Namayingo. Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) soldiers attached to Fisheries Protection Unit (FPU), have impounded more than 100 illegal boats and fishing gear at Mpanga and Maruba landing sites on the shores of Lake Victoria in Buhema Sub-county, Namayingo District.
During the operation on Tuesday, the soldiers under the command of Cpt Joseph Ssebukera, also arrested more than 30 fishermen who were found with the illegal gear.
Cpt Ssebukera said: “We confiscated over 100 illegal boats, 300 monofilament nets and arrested 30 fishermen who were in possession of the illegal fishing gears. We destroyed all the illegal items we confiscated.”
He explained that the arrested fishermen were handed over to the police to be charged accordingly.
“But the failure by court to give deterrent punishment to the people who are found with illegal gears has been a big challenge,” he said, adding that the suspects are easily released by court and as soon as they are back on the lake, they resume the illegal activities.
However, fishermen have accused the soldiers of using excessive force during the operations, adding that they have petitioned the Speaker of Parliament, Ms Rebecca Kadaga over the matter.
Mr Hezekiah Obbo, a fisherman at Mpanga Landing Site, explained that whenever the soldiers carry out the operation, they use excessive force, destroy their boats and nets, and leave them stranded with no other source of income.
“If they want us to stop using illegal fishing gear, the government should come in and provide a special fund to enable us acquire better fishing gear instead of torturing us,” Mr Obbo, said.
However, Cpt Ssebukera dismissed the allegations and accused local politicians of promoting illegal fishing.
“This is the sixth time we are carrying out an operation, destroying the illegal gear and arresting the fishermen involved but they keep coming back because the politicians encourages them,” Cpt Ssebukera said.
Mr John Bosco Lukwago, another fishermen, however, applauded the operation, reasoning that ever since the crackdown on illegal fishing was launched in 2017, the fish stock has been increasing.
“This lake belongs to the fishermen and not the army. So, if we can stop illegal fishing, we are going to have fish stocks increase, which will mean more jobs and money to the local people and increased foreign exchange to the economy,” Mr Lukwago said.
A recent survey by Association of Fishers and Lake Users of Uganda put the number of fishing boats on Lake Victoria at 15,000. Each boat is expected to have at least two fishermen, meaning there are more than 30,000 fishermen on Lake Victoria.
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. Fish exports to overseas markets increased from 1,664 tonnes valued at $1.4m (Shs5b) in 1990 to a peak of 36,615 tonnes valued at $143.6m (Shs517b) in 2005.
From 2005, export earnings decreased to 17,597 tonnes worth $134.791m (Shs485b). By 2014, earnings had dropped further to $113m (Shs409b).