Gov't Impounds Several Tonnes of Immature Fish

The trucks, containing immature fish criminally harvested in Uganda and illegally repackaged in Kenya and destined for the Democratic Republic of Congo were impounded at Mpondwe border in Kasese on October 10 and were on Wednesday driven to the Fisheries Directorate head office in Entebbe pending further investigations.
16 Oct 2021 16:06
Some of the 123 sacks that were inside truck registration number UBH 606P

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The fisheries directorate, Uganda People's Defence Forces Fisheries Protection Unit-FPU and Uganda Revenue Authority-URA on Wednesday impounded  close to 20 tonnes of immature fish in  four trucks at Mpondwe border. The value of the impounded fish is yet to be determined. 

The trucks, destined for the Democratic Republic of Congo were impounded at Mpondwe border in Kasese on October 10 and were on Wednesday driven to the Fisheries Directorate head office in Entebbe pending further investigations.

The trucks that are all Fuso in make, bear registration number plates UAF 813L, UBB 894Z, UBA 893G and UBH 606P. They were impounded for allegedly ferrying immature fish as goods in transit from Kenya to DR Congo.

However, after securing a court order to break the seals on the trucks, officials from the fisheries directorate, FPU and URA on Friday confirmed that the four trucks had carried large volumes of immature fish that were caught from within Uganda and then repacked in Kenya for export to DR Congo.

Tom Mukasa Bukenya, the commissioner Fisheries Control, Regulation and Quality Assurance at the agriculture ministry says each of the trucks had over 5 tonnes of salted and smoked immature fish, mainly Nile Perch and Nile Tilapia caught from Lake Kyoga, not Lake Turkana as the drivers had declared at Malaba border on October 1. 

Innocent Mugabi, a Fisheries Inspector at the agriculture ministry measured some of the fish samples from the sacks that were offloaded from the trucks. He says majority of the fish are undersized, that is less than ten inches instead of 20 inches for the Nile Perch and less than six inches for the Tilapia which should be eleven inches. 

Bukenya thereby commends  FPU officers  who impounded the trucks. 

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Though the truck drivers abandoned the trucks at Mpondwe border and the owners of the fish consignment are still at large, Bukenya says government will track the owners of the trucks since they are registered in Uganda and get leads on who hired the trucks.

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Warrant Officer 1 Deogratius Sentiba, the spokesperson of FPU, on Wednesday said  the army intercepted the four trucks  after FPU personnel deployed at the border asked the four truck drivers to stop so that the trucks are checked. 

He says that the drivers abandoned the trucks at the check point.

This raised suspicion on whether or not the drivers were ferrying mature fish and also if they had got cleared by the Uganda Revenue Authority-URA to export fish to the DR Congo.

URA officials recovered seal codes on the four trucks and confirmed that they were issued based on falsely declared goods. 

"Uganda does not gain anything from goods in transit but we cannot look on as unscrupulous people catch our fish and repackage it in Kenya and then ferry them to other countries," he says.

As a result, he is urging the public, fishermen and fishing communities to be vigilant about illegal fishing activities because the fish stock might be depleted and they will also lose out.

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It is estimated that Uganda loses 430million US Dollars from unregulated fishing every year. To improve regulation and restock the lakes, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni ordered the deployment of FPU personnel on the lakes since 2017.

Uganda exports fish to the region, Europe, Australia, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. After the FPU deployment on lakes, fish exports rose from 14,248 tonnes valued at 136 million US Dollars in 2017 to 20,364 tonnes worth 153 million US Dollars in 2018. The army ensures registration of fishermen, use of standard nets among other measures.

Uganda exported 30,004 tonnes of fish 186 million US Dollars between 2018 and 2019.

But Bank of Uganda's annual report shows a decline from 23,141 tonnes of fish exports worth 146 million US Dollars in June 2020 to 15,149 tonnes of fish exports worth 118.6 m US dollars in July 2021. This was a decline by over 7,000 tonnes and a cumulative loss of shillings 99 billion.

In the early 2000s, fish exports nearly collapsed due to poor fishing methods that almost depleted the water bodies of some fish species. The exports however picked up between 2017 to 2019 after the FPU personnel were deployed on lake Victoria and other water bodies to curb illegal fishing. 

As a result,  Bukenya says the army's presence on the lakes and border points has been commended for reduction in illegal fishing activities. 

However, the army has also been accused of being harsh towards the culprits while enforcing the measures.