Fishermen in Nakasongola district have protested the enforcement of guidelines that will limit them to using boats measuring 28 feet.
Fishing across Lake Kyoga was suspended indefinitely by the Fisheries Protection Unit and the districts under their umbrella Lake Kyoga Integrated Management Organisation in 2019. The move was aimed at fish restocking and paving way for the registration of fishermen and boats, an exercise which is already underway.
But before the lake is reopened for fishing, the unit has announced that only boats with the interior overall length of 28 feet will be registered as recommended by the Fish Act. But fishermen and their leaders are protesting the guideline which they say does not apply to Lake Kyoga on the basis of its water levels and cost of acquisition.
Mariam Nabutaka, the district female councillor for Lwampanga sub-county says that a 28 feet boat is difficult to operate on a shallow and swampy lake like Kyoga.
Rogers Bisaaso, the LCI chairperson of Ninga village and Fishermen Association says that many fishermen use oars to run boats during fishing and may find difficulty in operating a 28 feet large boat. Bisaaso adds that the fishermen are equally poor to buy engines to mount on the boats for fishing activities.
Bisaaso says that the cost of 28 feet boat is two million Shillings which is already costly for local fishermen.
Steven Bogere, a fish dealer from Lwampanga sub-county says that under the same guidelines, the Ministry allows each dealer to license only one boat but this is also unfair and may affect their business. He explains that he supplies fish to factories but he can’t collect enough stock using a single licensed boat making the business less profitable and may leave others unemployed.
Fishermen are demanding that registration and licensing extends to boats from 24 feet which are cheaper and suitable for Lake Kyoga and that each of them should be allowed to register more than one boat.
Nakasongola District Fisheries Officer David Nsamba explained that research by National Fisheries Resources Research Institute (NAFRRI) found out that the appropriate boats to be used on Lake Kyoga should be 24.6 feet. Nsamba explains that the recommendation was based on the fact that the lake is shallow and swampy making it difficult for large boats to dock.
Tom Bukenya, the Assistant Regulations and Quality Assurance Control Commissioner at the Ministry of Agriculture explained that the motive of licensing boats of 28 feet at lakes was to stop fishermen from using small-sized boats to go deeper in fish breeding areas and engage in illegal fishing.
Bukenya however said that the Fish Act (amendment bill) before cabinet may lower the boat sizes to that recommended by NAFRRI and this is still being discussed.
The State Minister for Local Government Jennifer Namuyangu who is part of Ministerial Committee investigating operations against illegal fishing says that the issue of boat sizes is part of the recommendation they intend to submit to President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni for action.
Namuyangu adds that the fishermen also need to be helped by the government to buy recommended boats if illegal fishing is to be eradicated.
During operations against illegal fishing in Nakasongola, the Fisheries Protection Unit destroyed 6,242 boats and 1,349 oars which they deemed illegal. Lake Kyoga is a shallow lake with a depth of 5.7 meters.
Recently the Ministry of Water and Environment predicted that Lake Kyoga is expected to exceed the highest historical water level of 13.2 meters over rising water levels.