We have gone back to the situation we were in five years ago when illegal fishing was at its peak. Many fishermen have pulled out their fishing gear from the water and fish processing factories are not getting enough fish, sometimes they wait for a whole week to have 10 tonnes of fish which suppliers used to collect daily,” he says.
Mr Jonan Rusoke, the Kyotera District fisheries officer, says two months ago, a kilo of Nile Perch in the area was costing between Shs7,500 and Shs8,500, but it currently goes for between Shs13,000 and Shs14,000 .
“Our biggest worry is that even the young fish also died, this means we will not have mature fish in the lake until the end of the year, which is going to impact negatively on many people’s livelihoods,” he says.
He further adds that Dr Joyce Ekwaput Nyeko, the acting director of fisheries resources in the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, recently visited Kasensero Landing Site and took samples of dead fish to establish the exact cause of the death.
Mr Rashid Babu, the manager of Mpongo Limited, a firm that runs Lambu Fish Landing Site, says the fish stock in the area has reduced by 75 per cent, which has pushed many fishermen out of business. A kilo of Nile Perch at the landing site currently costs 12,000 up from Shs8,000 .
“Surprisingly, when we talk to our counterparts in Tanzania they tell us that they are having fish in plenty yet we all fish in the same lake,” he says.
Ms Edius Namagembe, a fisher dealer in Masaka Central Market, says two of her suppliers have left the business due to limited fish supply. “I have three fish suppliers but two of them have not been supplying fish for three weeks now; even those who are still coming, they bring poor quality fish, which some of our clients have refused to buy.”
Reported by Al-Mahdi Ssenkabirwa, Denis Edema, Ambrose Musasizi, Eve Muganga & Muzafaru Nsubuga