Fish dealers around Lake Victoria say the Covid-19 induced lockdown has badly affected their business.
On June 18, President Museveni announced a new lockdown which seeks to prevent a surge in Covid-19 infections and deaths as the country battles a second wave of the pandemic.
The President ordered citizens to stay home as a strategy to contain the spread of the pandemic, and in view of that, suspended public and private transport, closed churches, mosques, educational institutions and crowded business centres across cities and municipalities .
The restrictions are supposed to remain in force until end of July, according to the timelines announced by Mr Museveni.
But the fish traders say by the time the President announced the abrupt lockdown, they had stocked tonnes of fish especially tilapia ready to transport it to various markets in Kampala and other cities and towns.
“The lockdown came at a time when we have already stocked enough fish to take to the big markets and hotels, Personally, I had already prepared four tonnes of tilapia ready for sell at markets in Busega and Bwaise in Kampala, but I cannot take the fish when consumers cannot access the city,” Mr Alex Magambo, a fish dealer in Kalangala Town, said during an interview on June 26, 2021.
According to Mr Magambo, he bought each kilo of Tilapia fish at Shs8,000, but due to lack of market , he was forced to sell a kilogram at Shs5000 to avoid incurring more losses .
Mr Jimmy Ssekasi, a dealer in Nile Perch in Kalangala District, said they are also affected by the ever dropping prices of fish maw where Chinese investors are the key exporters.
“Before the President announced the second 42 days of the lockdown ,I would mind less about the fluctuating prices of the fish maw since we were selling Nile Perch fingers to hotels and restaurants and we were getting some good money ,but the market is now affected ,”
Previously, Ssekasi said he used to sell about three tonnes of fish a day, but he can hardly sell a tonne.
“If government was caring about our plight, they could buy fish, refrigerate it and save us from incurring losses,” he said
Currently, a kilogramme of Nile Perch buys between Shs 9,000 at Shs12,000 at various fish markets in most urban centres , down from 20,000 two months while Tilapia costs Shs 7,000 compared with Shs12,000 two months .
Mr Jackson Baguma, the Kalangala District fisheries officer advised the affected traders to preserve their fish very well so that they can sell it when the situation normalises.
“The lockdown was announced in good faith to save lives of Ugandans, I advise all fish dealers who had fish in stock to smoke it and avoid making losses,” Mr Baguma said
The lockdown has also affected fishermen who said they are likely to halt their activities if the situation worsens.
“We don’t see why we continue fishing when the market for fish is to not there,” Mr Joseph Lubega, a fishermen at Mwena Landing in Kalangala ,said
Mr Christopher Kigozi ,a fish dealer at Misonzi Landing Site in Bufumira Sub county ,Kalangala District ,said he has been forced suspend some of his workers until the lockdown is lifted
“I owns 80 boats, but it is only 45 which are operating, those that are tied up, are likely to get damaged when they spend a long time without working,” he said.
Mr Godfrey Musasizi, the Mwena landing site, said the lockdown has heavily sabotaged their business since hotels which are their big consumers were closed.
Currently, Mr Musasizi, said he only supplies 3000 kilos of fish fillets to a few hotels, compared to 10,000 kilos he was selling before the lockdown.
He said the second lockdown was declared when some of his colleagues were still struggling to service banks loans which they incurred during last year’s lockdown.
“During the first lockdown, I personally lost three tonnes of fish which were already under refrigeration, this time, I don’t want to suffer the same loss ,” he said
According to Mr Philemon Kudere, the vice chairperson of Jinja Fishing community based at Masese Landing Site, said fish buyers who used to travel from Mbale and Busia are no longer coming to the area because of the strict Covid-19 restrictions.
” Some of our customers were using public transport which was suspended ,we have now resorted to selling our fish to factories because the Nile Perch does not need to stay long without being preserved, ” Mr Kudere.
According to Mr Noor Mugerwa, fisherman at Kigungu Landing in Entebbe Municipality, a kilo of Tilapia was selling at Shs10,000 before lockdown , but it currently costs Shs5000.
“We have decided to smoke some of the fish, but still, we don’t know when the lockdown will end, during the first lockdown, the President said it was for only 21 days, but it took three months,” he said
Mr Robert Serugo, the chairperson Katosi Landing Site in Mukono District said ,they used to buy a kilo of Nile Perch between Shs13,000 and 11,000 ,but it is currently selling between Shs 5,000 and Shs6,000.
” The prices(of fish) have fallen ever since public transport was stopped, we used to sell a kilo of Tilapia at Shs 25,000 ,but we are now selling it between Shs8,000 and Shs 10,000, ” Mr Serugo said
Mr Rashid Babu, the manager Mpongo Company Limited, a firm that manages Lambu Fish landing site in Masaka District, said fish dealers are stranded with huge tonnes of fish at both Bukakkata and Lambu fish landing sites.
“Some of our fish dealers use boda -bodas and commuter taxis, but due to the current lockdown, they are constrained and have no access to fish markets,” he said
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 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 12 per cent to agricultural GDP.
According to Ministry of Agriculture’s records, Uganda has a fish capture potential of 750,000 tonnes annually; the current production is at 461,000 tonnes and 100,000 tonnes from aquaculture.