Fishing communities are divided over the presence of the Fisheries Protection Unit that is deployed on the waters of Lake Victoria to curb illegal fishing methods.
Sections of the fishermen in favour of the presence of the Unit, which comprises Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces (UPDF) soldiers say it has led to an increase in fish stocks on the lake. The others however, decry the torture meted on them allegedly by the soldiers. They also cited cases of extortion, grabbing of fish and indiscriminate destruction of fishing gear among others.
These revelations were made to the Committee on Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries during a fact finding visit to the fishing communities in Buvuma, Mayuge, Namayingo and Busia. The Committee visited these areas on 19 and 20 November 2018.
In September, the Speaker directed the committee to visit the fishing communities and investigate allegations of torture meted on them.
“An alarm was sounded from the fishing communities in 21 districts in or bordering water bodies. The challenges included confiscation of boats and vehicles by enforcement officers, a ban on smoked fish, torture, harassment by beating and in some cases killings. There were also allegations of arbitrary arrests and detention, extortion and general disharmony among the fishing community,” said Committee Chairperson Hon. Janet Okori-Moe.
In a meeting held at Kandege landing site in Lorwe Sub County, Namayingo district, the fishermen said following the visit of the Speaker in August, there has been increased harassment by the soldiers.
“The UPDF officers increased the torture and asked us to go report to Kadaga. The UPDF have become robbers; even when they find you with the recommended size, they grab it and export it to Kenya,” said Willy Benson, a fisherman from Bukooli Island.
Pamela Akot from Mawogoda village accused soldiers of killing her son.
“If my son was involved in illegal fishing, why was he not prosecuted instead of torturing him to death,” said Akot.
Kiiza Steven who says he has been in the business for the last 28 years at Golofa landing site welcomed the deployment of the UPDF on Lake Victoria.
“They have done a good job. I thank them. What I request is that government should increase on their number to make it possible to deploy widely on the lake to totally do away with illegal fishers,” Kiiza.
Henry Kalema said that if the president had not intervened by deploying the army, the Lake would only be used for fetching water for home use since fish would have been depleted.
“You feel like crying when one starts fighting the Army. Those interested in sustaining the lake even contribute fuel to facilitate the UPDF to patrol the lake. Apart from the increasing fish quantity and size, the lake is now secure with no more pirates on water,” said Kalema.
Captain Ssebukeera, the Officer in Charge of the Fisheries Protection Unit said the fishing communities were unwilling to do away with illegal fishing gear.
Ssebukeera also blamed some leaders for politicizing the situation.
The Fisheries Protection Unit commander cited a situation where they pursued a fisherman involved in illegal fishing who jumped into the lake.
“We lost a gun during our efforts to rescue him; that gun fell in water and we did not recover it. Sometimes we use excessive force when the culprits become violent,” he said.