Uganda: Lake Kyoga Claims Six Lives Despite Ban On Illegal Fishing

Despite an existing ban on fishing activities on Lake Kyoga, some fishermen have continued to operate on the lake, with some losing lives.

Available statistics indicate that six fishermen have drowned in the lake in a space of three weeks after encountering strong winds.

Fishing activities on Lake Kyoga were suspended in April last year by the army's Fisheries Protection Unit (FPU) to allow soldiers register fishermen and also enable them acquire standard boats and fishing gears.

Although the suspension was to last for two months, it has persisted to date, forcing some fishermen to beat security and carry out illegal fishing at night.

According to Mr Sam Kigula, the chairperson of Nakasongola District, the latest incident occurred last Friday at Zengebe Landing Site where two fishermen drowned after their boat was hit by heavy winds.

"It is unfortunate that we continue to lose lives on the lake yet fishing activities were suspended. The fishermen sneak into Lake Albert in total defiance of the existing fishing ban. They end up encountering heavy winds leading to the drowning," Mr Kigula said on Saturday.

Mr Issah Ssemwogerere, the Savannah regional police spokesperson, said the victims of the May 29 boat accident are Richard Wakanyira and Topher Ssebabi, all residents of Zengebe Town Council in Nakasongola District.

"We have managed to retrieve the two bodies and handed them over to the relatives. We have recorded several other water accidents with the number now estimated at six this month [May]. We advise the fishermen not to risk lives through engaging in illegal fishing," Ms Ssemwogere said.

On May 16, bodies of two fishermen including Henry Othieno and Sam Mukisa, all residents of Lwampanga Town Council were retrieved from the lake after drowning.

Mr Eriya Ssenseko, a fisherman at Lwampanga Town Council, blamed the latest casualties on the prolonged fishing ban on the Lake Kyoga.

"We have seen our fellow fishermen sneak to the lake waters to catch some fish because they need to fend for their respective families. The Covid-19 lockdown has worsened the living conditions at different landing sites in Nakasongola District. We appeal to government to consider the plight of the fishing communities who have been patient for a long time," Mr Ssenseko said.

Leaders in Nakasongola also concur with Mr Ssenseko, saying lifting the fishing ban is overdue.

Mr Noah Mutebi, the Nakasongola County Member of Parliament, said the pressure on the fishing community over the fishing ban is almost at its peak and partly explains why some of the fishermen are sneaking back to the lake to catch fish and support their families.

"While we condemn our people who have continued to engage in illegal fishing when there is a ban. We also need to find a quick solution to this problem.

The time frame that had been set for the reopening of the lake for normal fishing is now uncertain. The people who live at the landing sites derive their respective livelihood from the lake," Mr Mutebi said.

Government had set December 31 last year as the date for reopening Lake Kyoga for fishing but that has never happened.

While meeting leaders from 15 districts that share Lake Kyoga waters on January 14 at Bukungu Landing Site in Buyende District, Capt Ronald Akandwanaho, the commander of the FPU unit in eastern region, said the fishing ban on Lake Kyoga waters would only be lifted after the entire lake has been cleared of illegal fishing gears and all fishermen have been registered.

He said they had covered almost 90 per cent of Lake Kyoga waters and expected the process to end soon. It's now unclear when the fishing activity will normalise.

Background

Lifting the ban

While meeting leaders from 15 districts that share Lake Kyoga waters on January 14 at Bukungu Landing Site in Buyende District, Capt Ronald Akandwanaho, the commander of the FPU unit in eastern region, said the fishing ban on Lake Kyoga waters would only be lifted after the entire lake has been cleared of illegal fishing gears and all fishermen have been registered.

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