Serere, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The Fisheries Protection Unit- FPU is on the spot for allegedly aiding illegal fishing activities in Serere district. Operations against illegal fishing started in January following the deployment of FPU soldiers at Kagwara and other major landing sites along the Lake Kyoga belt.
More than 1,000 boats were destroyed and illegal fishing nets impounded by the soldiers during the operations across Serere and Kaberamaido districts. The soldiers also impounded several motorbikes used for ferrying fish to the markets and arrested individuals involved in illegal fishing activities.
However, illegal fishing activities are on the rise in Serere. This is due to the alleged collusion between FPU and the fishing communities. In Opiya, Agwaet, Amoru, Okulukulun and Owarakwap villages- all in Kadungulu sub county, residents are selling fish in the open a practice that was earlier abandoned.
Residents involved in the illegal fishing activities operate in turns throughout the day and night. When one team is in the lake, the other is monitoring the movement of FPU in and outside the lake through phone interactions with some of the informers of the FPU in Kagwara. The boats dock in hidden landing sites known to a few fishmongers who rush to transport the fish to the markets immediately it arrives.
The fish is transported in jerry cans, boxes and other containers which doesn’t raise suspicion from the police and other security personnel. One of the fishermen in Bugondo sub county who spoke on condition of anonymity says that the business is very risky but lucrative.
“In this work, you must be ready to pay heavily if caught. I have been arrested twice by FPU but managed to secure my freedom and business with cash. Those guys only want money, once you give them what they want, you proceed with what you are doing”, he said.
He explained that he was set free after paying 500,000 Shillings.
Michael Ongwara, the sub county chairperson of Pingire says that illegal fishing will continue as long as the officers are compromised with money. He notes that many people in his sub-county have bribed their way out.
Geoffrey Okiswa, the Resident District Commissioner in Serere acknowledges receiving complaints about extortion to aid illegal fishing activities in the district. He however notes that some of the dealers in illegal fishing are taking advantage of the thin FPU presence of the district.
Stella Agoe, a fishmonger in Serere observes that the illegal fishing activities are on the rise due to delayed resumption of fishing on Lake Kyoga. She explains that many people have found it hard to cope after the suspension of fishing.
“These are people who derive their livelihood in fishing, how do you expect them to survive in this lockdown? Government has been promising to open the lake since April but it appears the process is likely to drag further. Some of them have run out of patience after a long wait”, she said.
Lt. Julius Ankunda, FPU Commander in Kagwara declined to comment when contacted by our reporter.
State Minister for Fisheries, Helen Adoa says that fishing will resume in Lake Kyoga in mid-July. It’s the third time resumption of fishing has been postponed on grounds that construction of recommended boats hasn’t been completed.