Ugandan Fishermen Flee to DRC as FPU Intensifies Operations on Lake Albert

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Those fleeing are from the landing sites of Butiaba, Wanseko, Bugoigo andKabolwa in Buliisa, Kijangi, Kaiso, Rwentale, Runga and Mbegu in Hoima, Nkondo, Sebigoro, Kyehoro, Bugoma and Kyekapere in Kikuube, Ndaiga and Kitebere in Kagadi.
Illegal Boats being burnt by the FPU operatives at Runga landing site in Hoima district.The situation has compelled fishermen to flee to DRC.Photo by Emmanuel Okello.

Audio 4

Ugandan fishermen carrying fishing activities on the lake Albert are fleeing to the Democratic Republic of Congo-DRC to carry out following intensified operation and destruction of their illegal fishing gear by the Fisheries Protection Unit-FPU.  

The operation is targeting those with undersized boats, fishing nets, hooks and monofilament nets among others from the landing sites of Butiaba, Wanseko, Bugoigo andKabolwa in Buliisa, Kijangi, Kaiso, Rwentale, Runga and Mbegu in Hoima, Nkondo, Sebigoro, Kyehoro, Bugoma and Kyekapere in Kikuube, Ndaiga and Kitebere in Kagadi. 

The FPU has been conducting operations against illegal fishing gear on Lake Albert Since August. The gear that does not meet specifications has been confiscated and burnt by the FPU leaving fishermen stranded.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, illegal fishing involve using less than five-inch fishing nets for Tilapia and less than seven-inch fishing nets for Nile Perch. It also entails using fishing boats that are less than 20 feet in length.  

Alfred Bedijo, a fisherman at the Runga Landing Site in Hoima District says life has become unbearable for them following the operation and as a result, many fishermen have crossed to DRC where the environment is favourable.

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John Byakagaba, a fisherman at Sebigoro landing site in Kikuube says the operation has left many fishermen impoverished yet they cannot afford to buy the recommended fishing gear.

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Patrick Musinguzi, a fisherman at Butiaba Landing Site in Buliisa says the current situation on Lake Albert is alarming and called for government intervention to avail fishermen with cheap loans so that they can acquire the recommended fishing gear.  

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Kikuube LCV Vice-Chairperson Vincent Alpha Opio faults the FPU for not involving district leaders in their operation adding that when the operation started leaders were not consulted.

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Lt. Lauben Ndifula, the spokesperson of the Fisheries Protection Unit-FPU says that the operations that are ongoing are aimed at strengthening the national capacity to eliminate illegal fishing and increase the protection of transboundary resources.    

There are more than 50,000 fishermen on Lake Albert who harvest more than 100,000 tons of fish per year. Overall, fishing supports the livelihood of more than 1.6 million people in Uganda. Over the last 15 years, the fisheries sector has played an important social and economic role in the country as one of the key foreign exchange-earners, contributing 2.6 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 12 per cent to agricultural GDP.       

In September alone FPU impounded and destroyed more than 300,000 pieces of illegal fishing gear countrywide.  The destroyed fishing gear includes boats, monofilament nets, solar batteries, bulbs, hooks, and immature fish among others.

The destroyed fishing gear includes 52,575 pieces of monofilament nets, 8,457kg of immature fish, 35,442, 10,881 illegal boats, 1,463 solar batteries and 189,103 illegal hooks among others confiscated from Ntoroko, Butiaba, Namayingo, Kalangala, Serere, Kasese, Jinja, Buvuma, Rukungiri, Kwania, Buyende, Masaka, Kayunga, Mpigi, Buikwe, Apac and Mukono, among others.       

In 2017, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni directed Uganda Peoples Defense Forces-UPDF soldiers to deploy on all the lakes in the country to combat illegal fishing practices to protect the fish resources that were under threat of depletion. The operation comes at a time when Parliament is currently scrutinizing the Fisheries and Aquaculture Bill, 2021.    

The Bill was recently tabled before Parliament and seeks to consolidate and reform the law relating to the management of fisheries products and aquaculture due to several challenges and emerging issues in the regulation and management of the sector which are not addressed.    

During the Law Revision of 2000, the Country's laws were reorganized and the Fish and Crocodile Act became the Fish Act, which was further amended in 2011 to provide for the establishment of the Fisheries Fund and to permit the retention and use of fees received by the Chief Fisheries Officer from the issuance of licenses, permits and other activities for development and management of the sector.   

However, the government says that these amendments were not comprehensive enough to fully address all challenges facing the fisheries sector because they only focused on licenses, the introduction of currency points and retention of funds.       

The new Bill is proposing the licensing and registration of fishing vessels, control and regulation of all fisheries and aquaculture production activities and practices/methods of fishing and fishing gear, establishment and regulation of lake management organizations and gazetting of landing sites, provide for fish breeding and regulation of fish feeds and others.      

The government also proposes the establishment of a Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Committee which will ensure that fisheries resources are managed and also advise the Minister on effective planning, financing and coordination of the sector.  The Committee is proposed to serve under the Directorate of Fisheries Resources.