Fr Ssekabira Deusdedit is the Youth Chaplain in the Masaka Diocese in Uganda. Here he explains about the role of fishing in his country.
Uganda is located in East Africa with an estimated population of 44 million according to the Census that was held in 2014.
There are two major sources of fish in Uganda, one is from aquaculture and the other is from fishing in rivers and lakes. The latter has made up the largest and most significant share of all fishing. Open water covers 15.3 percent of Uganda’s surface and comprises five major lakes (Lake Victoria, Lake Albert, Lake Kyoga, Lake Edward and Lake George) which are the main sources of fish in the country. Lake Victoria continues to be the most important water body in Uganda, both in size and contribution to the total fish catch, followed by Lake Albert and Lake Kyoga.
In fact, I grew up near the shores of Lake Victoria where I enjoyed the breeze of the Lake, though there were other small rivers in my village which are not so significant. There are also other water bodies in different villages which are named after the name of those villages.
Traditional Ugandan Fishing Methods
People fish using traditional methods in those villages, some using canoes and hooks, others using spears, arrows and bows, and others using local herbs as poison to kill the fish. This depends on the culture of the people in a particular village. Generally in Uganda, the primary production of fish is done on a relatively small scale, as most of the fishing is carried out using small wooden boats about 6-8 metres long with small engines at the back. These simple boats are sufficient to carry fishermen to and from the fishing grounds with full loads of fish.
In most villages, fishing activity was generally carried out at a subsistence level. I do not remember my parents selling fish in my early childhood. We could go fishing using local methods and, after fishing, we could go and prepare a good meal. We could catch 2-3 fish a day which could suffice us for a week. It was something which was enjoyable.
Modern Fishing Methods
The coming of the foreign traders in mid 1950’s brought in some mechanised ways of catching fish, like nylon nets. Then fishing activity became commercialised especially for those living around the big lakes. The Uganda fisheries sector is important in terms of employment, poverty reduction and foreign exchange revenues.
The foreigners had to first teach the Ugandans how to fish. Though the new methods were adopted there are still some local communities who are continuing to use local methods of catching fish, especially those living near rivers. The foreigners also introduced new species of fish that could breed in our natural sources of water. This increased the production of fish in Uganda.
In this, our government came in to see how fish production could increase. Different programs to preserve fish were also introduced in Uganda as were boat construction projects that could help in fishing.
Fishing and the Environment
Uganda’s fresh water Fisheries Research Organisation monitored fishing conditions and the balance of flora and fauna in Uganda’s lakes. In 1989, this organisation warned against over fishing, especially in the Lake Kyoga region where the combined result of improved security conditions and economic hardship resulted in a 40 percent increase in the domestic fishing activity. A second environmental concern in the fishing industry was the weed infestation that had arisen in lakes suffering from heavy pollution. In late 1989 officials were relatively unsuccessful in restricting the types and levels of pollutants introduced into the nation’s numerous lakes.
A few fishers used explosives obtained from stone quarries to increase their catch, especially in the Victoria Nile region near Jinja. Using by-products from beer manufacturing to lure fish into a feeding area, they detonated small packs of explosives that killed large numbers of fish and other aquatic life. Several people drowned in the frantic effort to collect dead fish that floated to the surface of the water. Environmental and health concerns led the government to outlaw this form of fishing and local officials were seeking ways to ban the sale of fish caught in this manner because they could affect their lives. However, the bans were very difficult to enforce as the government lacked the manpower to reach every fishing corner of the country.
Fishing in the Ugandan Economy
Presently, the fishing sector is one of the most important sources of employment, poverty reduction and foreign revenues. Fishing is one of the major economic activities in Uganda generally, and particularly in the areas around lakes and rivers. Fishing activities are mainly carried out in open water sources and provide a livelihood to many people in Uganda.
There are an estimated 250,000 Artisan Fishermen and around 136,000 on Lake Victoria, while nearly a million people benefit from fishery related activities like local fish-processing, fish trade, boat-building, industrial fish-processing, net making, trade in fishing equipment, fisheries research, extension services and administration.
Aquaculture is another method of fish rearing and is called fish farming in ponds. This is carried out especially around swamps, but is greatly opposed by environmentalists who fear that the natural environment could be disturbed. In some areas in Uganda this continues, but in other areas it has caused too much degradation of the natural environment. In fact, to a larger extent this is not successful in Uganda. However, in some areas the Government has intervened to support this fish farming and it has been successful.
Types of Ugandan Fish
We have many different types of fish that are common in Uganda and even in the small local rivers which include:
Nile perch locally known as “Empuuta”
Singidia Tilapia locally known as “Engege”
Cat Fish locally known as “Ssemutundu”
Silver Fish locally known as “Mukene”
Lung Fish locally known as “Emmamba”
Eels locally known as ”Ensonzi”
Sprat locally known as “Enkejje”
Clarias locally known as “Emmale”
Young Fish Catch
In Uganda there are many different fishing methods which include, gill nets, longline, angling gear, fish traps, baskets and weirs, hooks and many others. Some of these fishing methods are very dangerous and could catch or trap all types of fish, small and big, or old and young. Some young fish could not be marketed or could not be eaten, so they end up dying.
Laudato Si’ and the Environment
With the introduction of Laudato-Si’, Pope Francis’s encyclical about concern for the environment and our neighbours, some environmentalists came to realise that the lakes and rivers are part of our environment that should be protected and preserved. The Church had to step in to talk about environmental protection and preservation. Strict measures have now been put in place by the government around fishing, and they have encouraged many people to leave the lake shores in order to protect the lakes and the surrounding environment.