Nile perch is on high demand
A section of traders in fish maw business have scoffed at the proposal by fish exporters to ban the local consumption of Nile perch, saying the proposal if passed into law would deprive Ugandans of their lives.
The remarks were made by Edward Mutebi, a member of the Uganda Fish maw Traders Association today while appearing before Parliament’s Agriculture Committee that is scrutunising the Fisheries and Aquaculture Bill 2021.
Mutebi’s remarks were in reaction to statements made by fish exporters last week, who called on Parliament to make a law banning local consumption of Nile perch and reserve it for the international market because of the high demand of the fish species in European Union.
However, the fish maw traders rejected the proposal describing it as unfair and discriminatory, “It isn’t fair at all for a few players to request to legislate the issue of Ugandans not eating fish and the allegation is, it is a major source of income,” said Mutebi.
He added, “There are fisheries communities, that is their livelihood, they eat fish as their only food, how do we then legislate, pushing these people out of business. It is really unfortunate, let us harmonise these laws so that we can all benefit.”
During the appearance before the Committee, fish maw exporters decried what they described as the continued militarization of the enforcement mechanism in the fisheries sector through the re-introducing UPDF who they say, lack technical expertise in fisheries matters, policing and have been on record of torturing maiming and destroying property with impunity in total disregard of law.
Sarah Babirye, fish trader in Katosi landing site in Mukono narrated her ordeal accusing the army of confiscating her merchandise on three occasions, despite being in possession of valid trading license.
She added that when she tried following up on her matter, the soldier from UPDF warned her that anyone caught trading in smoked fish is equivalent to a person arrested with marijuana.
The fish maw traders also called on Uganda’s Parliament to harmonise its tax laws on fish maw with other member states of the east African Community, arguing that the decision by Uganda to impose 8% tax on each kilogram of fish maw exported has sent some traders out of Uganda.
“Uganda has introduced 8% on fish maw, Tanzania is charging 3%, Kenya isn’t charging at all. Let us have all these harmonized so that we can be at pace with the other East African nations. It is really killing business, many of the processors have moved to where they find it convenient to conduct business,” said Mutebi.
Some of the fish maw traders asked the Committee to first halt scrutiny of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Bill 2021 to allow the fishing community familiarize themselves with a number of clauses, citing many of the players in the sector being ignorant.
Jackson Iga Musisi, member of the Association said, “This Bill if possible, first suspend it for two years because ignorance of the law doesn’t avail any excuse and yet we fishermen, we are very ignorant about the law. We need to go through this bill thoroughly and we understand the real scope of the bill,”
While submitting their views on the Bill, the Association called for deletion of 12 clauses, out of the 140 clauses of the Bill, a suggestion that prompted Janet Okori-moe, Chairperson Agriculture Committee to ask why the Association went for the last resort of deletion instead of finding common ground with Government.
The fish maw traders in Clause 13(2) of the Bill are calling for the Fisheries Monitoring Control and Surveillance Unit to comprise of persons appointed by Public Service and trained by Uganda Police in investigations, human rights and the Directorate of Fisheries shall conduct further training of the recruited surveillenca team in fisheries matter.
They opposed the proposal of having UPDF take charge of security of Uganda lakes arguing that the Army lack training in fisheries matters and have been involved in gross shuman rights violations like murders and setting on fire items used in fishing.
The fish maw traders also described as realistic charges spelt out in the bill like the fine of Shs200m, for anyone found fishing without a license or using banned gears, saying these fines are abnormal.
The Association is also calling for Fist Tribunals to deal with disputes unlike in the current trends where cases are handled in Kampala.
They also rejected the proposal to have all fish processed in factories warning that the proposal if approved will lock out majority of indigenous Ugandan from exporting fish or fisheries products, describing the proposal as an underground policy to limit fish business to only foreign investors owning factories.