Fish exporters in Uganda are proposing a law that bars the consumption of Nile Perch by the indigenous citizens.
Through their umbrella body – Uganda Fish Processors and Exporters Association, the traders Friday told Parliament that in case this is done, it will boost the fish exporting business in the country.
Sujal Goswami, the chairperson of the association tabled the proposal to the Agriculture Committee of Parliament which is currently considering the Fisheries and Aquaculture Bill, 2021.
The Bill seeks to consolidate and reform the law relating to the management of fisheries products and aquaculture due to emerging issues in the regulation and management of the sector.
In 2000, government of Uganda reviewed and modified the Fish and Crocodile Act to become the Fish Act, which was further amended in 2011 to provide for the establishment of the Fisheries Fund and to permit the retention and use of fees received by the Chief Fisheries Officer from the issuance of licences, permits and other activities for development and management of the sector.
However, authorities insist that to comprehensively address the challenges facing the fisheries sector, more revisions are still needed.
Those who are rooting for more amendments argue that the previous alterations only focused on licences, the introduction of currency points, and retention of funds.
To the shock of many a Ugandans, the exporters are arguing that the law should ban the local consumption of the species, which is native to River Nile and Lake Albert in Uganda as a measure to protect the Nile perch which is currently threatened by illegal fishing methods.
Goswami who says that they have exported fish to the European market for the last 22 years, asserts that local consumption should be limited to tilapia.
He also said he was in support of the stringent measures proposed under the Bill to curb illegal fishing practices adding that the level of fish processing for export has gone down due to these illegal fishing practices.
Under the Bill, persons who catch undersized fish face a jail sentence of seven years or a fine of 200 million Shillings, as one of the measures to address destructive fishing practices, illicit fish trade, and invasion of water bodies by aquatic weeds. Similarly, those convicted of using explosives, firearms or any device capable of producing poison to catch fish will be imprisoned for eight years without an option of a fine.
Also, those who use poison or any act that affects fish spawning grounds including aquatic plants or animals in fishing waters and those who place pollutants into water bodies, face a five-year jail term on conviction or a fine of 200 million Shillings, or both.
The bill also proposes penalties for unlawful seizure of prohibited fishing gear or vessel, counterfeit fishing licenses, impersonating fisheries officers, fisheries officers soliciting bribes and others. Punishment for these offences ranges from imprisonment for 1 to 10 years or payment of a fine between 60 to 200 million Shillings. The current law provides for a general penalty of a jail term not exceeding two years for anyone who contravenes its provisions.
However, Bbaale County MP Charles Tebandeke opposed the proposal to ban local consumption of the Nile Perch.
Janet Grace Okori-Moe, the Agriculture Committee Chairperson said that they will review the proposals by the fish exporters and make better laws for the country.
Tilapia and Nile perch are the commonest types of fish in Uganda and a tonne of Nile Perch costs between 10 million and 15 million Shillings on the local market depending on the size of the fish.