A screenshot showing a post on the New Vision’s Facebook timeline indicating an incident in which the UPDF destroyed 25 tons of fish by burning.
Unlike people who have expressed disapproval, I have no problem with the UPDF’s involvement in fisheries management in Uganda so long as there are appropriate mechanisms in place. World over, nations’ interests are protected by armies and there is discernible evidence showing that armies in United Kingdom, USA and China are involved in enforcement of regulations to safeguard and preserve fisheries resources of their respective nations.
The UPDF, however does not deserve to continue destroying fish seized from offenders of fishing regulations. In a recent incident reported in the New vision of Tuesday 21st March 2017, the UPDF simply burnt 25 tons of fish, denying fish to 2,500 Ugandans for the next 365 days. Destroying fish may be lawful according to relevant legal instruments but the instruments, including the Fish Act are, in my personal perspective, old and inefficient and no longer reflect the adaptive nature of policies for fisheries managed to benefit people especially the poor. The fish should be given away for consumption especially to the needy or auctioned for the treasury. Existing legal instruments provide for this option as well, but it should be strengthened so that in future, more fish which unlike drugs can be consumed is not burnt yet there are incidences of malnutrition and hunger in the country.
The UPDF is probably burning the fish to demonstrate commitment to transform fisheries management and that the force is not ready to tolerate any malpractices in the fishing sector. This is an excellent commitment but I would like to clarify why destroying fish is not the best alternative. Technically, the best actions should hurt the offenders the greatest so that they are discouraged from engaging in the malpractices again. However, before the offenders engage in the practices, they compare the benefits and risks. Because fish is highly valuable and there are lower chances of being caught or being apprehended due to corrupt enforcement officers, the benefits are always higher than the risks. This simply means that the offender in the recent incident may have been caught once in several years which may not be meaningful on his balance sheet. He or she can therefore continuously participate in selling fish contravening regulations. This probably explains why there are always illegal fishing equipment to burn every time patrols are conducted on lakes although I agree that unlike fish, the equipment should be destroyed on sight.
In terms of money, the fish burnt was equivalent to 175 million Uganda shillings assuming that a kilogram of fish costs 7, 000 shillings. In social terms, the fish is equivalent to the amount of fish that 1,250-2,500 Ugandans or 250-500 households consume per year basing on the FAO estimate that every Ugandan eats 10-20 kilograms of fish per year and that a household in Uganda has 5 members on average. Since there are numerous incidences in which fish has been destroyed, food in several tons and revenue in billions are being lost and this should stop.
To effectively control malpractices, the stakeholders in the entire sector should be organized so that it is possible for the UPDF to administer actions that hurt the offenders the greatest and make the practices highly risky and unprofitable. A mechanism that should be put in place to make the UPDF interventions more effective is to register everybody who participates in fishing and related activities and register and mark all boats and transport vehicles. This should be priority for measures to combat illegal fishing practices. If this is done, it will make possible, for example the tracking of illegal fish catches to all offenders along the fish value chain, and blacklist or dismiss all of them. However, this would need other efforts to enhance enforcement to increase chances of being caught, stop corruption and changes in regulations.