The government has set tough rules for fishermen operating on Lake Albert as a means of streamlining activities at the lake and cracking down on illegal fishing.
The commander for Fisheries Protection Uni (FPU), Lt Col Dick Kirya Kaija, said in an interview at the weekend that over the years, Lake Albert has been open to all fishermen but strictly licensed fishermen will now be allowed access to the lake.
Some of the new rules include applying for a fishing licence, revoking it (licence) if abused, and having a boat number, among others.
With the new pronouncement, about 7,000 fishermen deriving a livelihood from the lake are likely to lose their jobs. The fishermen have, therefore, been given a one-month ultimatum to return the substandard fishing gears to the FPU.
Ntoroko borders Lake Albert, with many landing sites. Most fishermen say they cannot afford the recommended fishing gear
According to Lt Col Kaija, all the fishermen will be required to apply to the Directorate of Fisheries for a licence and those who will qualify will be required to have the recommended fishing gears.
The fishermen will also be given boat numbers after paying for the fishing license.
"When the lake is regulated, the fishing activity shall not be for everyone, only a few who will be licensed will be allowed to do fishing and Lake Albert has been with open access for all those who have the money and that is why someone has been with 100 boats others with 50 boats while others have nothing but now the fishermen will be required to first get permission to make the boat and after getting a license and boat number before they start fishing," Lt Col Kaija said.
In May 2019, the government slapped a ban on commercial fishing at the lake over illegal fishing methods. These include using less than five-inch fishing nets for tilapia and less than seven-inch fishing nets for Nile Perch. They also entail fishing boats less than 20 feet, especially canoes.
The government lifted the ban on July 27, 2020, and fewer fishermen have been cleared to operate along lakes countrywide.
Mr Kaija warned that the one-year licence will not be transferable and will be revoked if abused.
The National Fisheries Resources Research Institute (NAFRI) conducted research on Lake Albert and would soon release a report on the number of fishing boats that will be required on the Lake.
He added that all the fishermen operating at Lake Albert are not using the recommended fishing gear.
"Now we are fighting illegal fishing on the lake and effective July this year, we shall start arresting all fishermen at Lake Albert who will be found with illegal fishing gears," he said.
However, the conditions set by the government, the fishermen at different landing sites in Ntoroko have expressed concern saying conditions will push them out of the business.
The main economic activity Ntoroko is fishing and cattle keeping and from last year, more than 10,000 people were displaced by floods over rising water levels from Lake Albert.
Speaking to Daily Monitor in an interview yesterday, Mr Martin Baluku, a fisherman from Kanara Town Council, said one requires Shs15m to purchase the recommended fishing gears, which is unaffordable to them.
"Government is pushing us out of the lake indirectly and this has been our source of livelihood over the years," Mr Baluku said.
Mr Abdul Malik Mugenyi, another fisherman, said the cheapest fishing gear ranges between Shs4.5 million and Shs6 million.
"For fisherman now to be on the lake with all recommended fishing gears, one needs some millions of money, which is expensive. We appeal to the government to provide fishing gears to fishermen," Mr Mugenyi said.
The chairperson of Kanara Town Council, Mr David Kor, said the government needs to give first priority to the people of Ntoroko while giving out a fishing license.
"When they are giving out licenses, we want our people to be the first beneficiaries. The lake is our source of livelihood," he said.
The production officer for Ntoroko, Mr Patrick Businge Bagonza, said in Kanara Town Council, there are 5,000 fishing boats and when the enforcement starts, about 1,000 fishing boats are likely to remain on the lake because others are not recommended.
"Many fishermen are likely to lose out their business and we don't know what they will do, my advice to the government before we start enforcing this is we need to put in mind that some fishermen will be displaced and they will have nowhere to go," Mr Businge said.
The Ntoroko District chairperson, Mr William Kasoro, said: "Regulating Lake Albert is good because we shall have a good catch and the revenue will increase for the district, but also some of our people will be affected. We shall put some resources aside and other funds from partners to ensure we help our people who will be affected," Mr Kasoro said.
The FPU and the Agriculture ministry have started sensitising fishermen in Ntoroko about the new rules.
Fish exports earned Uganda about $10.39m (Shs38.9b) in September last year, according to the Bank of Uganda (BoU). The earnings were fetched from 1,375 tonnes of fish and related products, representing an increase of 14 per cent from 1,384 tonnes that fetched $8.87m (Shs33.2b) in August.
Cumulatively, however, according to BoU, fish exports, during the year ended September, declined to $147.75m (Shs554b), which was a 32 per cent fall from $195m (Shs732b), which Uganda had earned in the same period last year.
Source: The Monitor