The fishing community has asked Parliament not to rush passing the Fisheries and Aquaculture Bill, 2021, after raising various concerns about its current form.
Their leaders made the request yesterday while appearing before Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries.
The committee is currently deliberating on the contents of the Bill by entertaining the input of stakeholders in the fishing sector. The Bill was tabled in the 10th Parliament.
Appearing before the committee yesterday, Mr John Ssamanya Kiyingi, the chairperson of Uganda Fishmaws Traders Association (UFTA), described as unrealistic the fines, penalties and levies that the Bill seeks to introduce.
He added that the penalties will affect residents who solely depend on fishing for their livelihood.
“There is no need to rush this Bill because it does not favour individuals. It should be passed in the spirit of Ugandans,” Mr Kiyingi said.
The other concerns he raised about the Bill include giving excessive powers to the Directorate of Fisheries, the Chief Fisheries Officer and the line minister to make guidelines to regulate the fishing sector without involving key stakeholders as well as fears over militarising the enforcement mechanism in the fisheries sector.
Mr Jackson Musisi, a dealer in fish maw, during his submission requested that the Bill either be reviewed again or suspended, citing some unfriendly clauses in it.
“The moment that Bill is allowed (to pass), people will die. Parliament should delay passing it,” he said.
Later, during an interview with Daily Monitor, Mr Musisi said he was against the idea of involving the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) in enforcement operations against illegal fishing because of the previous cases where they have been cited in gross violation of human rights.
“They should not be involved in these matters, rather, we should have a free Uganda where every person is free to deal in any business of their choice,” he said.
For Ms Sarah Babirye, a dealer in fish maw in Katosi, Mukono, her main concern was the authorities sabotaging her work despite having an operating licence.
“Authorities have continuously reached out to me saying they don’t want to see us touching fish maw or Nile Perch and for this reason, I have come here (to Parliament) to find out why they are frustrating my work in fish maw,” Ms Babirye said.
Fish maw is the swim bladder of large fish such as Nile Perch. It is said to be highly on demand in China and Hong Kong, with a kilogramme of the rare commodity fetching between $450 (about Shs1.6m) and $1,000 (about Shs3.5m).
Last week, a section of fish exporters asked the lawmakers to pass a law that will deter consumption of the Nile Perch on the local market. The exporters said this would protect fish from being depleted from Uganda’s water bodies and would, therefore, guarantee constant supply of it to foreign markets.
Mr Charles Matovu, the Busiro South MP, commended the fishing community for going through the Bill. He, however, said the Bill is necessary to address the many challenges in the fish sector.
About the bill
The government in March tabled the Fisheries and Aquaculture Bill, 2020, in which it has proposed deterrent punishments for people convicted of committing offences related to illegal fishing and mismanagement of water bodies. The Bill that seeks to replace Fish Act, Cap 197 also proposes that the government formulates a directorate that will be solely responsible for the management of the sector.
If enacted in its current form, all persons found to be liable for catching undersized fish face seven years in jail or be subjected to Shs200 million fine.
The Bill is also seeking to regulate the exportation of fish products and the government has suggested a number of punishments for an exporter or and any other person who violates fish quality standards.