Dec 29, 2005 - Ugandan fish exports are projected to earn $120 million in the year 2005, a sharp increase in earnings over 2004.
Increased fish processing and output and a surge in international prices have brought about a marked change in the fortunes of the sector, which only four years ago was under a European ban over sanitation problems.
In 2004, Uganda earned $104 million from exports, of 30,000 tonnes of filleted fish, a figure that at the end of 2005 will climb to 32,000 tonnes.
According to the Commissioner for Fisheries in the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industries and Fisheries, an increase in the European supermarket price of fish, which now stands at 11 euros ($17.6), is the main reason for the increase in earnings.
"The increased exports earnings are because the price of fish in international markets is good," Dick Nyeko, the Commissioner for Fisheries said.
"That has also trickled down to the fishermen."
The European Union remains the biggest market for Ugandan fish, taking up to 70 per cent of total exports.
The increase in tonnage mainly arises from increased processing capacity – with three new factories built in 2005 alone, bringing the overall number of fish factories to 18. However, extra income per kilo of fish catches from the lakes was more important in the performance of the sector.
In this regard, while quantities exported reflected a six per cent growth, the increase in earnings stands at 15 per cent.
The income gains to fish-ermen in percentage terms were far higher.
While the beach price of fish was Ush1,800 (about $1) per kilogramme in 2004, last year it went up to Ush2,700 ($1.5) a kilo, a 50 per cent rise.
Fisheries officials say that on the whole, the fish sector in East Africa is moving away from its past reputation – where in the 1990s, it suffered two export bans from the European Union over sanitation and chemical poisoning. Stringent legal measures, increased patrols and improvements in the management of fish landing sites have resulted in the professionalisation of the sector.
Mr Nyeko said that as a sign of improving fortunes, the population of young fish had increased greatly, because of the ban on illegal fishing methods.
Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania have reached an advanced stage in the harmonised management of Lake Victoria, where officials from the three countries are scheduled to begin carrying out joint patrols to enforce legal fishing methods.
According to Mr Nyeko, any increase in export volumes and earnings can only be made possible by protecting fish breeding grounds. He said that, in Uganda, the enforcement of rules had been made possible by the transformation of fishing villages into the local government units known as Beach Management Units. Some 340 fishing villages are now managed under this system, with 425 fishermen using destructive fishing methods already convicted since February 2005.
He further said that investment opportunities still existed in the country, with plans to extend factories to other lakes – Lakes Kyoga, Albert, George and Edward, which have not been well-developed.
Mr Nyeko said the government was in the process of developing an industry around another species of fish, which has hitherto remained ignored. Locally known as mukene and scientifically as Rastrineobola Argenta, this small sardine-like fish, which is heavily used as a poultry feed, earns up to $2.5 a kilo when exported.