Mukono-Mukono District leaders have disbanded fishing committees at landing sites, saying they have failed to curb illegal fishing on Lake Victoria.
The committees have been working alongside soldiers under the Fisheries Protection Unit (FPU), a special unit of the marine force headed by Lt Col James Nuwagaba.
However, the leaders of fishermen under their umbrella body, the Association of Fisheries and Lake Users of Uganda (AFALU), say most landing site committees are comprised of unscrupulous individuals who have fuelled illegal fishing through corruption.
“I have received numerous reports accusing individual members on those committees of engaging in corruption, mistreating fishermen and torching their houses, which acts are unacceptable,” Mr Godfrey Ssenyonga, the chairperson AFALU, said in an interview on Wednesday.
Mr Ssenyonga said replacing committee members will start in Katosi Town Council next week, where they received most complaints.
There are seven landing sites in Katosi Town Council; Katosi, Bugula, Bubazi, Bukyaya, Kisiitu, Babalume and Kinkonko.
“We are the ones who appointed these committees to help the Army to restore sanity on our lakes, but it is quite clear that they have failed to do their work and have to be replaced,” he added.
Each of the gazetted 3,000 landing sites on Ugandan lakes has a 15-member committee, according to Mr Ssenyonga.
Recently, AFALU asked government to impose a five-month fishing holiday to save the dwindling Nile perch and other species fish in Lake Victoria, noting that the current operations carried out by the FPU have failed to curb illegal fishing.
Mr Fred Mukasa, a member of AFALU and chairperson of Katosi Landing site, welcomed the proposed changes, saying they will enable them get rid of wrong elements who are defrauding fishermen under the guise of fighting illegal fishing.
“It is a step in the right direction and we pray that this time they choose the right people, not self-seekers,” Mr Mukasa said.
Mr Ssenyonga said although fish has returned to the lakes as a result of the ongoing operations, some investors are still reluctant to re-open their factories.
“They [owners of factors] are not sure whether the available fish is enough to do business and they fear making losses,” he said.
Some of the factories that are still closed, according to Mr Ssenyonga include Marine and Agro Export Processing Ltd in Jinja, Fresh Water Fish Exporters in Lukakkata, Masaka.
Mr Hakim Wandwase, the chairperson Bugula Landing Site, said the operations against illegal fishing could have succeeded if government had involved professionals in the fisheries sub-sector.
“Those people [fighting illegal fishing] when they raid a landing site, they beat up people and destroy their boats without consulting local leaders. I have personally been a victim. I had 80 boats at this landing site but I only remained with four after those people destroyed them, claiming they were not of the required standard,” he said.
What army say
When contacted, Lt Col Nuwagaba said his team is ready to work with new members on the landing site committees.
“The changes are normal because we have also replaced soldiers, and other AFALU members over misconduct; they were arrested and charged,” he said.
Lt Col Nuwagaba refuted claims that soldiers under him torture fishermen, insisting that he runs a well-coordinated chain of command, which treats all fishermen with dignity and respect.
He said despite the strides made so far, illegal fishing is still a big problem on Lake Victoria, particularly at landing sites in Mukono District.
Government established FPU early this year to crackdown on illegal fishing in the country. Mr Andrew Ssenyonga, the district chairperson, said although fighting illegal fishing on the lake is good, it has affected the district’s revenue.
“We are facing a reduction in revenue but we have been patient thinking that may be the operations will focus on illegal fishing, but they are mistreating fishermen and destroying their boats,” he said.