The persistent rights violations on Ugandan lakes have largely plagued the fishing industry for some time. However, Members of Parliament (MPs) are pushing Frank Tumwebaze, the Minister of Agriculture, Animal Industries, and Fisheries (MAAIF) to expedite the implementation of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Act, 2022.
The legislation, aimed at regulating fishing practices and gear, has become a focal point in the ongoing debate over alleged human rights violations and the use of substandard fishing equipment.
The call for action was raised during a plenary sitting on Wednesday, January 31, 2024, where MPs noted the urgent need to enforce the law to combat the reported exploitation of fish farmers and the proliferation of substandard fishing gear.
The Act, which was passed by Parliament, seeks to provide a framework for licensing, controlling, and regulating fishing and aquaculture activities, including the methods of fishing and types of fishing gear.
Agnes Atim (NRM, District Woman Rep., Amolatar) expressed concern over the absence of regulations, asserting that fishers are being coerced and tortured by security operatives, particularly the Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces (UPDF), into using substandard imported fishing gear.
She called for a comprehensive investigation into these allegations and advocated for support to fishers with legal equipment, boats, and engines.
During the session, Peter Okeyoh (NRM, Bukooli Island County) highlighted the economic impact on fishers who are compelled to purchase expensive imported fishing gear. He urged the government to address the plight of fishermen, whose rights are allegedly being abused.
Hon. Emmanuel Ongiertho (FDC, Jonam County) highlighted the infiltration of substandard fishing gear in fishing communities, making it challenging to convince fishers to adopt legal gear. He stressed the importance of dealing with this issue promptly.
The lack of regulations to operationalise the Fisheries and Aquaculture Act was identified by Abed Bwanika (NUP, Kimaanya-Kabonera) as a significant obstacle.
He argued that the absence of regulations has led to a situation where enforcement, even by the UPDF, becomes difficult. Bwanika called for the establishment of a dedicated unit to enforce the law.
Hon. Elijah Okupa (Indep., Kasilo County) urged the government to not only ban illegal fishing nets but also to address the importation of threads used in making fishing gear. He highlighted the seriousness of the issue and stressed the need for a comprehensive resolution.
In response to the mounting concerns, Deputy Speaker Thomas Tayebwa gave the agriculture minister one month to table the necessary regulations. The MPs also stressed the need to address cases of torture and human rights abuses by the UPDF in fishing communities.
Hon. Vincent Ssempijja, the Minister of Defence and Veteran Affairs, pledged to investigate the allegations and provide a report by Tuesday, February 6, 2024. He stressed the commitment of the UPDF to investigate and punish any members found engaging in such behaviour.
Who Benefits from the Act?
The fisheries industry’s future now hinges on the swift implementation of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Act, 2022, with the hope that proper regulations will mitigate the reported issues and safeguard the rights of fishers in Uganda.
However, it is designed to benefit various stakeholders involved in the fishing industry by providing a legal framework for the licensing, control, and regulation of fishing and aquaculture activities. The primary beneficiaries of such a law typically include the following;
Fishermen and Fish Farmers: The law aims to protect the rights and interests of those directly involved in fishing and aquaculture. It may establish guidelines for sustainable practices, ensure fair working conditions, and provide a legal basis for obtaining licenses.
Local Communities: Regulations set forth by the law can contribute to the well-being of communities dependent on fishing activities. This may include provisions to prevent exploitation, ensure fair distribution of resources, and promote community development.
Government Authorities and Regulatory Bodies: The law empowers government agencies to manage and regulate fishing and aquaculture effectively. It enables the enforcement of standards, ensures compliance with regulations, and helps in the sustainable management of fisheries resources.
Environmental Conservation: The law may include provisions aimed at preserving and protecting aquatic ecosystems. Regulations related to sustainable fishing practices, habitat protection, and resource conservation benefit the environment.
Economic Development: Establishing clear regulations and promoting sustainable practices, contributes to the long-term economic viability of the fishing industry. This can result in increased productivity, job creation, and economic growth in related sectors.
Consumers: Regulations on fishing practices, food safety standards, and product quality contribute to ensuring that consumers have access to safe and high-quality fish products.