By Insight Post Uganda
In an effort to combat illegal fishing practices in Greater Masaka, the Fisheries Protection Unit (FPU) operating under the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) has made a significant stride by destroying more than 2,000 kilograms of immature fish and illegal fishing gear, valued at over one billion shillings.
This decisive action was taken after a series of operations to intercept and confiscate these illicit goods on various routes from the fishing sites around Lake Victoria before they could make their way to the markets.
Lt. Emmanuel Muchunguzi, the Public Relations Officer for the Greater Masaka FPU Sector, stressed the significance of this achievement, noting that had the immature fish been allowed to reach the appropriate size before harvesting, it could have potentially added more than one billion shillings to the national treasury.
These are staggering losses that Uganda can ill afford, especially considering the economic implications of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The FPU’s operations have not only resulted in the destruction of illegal goods but have also led to the arrest and subsequent remand of two suspects involved in these unlawful activities.
Lt. Bernard Bahingana, the FPU sector commander, revealed that their operations will persist until they effectively eradicate the trade in immature fish.
In the past four months alone, they have apprehended 78 individuals, 34 of whom have been convicted. Furthermore, 42 individuals who were using illegal fishing gear remain in custody, along with two others responsible for transporting the confiscated immature fish.
In their pursuit of upholding the law, the FPU also seized and destroyed 20,149 illegal fishing nets, including monofilaments and beach seine nets. Such actions send a clear message that the authorities are committed to enforcing the law and preserving the sustainability of Uganda’s fishery resources.
However, the actions of the FPU have sparked mixed reactions among the local community. Some residents of Ddimo landing site had requested the officers to distribute the immature fish for consumption to those in need.
But Godfrey Mujuzi, an officer from the Masaka District Fisheries Office rejected their request arguing that the immature fish was not fit for human consumption, emphasising the importance of safeguarding public health.
In response to this complex issue, Gerald Kyakkulumbye, the chairperson of Ddimo landing site, has proposed a potential solution suggesting that the government should consider removing taxes on fishing gear to make it more accessible to all fishermen.
According to Kyakkulumbye, the undersized nets are both affordable and readily available through various channels. By making recommended fishing equipment such as nets, engines, and timber for boat construction more affordable, fishermen may be less inclined to resort to illicit means to sustain their livelihoods.
The gravity of illegal fishing activities is not to be underestimated. According to a recent survey conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, and Fisheries, Uganda faces an annual loss of UGX483 billion in foreign earnings due to these illicit practices.
The economic consequences of such losses can be severe and may further exacerbate the hardships faced by the local population, particularly during these challenging times.
The fight against illegal fishing in Greater Masaka is a vital endeavour that requires a multifaceted approach.
While it is crucial to maintain strict enforcement of the law, Community Transformation Foundation Network-COTFONE and some Human Rights activists say, it is equally important to consider the socio-economic implications of such operations.
According to Yisito Kayinga Muddu, the Network Coordinator, the proposal to allocate confiscated illegal fish to the needy, instead of burning it, should be considered by the authorities as it makes no sense to waste it yet it would have been distributed to prisoners and poor households.
“Adopting such an approach, not only would they punish the dealers effectively, but they would also be able to provide relief to the underprivileged members of the community, striking a balance between enforcement and social responsibility,” he said.
Additionally, Kayinga noted that the government should seriously assess the potential benefits of reducing taxes on fishing gear to support local fishermen in their pursuit of legal and sustainable livelihoods.
“These measures could go a long way in mitigating the issue of illegal fishing while ensuring the welfare of the local population,” he noted.