Fishermen operating on the Lake Albert in the Bunyoro sub-region have accused the Fisheries Protection Unit-FPU of allegedly using their impounded exhibits during their operations against illegal fishing.
The FPU has been conducting operations against illegal fishing on Lake Albert since August, targeting those with undersized boats, fishing nets, hooks and monofilament nets, among others, from the landing sites of Butiaba, Wanseko, Bugoigo and Kabolwa in Buliisa, Kijangi, Kaiso, Rwentale, Runga and Mbegu in Hoima, Nkondo, Sebigoro, Kyehoro, Bugoma and Kyekapere in Kikuube, Ndaiga and Kitebere in Kagadi.
The gear that does not meet specifications has been confiscated and burnt by the FPU leaving fishermen stranded. But according to the fishermen, several boat engines that were confiscated from them by the FPU are instead being used to conduct operations, yet they are supposed to be kept as exhibits.
They say several motorcycles that were impounded for transporting immature fish are also being used to transport soldiers attached to the unit. The fishermen wonder why the FPU uses their impounded fishing gear to carry out operations on the lake yet the government gave them all the necessary resources to conduct the operations.
John Opaki, a fisherman at Kijangi landing site in Hoima district says his motorcycle which was impounded for allegedly transporting immature fish was seen on the road two days later, transporting confiscated fish to Hoima town. Similarly, Robert Mujuni, the chairperson of Kaiso landing site fishing village in Hoima district says that his boat engine which was impounded by the FPU is being used by them to conduct operations against the same.
Fred Wobusobozi, a fisherman at Butiaba landing site in Buliisa district says it is unlawful for FPU personnel to use exhibits impounded from fishermen to conduct their operation and calls for an investigation on the same.
Kasim Agaba, a fisherman at Sebigoro landing site in Kikuube district fears that some of the exhibits impounded could be returned to the owners when they are completely destroyed.
He wants the top management of the UPDF to investigate the FPU team that is conducting operations against illegal fishing for such ‘unbecoming conduct.
Lt. Col Dick Kaija, the Commandant of the Fisheries protection Unit-FPU has however dismissed the allegations put against the FPU as baseless.
He says FPU officers have got all the resources to enable them to conduct their operations and that nothing can compel them to use exhibits impounded from the fishermen.
According to Kaija, most of the fishermen are not happy with the ongoing operations and want to create allegations that can taint their image before the public.
Two weeks back, the fishermen asked the army leadership to investigate the Fisheries Protection Unit-FPU for allegedly selling impounded immature fish in the Democratic Republic of Congo-DRC.
According to the aggrieved fishermen, FPU personnel are conniving with boat transporters both in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo to quietly sneak their impounded immature fish to DRC through Lake Albert. There are more than 50,000 fishermen on Lake Albert who harvest more than 100,000 tons of fish per year.
In September alone, FPU impounded and destroyed more than 300,000 pieces of illegal fishing gear countrywide.
The destroyed fishing gear includes boats, monofilament nets, solar batteries, bulbs, hooks, and immature fish among others.
The destroyed fishing gear includes 52,575 pieces of monofilament nets, 8,457kg of immature fish, 10,881 illegal boats, 1,463 solar batteries and 189,103 illegal hooks among others confiscated from Ntoroko, Butiaba, Namayingo, Kalangala, Serere, Kasese, Jinja, Buvuma, Rukungiri, Kwania, Buyende, Masaka, Kayunga, Mpigi, Buikwe, Apac and Mukono, among others.
Overall, fishing supports the livelihood of more than 1.6 million people in Uganda. Over the last 15 years, the fisheries sector has played an important social and economic role in the country as one of the key foreign exchange-earners, contributing 2.6 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 12 per cent to agricultural GDP. URN