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Uganda to earn $100M from fisheries

Sunday May 29, 2011

THE Government has laid down ambitious and shrewd interventions geared at turning-around the fortunes of the overtly fading fisheries industry in order to realise over $100m in revenues this year.

The enforcing of a new fish law, ploughing-back profits, licensing of fisher boats and their owners as well as rehabilitation of landing sites are some of the interventions planned.

Dr. Wilson Mwanja, the commissioner of fisheries at the agriculture ministry, reckons handsome rewards awaiting the fisheries industry if govt ‘walks the talk’.

However, a ‘mafia racket’ loaded with ill-gotten wealth buys undersized fishing nets and bribe their way out to perpetuate illegal fishing on water bodies once arrested.

“Where a fisheries officer, for example, arrests 40 trucks of undersized fish, he or she is bribed or bought off (by the mafia) and lets 39 ‘go’,” says Mwanja.

“But now we are urging Ugandans to embrace the war on illicit fishing since we all benefit from the fish resource,” he said.

Growth of fish industry
Hotly scurrying behind coffee, fish had, over the years, emerged as Uganda’s second major non-agricultural foreign exchange earner.

As a result, exports to premium international markets rose from $0.40m (about sh820m) in 1998 to over $145m (about sh297.3b) in 2008.

Apparently, over 80% of Uganda’s fish for export comes from Lakes; Victoria, Kyoga and Albert and Edward, with the Nile Perch, Tilapia and mukenne/ omena forming the mainstream of the industry.

According to Hope Mwesigye, the outgoing agriculture minister, Uganda produces 660, 000 tonnes of fish, with 100, 000 tonnes of Nile Perch processed for export.

Another 100, 000- 150, 000 tonnes are processed and exported in form of salted and dried or smoked fish for regional markets whilst 300, 000 tonnes is traded locally.

Formal regional trade earns an average of $35m. “Illicit and informal regional fish trade has grown from under $10m a year in the last five-years to $70m currently and remains in the hands of illegal traders,” Mwesigye said.

The growth of the sub-sector attracted investments, with processing industries rising from two to 18 in the last 10 years. The industry employs 400, 000 people directly, contributing to the livelihood of nearly 1.5 million people.

Costs of illegal fishing
Illicit fishing has dogged the Ugandan fisheries sector for so long a time, with 60% of fish traded on local and regional markets being immature and handled unhygienic conditions.

This practice culminated in a $60m (about sh120b) loss in returns in 2008, 1996 ($39m), 1997 ($28m) and 2000 ($34m), respectively.

The $60m loss in fish revenue resulted primarily from illicit trade in immature fish, insufficient funding and inadequate technical oversight.

And, as 2010 closed, over $180m was lost to illegal immature and undersized fish trade, rising to over $250m, said Mwesigye.

“”It is this trade in immature and undersized fish that is denying future earnings to the country if the fish is not allowed to mature, reproduce and contribute to the future resource-base before harvesting,” she says.

Uganda exported 15, 417 tonnes of processed fish in 2010, earning $82m. This was a reduction from the 18, 000 tonnes exported to premium markets in 2009, says Mwanja.

“Our forecast this year is that we export 20, 000 tonnes of processed fish and earn over $100m,” he says.

“Our local fish consumption is valued at $400m and regional ($150m). We should be doing over $150m in exports, but for illicit fish trade.”

Government suspended the Fish Act 1951, replacing it with the Fish (Fishing) Rules 2010 by December 2010.
This is intended to deter illicit fishing and trade in immature fish.

“Illegal fishing is perpetuated by rich people who can bribe their way at whatever cost,” says Yusuf Kaweesa, a fisher.

“Under the new law, even the vehicle transporting immature fish is liable to an offence and the owner will lose it (the vehicle) once proved guilty,” says Fred Mukisa, the outgoing fisheries state minister.

This is in addition to a sh120, 000 fine on a person who contravenes fish rules who will also compensate government, paying 10 times the amount of any fees.

In January, Government also signed into law an authorization for the fisheries department to retain charges from fisheries management and plough it back to improve fish management.

The Government is also pushing for a regional policy to compel investors in the industry to embark on fish breeding to save specie that yield handsome returns.

The new policy is being drafted and will be a pre-condition to obtaining an export license.

The Government has also slapped a ban on transportation of fish in buses as a way of stopping trade in immature fish.

“As a consumer, I should be able to buy fresh fish which is hard now because fish is transported in Lorries and other trucks that are not refrigerated, compromising their quality,” says Ivan Muwaya, a customer in Mukono.

This has been one of the havens through which illegal fish is ferried within the country and into fertile foreign markets like DR Congo.

“The problem I s we still have a poorly developed road infrastructure. You stand to lose out when a multimillion truck breaks down hardly a year-old,” says Moses Mukasa, a fish transporter.

The fish is normally smoked, salted or sun-dried and packed in sacks, boxes or big baskets. It is then loaded onto the buses which he said was a risk to the consumers’ health.

Fish quality assurance rules deem the transportation of fish products in a vehicle or container that does not conform to the standards an offence.

“Fish has become a hot-cake, with its price increasing by sh2, 000 per kilo at landing sites. This should leverage our earnings,” says Mwanja.

By JOEL OGWANG: The New Vision Newspaper

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