Uganda: the Home for Fresh Fish

The fisheries sector has in the last 15 years played an important social and economic role in Uganda. Nearly 50% of Ugandans depend on fish for proteins.

Uganda has one of the largest fresh water resources in the world with almost 20% of its surface area covered with water. The expansive water resources have supported the fisheries sector, enabling both capture and farmed fisheries since 1920s.

There are some 165 lakes in the country, the largest and most productive of which are Lake Victoria, Lake Kyoga, Lake Albert, Lake Edward and Lake George. The national waters are all fresh in nature and contain an impressive array of fish species — over 90 in all. This count does not include the Haplochromis complex, which itself is made up of more than 200 species. Fish that are the target of most commercial and subsistence exploitation include species of Lates (Nile perch), Oreochromis (Nile tilapia), the herring-like Alestes, the catfishes Bagrus and ClariasHydrocynus (Tiger fish), the small pelagic “sardine” Rastrineobola, Protopterus (lungfish), and the haplochromines.

Uganda exports fish to Europe, Australia, the Middle East, US, Egypt and Southeast Asia. The current annual production from capture fisheries is about 460,000 tonnes and from aquaculture 111,000 tonnes. If managed well, fisheries can help Uganda attain middle income status. While exports to international markets rose from 4,751 tonnes worth $5.308m in 1991 and peaked at 36,616 metric tonnes, valued at $143.618m in 2005, export levels were at 17,597 tonnes, valued at $134.791m in 2015.

In 2017, Uganda exported 14,248 tonnes of fish valued at $136 million, but a year later, after implementing stringent measures to curb illegal fishing and fishermen using illegal fishing gear, the volumes rose to 20,364 tonnes valued at $153 million.

Highest volume

Records from Bank of Uganda show that in the calendar year ending 2018, Uganda’s export earnings from fish were the highest the country received in the last 20 years. Indeed, the country exported fish worth $171 million (Shs635 billion) the highest revenue the country has ever earned from this commodity.

Records further indicate that the volumes in 2018 were the highest at 24,545 metric tonnes in the last 10 years when the country exported 27,454 metric tonnes. Over the last 15 years, the fisheries sector has played an important social and economic role in Uganda as the second largest foreign exchange earner, contributing 2.6% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 12% to agricultural GDP. This had previously declined because of immature and illegal fishing methods which depleted the resources.

Measures undertaken included removing foreigners from its water bodies, registering fishing boats that have appropriate gear, implementing closed fishing in breeding areas to allow fingerlings to grow, and establishing aquaculture and cage fishing.Exporters’ view
Uganda Fish Processors and Exporters Association (Ufpea) deputy chief executive officer William Tibyasa in an interview with Prosper magazine attributed the growth in trends to government’s intervention through deploying the Fisheries Protection Force who patrol the water resources for illegal fishermen. “Because of this, the stocks have recovered at least by 30% yet we had anticipated reaching this level in two years,” Mr Tibyasa said. This has since seen factories which had closed shop reopen to business in a period between August 2018 and to date.

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