Fish has been identified as one of the 10 priority agricultural commodities to foster a sustainable agro-industrialization agenda in Uganda because of its contribution to national GDP (3%), agricultural GDP (12%), employment (5.3 million people), nutrition (about 50% of animal protein), and foreign exchange revenues (USD $147.75m, September 2020). Despite the enormous potential for fish production, with approximately 44,000 km2 (20%) of Uganda’s total surface area covered by freshwaters (lakes, rivers and swamps), the fisheries resources are currently under-exploited due to over-reliance on capture fisheries and limited investments in aquaculture. As of 2018, production from capture fisheries and aquaculture stood at 447,059 tonnes and 120,000 tonnes, respectively. This leaves a deficit of 302,941tonnes (capture fisheries) and 888,000 tonnes (aquaculture) of fish needed to achieve the Government’s target of increasing capture fisheries and aquaculture to 1.7 million tonnes annually by 2030. According to researchers from the Department of Zoology, Entomology and Fisheries Sciences, College of Natural Sciences (CoNAS), Makerere University, the proposed Fisheries and Aquaculture Bill, 2021 should address the constraint by diversifying fish production systems and fish products. The Bill should also support the building and strengthening of human capacity in a bid to create a critical mass of fisheries and aquaculture professionals with the necessary knowledge, skills and competencies to transform the sector from subsistence to commercial enterprise.
In a bid to consolidate and reform the law relating to the management of Fisheries, fisheries products and aquaculture as a measure to transform the sector in the country, the Sectoral Committee of Parliament on Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries is engaging several stakeholders for amendments to the proposed Fisheries and Aquaculture Bill, 2021.
On 2nd November 2021, members of staff from the Department of Zoology, Entomology and Fisheries Sciences at Makerere University, together with their counterparts from Busitema University and the Fisheries Training Institute, Entebbe presented their proposed amendments to members of the Committee led by Abim District Woman MP, Hon. Janet Akech, and Ngora Woman MP, Hon. Stella Apolot Isodo. The team was led by the Deputy Principal of CoNAS, Prof. Fredrick Muyodi. Other members included; Dr Eric Sande, Head Department of Zoology, Entomology and Fisheries Sciences; Dr Jackson Efitre, Senior Lecturer in the Department and Principal Investigator NutriFish Project; Dr Juliet Nattabi Kigongo and Dr Gladys Bwanika members of staff in the Department, Mr. Odongo Joseph Ouma, Senior Trainer at the Fisheries Training Institute in Entebbe; and Mr Kajubi Enock, Lecturer at Maritime Institute Busitema University.
Concerns and proposed amendments
In their submission, the team noted that the Bill was silent on a number of issues including capacity building, the role of training and research institutions in sustainable fisheries and aquaculture management, research and innovations in all aspects of fisheries and aquaculture, as well as the protection of wetlands that play crucial roles in water purification, act as breeding sites for fish and provide refugia for threatened fish species. They also observed that the Bill remained silent about the protection of water catchment areas often endangered by activities such as agriculture, urbanization and industrialization. The Bill is also silent about the adulteration of fish and fish products that are used for human consumption and animal feeds. The team also expressed concern over the consistent mix up of capture fisheries and aquaculture terminologies in the Bill, and the selective regulation of the sector. The team made several proposals including the need to increase funding towards capacity building programmes at Universities and tertiary institutions engaged in fisheries and aquaculture training. “Whereas the country has 480 landing sites, only 30 graduates are churned out per year and all these are consumed by one company. There is need to increase funding for academic training in the fisheries and aquaculture,” they noted. The team called for mapping and improvement of water catchment areas, improvement of handling, processing and packaging of fish products, and discouragement of harvesting using environmentally unsafe technology.
Other concerns and suggestions
Food and nutrition - In addition, the team is concerned that the Bill seems to focus on maximising production and income generation with little consideration of the sector’s potential contribution to healthy diets, nutrition and sustainability. According to the team, benefits of fish consumption to human health are enormous. Particularly, the small fish contain considerable micronutrients, vitamins and fatty acids. Deficiencies of these micronutrients is associated with malnutrition which is a serious development challenge in Uganda.
Proposal: The researchers suggested that the Bill should advocate for inclusive and nutrition-sensitive fisheries and aquaculture management regulations.
