Members of Parliament (MPs) have called on the Minister of Agriculture, Animal Industries and Fisheries, Hon. Frank Tumwebaze, to fast track implementation of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Act, 2022 as a way of curbing the use of substandard fishing gear.
They said the law, if implemented, will also avert the recurrent alleged human rights violations of fish farmers by the security operatives.
Parliament passed the Act, whose objective among others; is to provide for the licensing, control and regulation of fishing and aquaculture production activities and practices, the methods of fishing and fishing gear.
In 2017, President Yoweri Museveni directed the Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces (UPDF) to deploy on Ugandan lakes to combat illegal fishing practices so as to protect the fish resource that was under threat of depletion.
Hon. Agnes Atim (NRM, District Woman Rep., Amolatar) said that in the absence of regulations, fishers are being blackmailed and tortured by the UPDF into using substandard imported fishing gear.
She raised the matter during plenary sitting on Wednesday, 31 January 2024.
“There is need to investigate, arrest, parade and prosecute these illegal net traders and support the fishers with legal fishing nets, boats and engines. The Fishers of this country have never been attended to what they receive is death,” she said.
Hon. Peter Okeyoh (NRM, Bukooli Island County) said that the fishers are forced to buy the imported fishing gear at high cost, thereby affecting their business.
“It is our prayer that we look at the plight of the fishermen. Their rights are abused,” he said.
Hon. Emmanuel Ongiertho (FDC, Jonam County) said that the substandard fishing gear has infiltrated the fishing communities to the extent that it has become difficult to convince them to use the legal gear.
“Ordinarily, our people had embraced the recommended net sizes but when they see the illegal nets coming in, it is difficult to convince these ones using the right nets. That is why it is important that this is dealt with,” he said.
Hon. Abed Bwanika (NUP, Kimaanya-Kabonera) blamed such acts on the absence of regulations to operationalise the Fisheries and Aquaculture Act.
“Since we passed the law, there are no regulations and that is why even the UPDF cannot exit. There has to be a unit that enforces the law,” he said.
Hon. Elijah Okupa (Indep., Kasilo County) said that government should also check and ban importation of threads used for making the fishing gear.
“Threads are imported and nets made locally. Not only nets should be banned, even the threads, this is a big problem and should be resolved,” said Okupa.
The Deputy Speaker, Thomas Tayebwa, gave the agriculture minister, who was not in the House, one month to table the regulations.
The MPs also reiterated the need to address the recurrent cases of torture and abuse of human rights of locals in fishing communities by the UPDF.
Okupa said that cases of torture and even murders of locals in fishing communities is worrying.
“Some of these people are arrested in Kasilo and transported to Central Police Station in Kampala. Why arrest them in Kasilo and take them to CPS on Buganda road. There is need for proper handling of fishermen,” said Okupa.
The Minister of Defence and Veteran Affairs, Hon. Vincent Ssempijja, pledged to investigate the allegations and report back on Tuesday, 06 February 2024.
“Let me get this information from Hon. Okupa and I will come back. All incidents can be investigated and the only institution in this country that investigates and punishes its members is the UPDF. We do not condone this kind of behaviour,” he said.