Fishermen engaged in illegal fishing activities on Lake Victoria in Jinja and Mayuge districts have resorted to sinking their vessels or hiding them at the sight of the Fisheries Protection Unit (FPU) of the Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF), a senior army official has said.
"As the FPU under the UPDF marine, we are not going to tolerate such practices. Some fishing communities are appreciating our efforts in fighting illegal fishing despite the criticism," Lt Ronald Akandwanaho, the sector commander in-charge of both districts, said on Monday.
He said the practice is mostly common in Mayuge, with some fishermen vowing never to quit or handover their illegal fishing gear and adopt the recommended ones.
Lt Akandwanaho said the decision has also forced them to change tactics.
"We are now patrolling the waters while dressed in civilian attire as opposed to our uniforms. In doing so, we hope to ambush them and catch them in their tracks," he said.
Lt Akandwanaho also said operations on the lake have been politicised by some leaders whose interests are to protect the electorate.
He said more than 1,000 illegal boats and unestimated quantities of illegal fishing gear have been confiscated awaiting destruction at Namugongo Landing Site in Mayuge.
Mr Joseph Okumu, a fisherman from Mayuge, said they hide their boats because they cannot afford the recommended fishing gear, which costs above Shs3m.
"Drowning the boats or hiding them in a nearby thicket is an alternative way to keep me in business if I am to feed and educate my children," Mr Okumu said.
"The operation has also created a rift among the fishing community, with those that meet the recommended fishing gear spying against those without one. These report us to the FPU," he added.
Mr Vincent Kiwanuka, another fisherman in Mayuge, said although the army has done tremendous work in restoring fish volumes, he blamed government for the continuous entry of illegal fishing gear into the country.
"I do not have any problem with the UPDF patrolling the waters to promote legal fishing, but government is not fighting the importation of illegal fishing gear, which has flooded the fishing community," he said.
Following declining fish stock on Lake Victoria, primarily due to illegal fishing practices, President Museveni in 2017 deployed the UPDF at major landing sites.
The deployment followed a catch assessment survey conducted by NaFIRRI, indicating that Nile perch catches declined by 46 per cent between 2011 and 2015.
The same survey showed that tilapia catches were lower by 38 per cent during the same period.
While Uganda's fish exports rose from $85 million in 2003 to $141 million in 2006, they declined to $118 million in 2015.