Small pelagic fishes
The researchers also expressed concern that the Bill seems to focus mainly on large fish species and aquaculture with less attention paid to small pelagic fishes, fish products and by products.
The draft ASSP III (2020/21-24/25) proposes to develop four components of the fisheries and aquaculture sector in Uganda; 1) Promoting the recovery of the large commercial species; 2) Promoting Commercial aquaculture; 3) Developing the fishery of small pelagic fishes; and 4) Development and promotion of other fish products and by-products. Since the four components differ in terms of harvesting technology, processing and preservation methods, the researchers call for interventions to address challenges specific to the small pelagic fishery.
Proposals: i) The researchers called for the improvement of quality, safety and processing standards of small pelagic fish products for human consumption and animal feeds; discouragement of deliberate adulteration of catches of small fishes with sand and other contaminant; and the promotion of safe and client-oriented cost-effective climate resilient processing technologies such as the solar tent dryer); ii) improvement of access to marketing information and high value profitable markets for small pelagic fishes; iii) discouragement of harvesting of small pelagic fishes using environmentally unfriendly technologies such as use of paraffin lanterns to attract the fish; iv) development of improved user-friendly processing, handling and packaging of other fish product and by-products.
Enforcement of fisheries regulations by other agencies
The researchers suggested that the Fisheries and Aquaculture regulations should stem from key guiding scientific principles. Other agencies such as the UPDF, that is currently enforcing the fisheries regulations may not have the requisite knowledge in fisheries and aquaculture. Proposals: The researchers proposed that the Fisheries Protecting Unit (FPU) that is currently leading enforcement of fisheries regulations in the country should be equipped with requisite knowledge in fisheries and aquaculture by a competent academic institution. They also suggested that Fisheries professionals already working in the sector may undertake paramilitary training by UPDF, after which they can enforce fisheries laws and regulations.
Other recommendations include;
Policy and principles
The researchers advised that the constraints to the fisheries and aquaculture should include high post-harvest fish losses, pollution, climate variability and change, poor quality fish feeds and fry/fingerlings, fish diseases, and lack of knowledge of Best Management Practices.
Functions of the Directorate of Fisheries
Whereas the National Fisheries Resources Research Institute is mandated to generate and disseminate appropriate technologies, knowledge and information through conducting fisheries research, the researchers proposed that the Directorate of Fisheries consultation and coordination on research should be broadened to other institutions conducting fisheries research and innovations.
Establishment of Fisheries Monitoring, Control and Surveillance Unit
The researchers suggested that the discipline of majority of members of the Fisheries Monitoring, Control and Surveillance unit should be Fisheries and Aquaculture related.
Aquatic Biosecurity and Biosafety - Sustainable Use and Management of Fisheries Resources
In addition to Fisheries regulation and control, Co-management Structures, Information and planning, the researchers proposed that the Bill should include clauses on Aquatic Biosecurity and Biosafety.
Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Committee
The omission of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Training Institutions on the technical committee is an oversight given their roles in capacity building, research and innovation. Universities and vocational training institutes play a crucial role in capacity building, research and innovation that is important in the conservation and management of the fisheries resources. Proposal: It was suggested that the Committee should have one representative from the Fisheries and Aquaculture Tertiary Training Institutions (Universities and vocational training institutions).
Licenses and permits
Research Fishing Permit - The Bill requires that anyone involved in fishing for research must obtain a permit from the Chief Fisheries Officer. Proposal: Research is not a commercial business, it simply contributes knowledge to guide the sustainable development and conservation of the fisheries resources. The Chief Fisheries Officer should therefore exempt all public research and training institutions from seeking and obtaining permits.
Import or Export permits for live fish
The Chief Fisheries Officer may refuse to grant an import permit if the fish to be imported- (a) Presents a danger of degradation of native species through the influx of exotic genes that are less fit, either by means of hybridization or hypothetically by gene transfer; or (b) Presents a danger of loss of native species or change in species composition through competition, predation and habitat degradation. Proposal: There is need to streamline this regulation indicating the terms and conditions under which importation of live fish species is allowed.
In their remarks, the Parliamentarians appreciated the researchers for the commendable input. On the need to increase funding for capacity building, the Parliamentarians advised Universities to present their training needs to the Ministry of Education and Sports. The MPs as well noted the need for a law to regulate the fisheries and aquaculture profession.