The Uganda People's Defence Forces Fisheries Protection Unit-FPU has today impounded four trucks that were allegedly ferrying immature fish.
The trucks, destined for the Democratic Republic of Congo were impounded in Kasese and driven to the Fisheries Directorate head office in Entebbe pending further investigations.
Warrant Officer 1 Deogratius Sentiba, the spokesperson of FPU, says the army intercepted the four trucks on Sunday at the Uganda-DR Congo border in Kasese.
This was 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.
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On Wednesday, Sentiba says FPU officers met with URA officials to discuss the way forward. But during the meeting, URA officials noted that they had recovered seal codes on the four trucks and will now check on their authenticity.
Sentiba says the army will liase with other security agencies to search and arrest the drivers and owners of the impounded trucks. He said they are also working with the fisheries directorate to secure a court order to search the trucks.
Jackson Baguma, a fisheries expert, says the army will be in the wrong if they impounded goods in transit. "But, these people could have got immature fish from within Uganda or Mgingo island so the army will have to investigate the source of the fish exports, check if they are mature and also need to ensure the fish are properly preserved."
"Since they don't know what is in the trucks,they might also not know whether the fish are iced, salted or smoked. The fisheries directorate is best placed to handle such matters because they have adequate storage facilities for various fish and fish products," says Baguma.
The trucks that are all Fuso in make, have registration number plates UAF 813L, UBB 894Z, UBA 893G and UBH 606P.
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 exports worth 186 million US Dollars between 2018 and 2019.
But Bank of Uganda's annual report shows a decline from 23,141 tonne 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 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, the army's presence on the lakes and border points have been commended for reduction in illegal fishing activities. However, the army has also been accused of being brutal towards fishermen and fishing communities while enforcing the measures.