Mukono — Fishermen on various landing sites in Mukono District under their umbrella body, Association of Fishers and Lake Users of Uganda (AFALU), have asked government to impose a five-month fishing ban to save the dwindling Nile perch and other fish species in Lake Victoria.
Members of AFALU claim that the ongoing operation by Fisheries Protection Unit (FPU), a special unit of the marine Force headed by Maj James Nuwagaba , has failed to curb illegal fishing on major islands and landing sites.
"We are fishermen and know what we are talking about. If government listens to us and imposes this ban, we will be able to get enough fish both for the local and international market. They declared a crackdown on illegal fishing, which is spearheaded by the army but we are not seeing any change. The situation is just getting worse by the day," Mr Fred Mukasa, a member of AFALU and chairperson of Katosi landing site, said during an interview on Wednesday.
Mr Mukasa, who owns at least 60 boats, says at the start of the operations, FPU was doing a commendable job, but some soldiers have now started beating up AFALU members, destroying their boats and extorting money from them.
FPU was established by the government early this year to crackdown on illegal fishing in the country.
During their operations, many people dealing in immature fish have been arrested and several ungazetted landing sites destroyed along the shores of Lake Victoria in the districts of Wakiso, Mpigi, Kalangala, Masaka, Kyotera Rakai, Mukono, Buvuma and Buikwe.
"They started recruiting unknown extortionists who are just looking for money and mistreating the fishermen," Mr Mukasa claimed.
Mr Mukasa said if the ban is imposed as suggested, the fish would multiply at a fast rate.
He said a female Nile perch lays about 20 million eggs per day and 80 per cent of them get hatched.
A Nile perch has capacity to produce live 16 million fishlings daily translating to 480 million fish.
He also noted that since operations by SPU started, two of their members have been attacked and seriously injured by the soldiers.
"When they impound the illegal fish and nets they sell them off instead of burning them," he said adding that "If government wants to continue deploying soldiers, let them also recruit professionals from the district to work with that team."
Mr Hakim Wandwase, the chairperson of Bugula Landing Site, said the conduct of the soldiers is only aimed at elbowing them out of business.
"President Museveni appointed the soldiers hoping that they will work as expected but they are doing the opposite and pushing for individual interests," Mr Wandwase said.
But when contacted, Maj Nuwagaba dismissed the allegations, saying they are aimed at discrediting his team.
"We are not working in isolation as they claim; those people very well know that there are committees at various landing sites where fishermen are members. I think they are speaking negatively about our operations because they are not individually part of our team," he said. \
He added: "If they (fishermen) say the committee members are not known to them, then they are wrong, they just want to sabotage our work, but we will not accept that."
Maj Nuwagaba said the fishermen, who claim they are being tortured, could be part of a racket dealing in immature fish. "The alleged beating and torturing of fishermen is done through self-defense because they (fishermen) also use force and usually attempt to push our members into the water," he said.
He also blamed some politicians especially those in districts around Lake Victoria for the mess on the lake and landing sites. "Politicians are always supporting the wrong people because they want votes; they have never support the right side, " he said.
Recently, Maj Nuwagaba revealed that some fishermen had resorted to poisoning the fish after their illegal fishing gears were confiscated.
Mr Faisal Kigongo, the Mukono District secretary for production and Natural resources, said the ongoing operation against illegal fishing in the area has affected the district revenue by 70 per cent. "We are only collecting 30 per cent of the revenue because many fishermen are living in fear and nolonger go to work," he said.
According to Ministry of Agriculture data, the country has a fish capture potential of 750,000 tonnes annually; the current production is at 461,000 tonnes and 100,000 tonnes from aquaculture.
There are 250 species of fish in the country's major lakes of Victoria, Kyoga, Albert, George, Edward and more than 160 minor lakes