Fish being weighed before packaging. The drivers of success in the sector have mainly been private processors partly attracted by the liberalisation of the sector and the profitable European markets. File photo

The immoral fishermen have been catching immature fish, smuggling, and using poisonous chemicals. It is these among other practices that has seen volumes and value dwindle especiall y in 2007 and the years that followed. Exporters had little to put on the market shelves, the quality was at stake and at the local market fish became very costly.

Speaking to Prosper, State Minister for Fisheries, Ms Ruth Nankabirwa said: “I am glad to inform you that the information I get from the processors and exporters is that our volumes have started surging.”

Although no specific figures attached to detail the extent to which the volumes have gone up; at least testimonies from individual members of the Uganda Fish Processors and Exporters Association (UFPEA) say they no longer experience critical shortages.

“There is some level of stabilisation in the volumes right now. Though it is not [quite] there, it is promising,”said Mr Phillip Borel, managing director Green Fields Fisheries and also chairman UFPEA.

In an interview with Prosper, Ms Joyce Nyeko the Principal Fisheries officer at the Fisheries Department also said they have been seeing some improvement in volumes.
“However we have partial figures at the moment as we are still collecting data for the year ending 2011,” Ms Nyeko said.

Records from the Uganda National Bureau of Statistics (Ubos) indicate that, the year 2009, was probably the worst as the country exported a mere 215.01 Metric tons valued at $103.3 million. This was way down from the 316.81 metric tons exported in 2007 valued at $124.711 million. The highest Uganda has ever earned from fish was in 2005 with a total of $142 million revenue.

In 2010, the volumes went further down, however the value started recovering, something which experts attributed to good prices on the international market. Sustainability of fishery resources is a top priority for UFPEA as stipulated in its code of conduct through self-regulatory mechanism by the members.

“The unit value of exported products has been steadily increasing but this increase has not fully compensated for the decline in export volumes,” UFPEA said.

Policy
Minister Nankabirwa attributes the gradual recovery in volumes to the measures that government in partnership with UFPEA came up with to address the malpractices. “We have intensified the surveillance exercises in order to make sure that we curb illegal fishing on all the water bodies in the country and those who are caught have always been reprimanded,” Nankabirwa said.

Nankabirwa however expressed disappointment that much as the culprits are brought to book, the penalties from the existing laws are still very weak. Nankabirwa said: “You find someone caught with a consignment of immature fish valued at Shs30 million sentenced to only 6-months or made to pay a fine of Shs2, 000. How will this stop the malpractice?”

However much as a lot has been done there is urgent need to strengthen the laws which are weak to address malpractices. She said her ministry is coming up with a stringent Fish Bill that is soon going to be tabled in Parliament.

Once this bill becomes an Act, Nankabirwa said it will be punitive and that those caught and found guilty of malpractices will be liable to serve a punishment which is not less than 7 years in jail or pay a very heavy fine.

UFPEA on its part as a measure to control the illegalities that hit the peak in the mid 2000s, says its members have made a commitment to take part in the management of the fish resources.
In 2007 a self-policing and control programme was started with the appointment of independent inspectors that carry out impromptu inspection in all fish processing companies.

“The association has a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Fisheries to sanction deterrent measures to any fish factory found non-complaint,” said Ms Ovia Matovu Chief Executive Officer at UFPEA.

This measure has greatly contributed to efforts leading to the gradual recovery of the stocks especially the Nile Perch. Other measures in place include the restocking exercise through government’s partnership with development agencies; a case in point is the Kajjansi restocking project that has been done with the help of China.

Also the strengthening of the Fisheries Institute was done to spur the skills of experts in the sector. She said in the policy her ministry will also be given a mandate to closely work with the Chief Administrative Officers (CAOs) to organize elections of new Beach Management Units that will be responsible for enforcing and monitoring the resource.

“There are some BMUs but they have not been fully operational and this has posed a challenge to the resource,” Nankabirwa added.

Markets
Uganda mainly exports chilled and frozen Nile Perch (Lates Niloticus) and Tilapia (Oreochromis Niloticus) in various product forms, such as Whole gutted headed, Gutted skin on and Skinless fillets, Air bladders (fish maws), Fish heads, Portions and Steaks among others. Tilapia fillets and whole gutted fish are exported on a small scale to the regional markets and sold to local supermarkets.

The EU accounts for 75 per cent of the fish exports from Uganda which is transported by air to major destinations such as Amsterdam, Brussels and then redistributed across Europe. The major importers are the Netherlands, Belgium, South Korea, Singapore, Israel, Japan, Australia, Egypt, Spain, USA, China and COMESA, Rwanda, DRC, Sudan and the Middle East. There are 14 exporting companies spread across the country and are they are organised under their umbrella organisation – UFPEA.

Aquaculture
To guard against overdependence on the available resources, coupled with the increasing demand because of the high population. Government is also encouraging the private sector to invest in fish-farming (Aquaculture) to boost production.

Nankabirwa said a final draft of the new Aquaculture policy is in place and it is aimed at helping people who want to engage in Aquaculture. However experts say Aquaculture is a very costly venture and would work well if government partnered with the private sector to develop the activity.

“Helping the private sector would be another way of developing aquaculture, right now I have no clear position on this but I have presented this plea to government,” Nankabirwa said.
The policy seeks to promote fish farming in the country through establishing aquaculture parks. This could go a long way in reviving the dwindling fish volumes.

Government will identify specific areas in the country that are suitable for fish farming and acquire the sites for concentrated production. When you compare Uganda to other countries in the region, the country has a number of water spaces in the form of wetlands and open water systems where aquaculture parks can be developed for both rural, smallholder pond based aquaculture systems and commercial and industrial type production systems.

Challenges
Experts in the industry advise that its challenges in the industry should instead be turned into opportunities by going an extra-mile to venture into value addition. Ms Florence Kata, executive director Uganda Export Promotion Board (UEPB) says much as things seem to be moving in right direct, industry players say it’s not all rosy because they are challenged by competition with the other countries that have come up with almost similar species of fish.

However Ms Kata said: “With all strategies to boost volumes, Uganda is in a better placed because it has so many water resources.” Ms Kata adds that investors are not putting much effort on value addition yet there is a lot to earn.

“We tend to look at only the exportation of the fillets and ignore the other parts of the fish (waste),” Kata said. If fully exploited, the ‘wastes’ instead of throwing them can be cleaned, treated and recycled and turned into surgical threads.

She said the fish bones are a source of raw material for crafting jewelry like necklaces yet the fish skin can be used to make wallets, belts and bags for both women and men. “We need to maximize on the value of fish as a country to be able to increase on the current volume and create more jobs,” Kata said.

Facts on fish in uganda

Employment opportunities. The fishing industry in Uganda employs more than three million people both directly and indirectly. Dwindling fish in the lake means dwindling exports, less vital foreign exchange, and possible economic ruin for individuals and the country.

Sources of fish. There are two major sources of fish in Uganda; one is from aquaculture, the other from fishing in rivers and lakes. The latter has made up the largest and most significant share of all fishing. Fishing is one of the major economic activities. Lakes, rivers and swamps account for 44,000 km2 of Uganda’s surface area of 241,000 km2. Most of the fish in Uganda come from five major lakes: Victoria, Kyoga, Albert, Edward and George.

Declining trend. Statistics from the Uganda Fish Processors and Exporters Association indicate that there has been a steady decline in the revenue obtained from the fish exports from the US$143 recorded in 2005 to US$82 million recorded in 2010 and the trend is yet to change.

By Dorothy Nakaweesi, Daily Monitor

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