By Mary Asujo
A section of MPs on the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture and leaders from the fishing communities in Uganda have again disagreed on the deployment of the Uganda people’s defense Forces (UPDF) on the Uganda’s lakes.
The leaders under the Lake Edward, Lake George and Kazinga Channel Association Fishers led by the Association chairperson Stephen Katesigwa while appearing before the committee to give their views on the Fisheries and Aquaculture Bill, 2020, proposed that the committee should not recommend for the removal of the UPDF from the lakes.
In 2018, the Fishing communities were divided over the presence of the Fisheries Protection Unit that is deployed on the waters of Lake Victoria to curb illegal fishing methods. Sections of the fishermen in favour of the presence of the Unit, which comprises Uganda Peoples’ Defense Forces (UPDF) soldiers, had said it has led to an increase in fish stocks on the lake.
The fishing communities around the lakes also cited cases of extortion, grabbing of fish and indiscriminate destruction of fishing gear among others.
The Fisheries and Aquaculture Bill, 2020 is among others, proposing deterrent punishments for people convicted of committing offenses related to illegal fishing and mismanagement of water bodies.
The group however told the committee that if the UPDF is withdrawn from the lakes, the fishing community will be terrorized by illegal persons holding guns who invade them and steal their fishing gears and fish.
One of the members of the association, Kiiza Kagoro Isimbwa said that those crying of torture at landing sites are the people who had engaged in illegal fishing methods.
They also stated that the people with illegal guns attacking the fishing community on landing sites are mainly coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
However, some members of parliament who included; Agago county North MP John Amos Okot and Maruzi county MP Maxwel Akora opposed the proposal, stating that the UPDF has no mandate to manage the fisheries resource instead they should focus on providing security on lakes.
MPs said that the UPDF is harsh in terms of enforcing discipline and if the commander is corrupt those under him will also command the same.
Okot said that the proposal by a section of the fishing community to have UPDF maintain control over lakes violates the constitution since it lacks the mandate the UPDF to engage into business activities.
The proposed law is a revision of the Fish Act of 2000 Cap 197, which only regulates capture fish and does not address aquaculture activities including management of commercial fishing, fish selling, post-harvest handling, fish transportation, surveillance and control monitoring of fisheries units as well as fisheries research.
Some of the challenges that the new Law may address are the issues related to use of illegal fishing gear, poor quality fish seeds, limited access to fish seeds and feeds as well as continued trade in illegal and unrecorded immature fish. Such challenges are said to be costing Uganda more than US$ 429 million in income lost annually.