Officials from the Fisheries department in Mayuge are worried about the increasing cases of middlemen exploiting ignorant fishermen and fishmongers, who sell their stock cheaply at different landing sites in the district.
Sarah Nakazibwe, the district fisheries officer, said the fishermen were so eager to protect their market they could not even question the middlemen.
"The middlemen are making fishermen poor. They take advantage of the illiteracy of the fish mongers to buy the fish at low prices." Nakazibwe said.
Nakazibwe was speaking at the Smart Fish Project awareness and training campaign at Busuyi landing site. The event was organised to raise awareness about the need for quality fish and hygiene in the small-scale fisheries sector.
The Smart Fish project is funded by the European Union (EU) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The campaign includes cooking demonstrations from a fish recipe book produced by the project, availing information on how to identify good-quality fish and the promotion of hygiene.
Nakazibwe explained that one of the reasons as to why middlemen continue to benefit from their exploits is because the fishermen are not organised to have one strong voice.
"We are dealing with community development officers (CDOs) to see that soon these fishermen are registered but the biggest problem is that they keep moving," she said.
Only Busuyi landing site in Mayuge district has 500 small-scale fishmongers. The rest have fewer numbers. Nakazibwe says fishermen keep migrating to different shores looking for fish, making it difficult to organise them. All over the 64 landing sites in Mayuge district, new fishermen are seen every day, according to residents there.
Davide Signa, a food expert from FAO, says Lake Victoria supplies 80 per cent of the fish in the entire region, with a substantial amount destroyed along the value chain.
"We are educating these people because they don't know how to handle fish properly. Often, they get very little from their catches because the fish gets spoilt," he explained.
This particular campaign kicked off early this year through the "Clean Fish, Better Life" video campaign along 12 major landing sites in Busia, Namayingo, Mayuge and Buikwe districts. In Uganda, fisheries account for 50 per cent of animal protein consumed, with annual per capita consumption of fish in Uganda estimated at 1kg, which, though is still lower than the FAO-recommended 25kg.
The fish sector employs 1.2 million people in Uganda, according to FAO, with the jobs spread out to fishing, fish processing, marketing, boat building and engine repair. It is also a source of livelihood to more than 30 million people in communities around Lake Victoria. George Batala, a fisherman, said that apart from getting poor prices from the middlemen, he has made losses from poor handling of fish. He used to keep his fish for long, waiting for the prices to go up. Instead, the fish got rotten.
"I have learnt how to handle fish from this campaign. I am going to get containers and ice," he said after the training.
Rajab Tibenkana, the chairperson of the Beach Management Unit (BMU) at Busuyi landing site, said most of the fishmongers do not even know the price of fish at the market of processing plants, located less than 10km away. He added that fishermen did not have good handling containers, drying mesh, ice and transport, limiting their opportunities to deal directly with the factories.