Gov’t commits to uproot illegal fishing practices

Tilapia fish captured in Rwanda. The govt has vowed to put an end to illegal fishing. File photo

The Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGRI) and the country’s fishery industry players have committed to putting an end to illegal fishing, blaming it for threatening to cripple the sector’s potential.

The commitment was made during a dialogue that brought together stakeholders in the fishing industry on Friday at MINAGRI headquarters in Kacyiru.

‘Illegal fishing’ is an umbrella term used for all malpractices in the sector such as the use of unlawful fishing gear (like mosquito nets) and snares, fishing during the biological break among others.

Cecile Uwizeyimana, the official in charge of Fishery and Aquaculture at Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) told the participants at the dialogue that it was time to uproot the illegal activities which have been hurting production for a while, making Rwanda the lowest consumer and biggest fish importer in the East African region.

“This fish poaching, practiced by both non-members and members of cooperatives is also linked to dealers who sell illegal nets and low-quality fishing materials and it is hurting this industry. We must stop them,” she said.

Citing a case in Lake Bugesera where fish poaching is said to be most prevalent, Jean de Dieu Sindikubwabo, the head of the fishmongers federation in Rwanda said that the biggest challenge was that illegal fishing was vastly practiced by members of their cooperatives or their relatives

Jean Claude Nzeyimana, head of the fishermen union in Rusizi District blamed the vice on lack of structured dealership and little to no control of fishing gear among the main reasons fishermen engage in malpractices.

“Most of materials used in illegal fishing are cheap and easy to get; for example, mosquito nets. It requires no capital at all,” he said.

The Director-General of Animal Resources at the ministry, Theogene Rutagwenda, said that with best practices and a task force of all players, the threat can be eliminated.

After concluding that existing measures (fines) are not yielding desirable results, the ministry has proposed collective punishment of the involved cooperative by revoking its fishing licence.

In the meantime, Rutegwenda said that a new law is under development to replace the existing one which failed to address the threat.

While fish production stood at only 31,465 tonnes last year, it is projected to go up to 65,000 tonnes this year and 112,000 in 2024.

Among mechanisms to hit the target is encouraging cage fish farming. There are currently 211 fish cages in Lake Kivu and 131 in Lake Muhazi, and 1,087 fish ponds.

The government also wants to tighten the two-month freeze taken every year for fish to multiply. Farmers have also been urged to breed more, bigger fish species other than tilapia and sardines which are the most common in Rwanda.

The Police Marine Unit Commanding Officer; ACP Elias Mwesige, said that a department in charge of lakes management had been playing its role in cracking down on illegal fishing despite challenges.

For instance, the marines during the recent crackdown captured 299 small boats, over 8,000 illegal fishing gears, hundreds of substandard life jackets and lamps among others.

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