New Bill proposes harsh penalties on illegal fishing

A file photo of fishermen who were allegedly found with illegal nets

Kampala- The government on Tuesday tabled the Fisheries and Aquaculture Bill, 2020, in which it has proposed deterrent punishments for people convicted of committing offenses related to illegal fishing and mismanagement of water bodies.

The Bill, tabled by Government Chief Whip Ruth Nankabirwa on behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture,  Animal Industry and Fisheries, seeks to repeal the Fish Act, Cap 197 in order to regulate the fish industry.

In the Bill, that was sent to the Committee on Agriculture, the government is concerned with the use of explosives, poison, undersize nets and other illegal fishing gears to catch fish; pollution of the water bodies, illegal movement of fish and fish products, unlicensed boats, and compromised fisheries officers. 

The Bill, if passed into law proposes imprisonment of eight years without an option of a fine to any persons who will be convicted for use of explosions, firearms, any device capable of producing an electric current, and applying poison to catch fish.  

The proposed law seeks more stringent punishment than the Fish Act, Cap 197, that provides for a general penalty whereby anyone found to have contravened its provisions shall upon conviction be fined Shs10,000 or serves a jail term not exceeding two years or both. 

In Bill, fishermen who use undersize nets and the people who buy from them, sell or are found in possession of such fishing nets would upon conviction be fined Shs60m (3,000 currency points) or serve a jail sentence of seven years or both. A currency point is equivalent to Shs20,000. 

With the environmentalists concerned with the high rate of pollution on the lakes of Uganda, which may result in the extinction of some of the fish species, it has been proposed that such an act be punished upon conviction by a fine of Shs200m or five years imprisonment or both. 

However, Mr Frank Muramuzi, the executive director of National Association of Professional Environmentalists (Nape), told Daily Monitor that the proposed law may only apply to few people. 

“This proposed punishment if the Bill is passed, will not work because the wrongdoers will not be apprehended and prosecuted.

 Pollution is everywhere around our water bodies and is mostly by people who are very rich, those in government and in the forces. So, even if they put that in the law, it will only catch up with the common man,” Mr Muramuzi said. 

During campaigns, President Museveni revealed that the government had finalised a master plan to develop the fishing industry into one of Uganda’s highest income earners. He said the government would secure a market for several fish products outside the country, especially in China. 

The Bill is seeking to regulate the exportation of fish products and the government has suggested a number of punishments for an exporter or and any other person who violates fish quality standards. 

An exporter who contravenes the provisions of the proposed law will upon conviction face a fine not exceeding Shs10m or a sentence of three years or both. 

Other proposed punishment
. Shs100m or three years imprisonment for counterfeit fishing licences or permits. 
• Shs60m or three years imprisonment for impersonating fisheries officers. 
•  Shs60m or one-year imprisonment for unlawful use of prohibited fishing gear or vessel.
• Shs200m or 10 years imprisonment for a fisheries officer who solicits and takes a bribe.
• Shs100m or three years imprisonment for a persons who manufactures, sells or stores prohibited gears.