Kampala — The fishing sector ranks among those that contribute highly to Uganda's economy.
It employs a lot of local fishermen while earning foreign exchange.
Records from the Ministry of agriculture, animal husbandry and fisheries show that in 2009, Uganda exported 1.7m tones of fish earning about U$8.543m, of which the bigger percentage was Nile perch.
In 2010 the sector contributed U$119.6m from just over 23,967tones.
Information seen by East African Business Week from the Uganda Export Promotions Board, in 2011, Uganda exported 15,500tones of fish earning about Shs212billion. Still, the bigger portion was got from the Nile Perch species.
It shows that the number of fish being exported to the biggest destination markets like Europe is declining. This may affect the country's economy.
Sector players in the industry attribute the decline to the increasing use of illegal fishing methods that capture both mature and immature fish in the water bodies like Lake Victoria.
They also blame it on the increasing population, and environmental changes among others.
Mr. William Tayebwa the Deputy Chief Executive Officer of Uganda Fish Processors and Exporters Association told East African Business Week that due to the increased population, it has caused high demand for the fish both locally, regionally and internationally.
"Population growth is having big impact on the fish sector because the number of people feeding on fish has increased yet the lake are not expanding this has left the processors and exporters with little fish for export, "explained Tayebwa.
He added that the sector lacks stringent protection measures to save water bodies from being over exploited.
Tayebwa observed that it's only in Uganda where everyone is allowed to enter into the lake and fish which he said has opened the avenue for fishermen to use poor fishing methods.
He also blamed the poor performance of the sector particularly in the year of 2011/2012 to the Euro zone crisis which affected international demand for fish.
Mr. Philip Borel the Chairman of Uganda Fish Exporters and Processors Association was quoted in a local daily saying that the crisis hurt them seriously.
"The Euro zone crisis is hitting hard on the industry, we're seeing a drop in the prices yet we have no choice but to keep in business, "he told the daily in an interview.
In 2012 the government also announced plans to revive the fishing sector through promotion of Aquaculture parks.
According to the investment agency (Uganda Investment Authority) the parks could act as the industrial parks but for the case of Aquaculture parks these were to be gazetted for fish farming both at small scale and commercial scale.
In the same year, fishermen proposed big demonstration over what they called poor prices for fish.
Some fishermen complained that the fish processors were paying them very small amount of money despite the fact that the price for fish on the international market was high.
Despite all such challenges in the sector, there's hope that the it may regain potential by supplying enough volume of fish this year, if Government intensifies with its enforcement on illegal fishing.
Mr. Abdul Kiwendo, the Head of Beach Management Unit that curbs illegal fishing on lakes, told EABW that there big improvement on the size of fish being caught in Lake Victoria.
He stressed that many fishermen stopped using illegal nets that capture immature fish in the lake.
"The policy that was introduced by the ministry is working because it has intensified the surveillance exercise in order to make sure that illegal fishermen are arrested on all water bodies," said Kiwendo.
Although the policy is working to the Minister of State for Fisheries Ms. Ruth Nankabirwa recently told stakeholders in the fish sector that improving on the enforcement may not yield positive results if government does not amend the fishing penalties.
The minister expressed disappointment that as much as the culprits are brought to book the penalties from the existing laws are still very weak.
"You find someone caught with a consignment of immature fish valued millions of money but sentenced to only 6 months or made to pay a fine of Ush2000. Will this person stop participating in illegal fishing?" she asked.
In order for the sector to improve on its performance the Minister told the EABW that there is need for the government to come up with autonomous authority responsible for fisheries.
She reasons that it will empower some officers to be more effective on the ground as compared to the whole sector now ran by a department in the ministry of Agriculture.
She added that in the year 2013 the ministry will focus more on promoting fish farming in the country since government has trained some local farmers in fish farming.
For Uganda to have brilliant fish sector in the coming year starting with 2013, fish exporter's urge government to institutionalize capacity building and support.
Tayebwa notes that Government needs to set up its effort to support a competent authority by improving on its budgetary allocation to enable it carry its mandate efficiently.
He said that lack of sufficient funds leaves some of its functions unfulfilled.
According to a source at the fisheries department in the ministry of Agriculture, there is need for Government to put in place subsidies to support development of aquaculture parks.
This could be directly tackled through capital injection and tax levies on aquaculture materials and services within this required period.
The source further adds that there is need for investment in infrastructure for storage and marketing of processed Mukene and other small fish's species considering that establishment of community processing infrastructure can only improve.
Manufacture of Value Added Fish Products -UIA say that there's No firm in the country that processes fish into finished products such as canned fish, fish soups and breaded fish products.
Local and Regional Cold Distribution Chain - Refrigeration facilities are required to enable distribution of fish to the local and regional market.
Dry/Smoked Fish - Demand for dry/smoked fish is high within the region including the European Union. In addition the Capital investment required to setup a drying facility is rather low. Equipment for hot smoking, capable of producing 200 metric tonnes per year costs about US$ 200,000.
Production of high value added by products - Currently, only one firm, Uganda Fish Skin tannery converts fish skins into leather for export. Other value added products such as isinglass and pharmaceuticals could also be manufactured from fisheries waste.