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F.L. Orach-Meza, (Dr.)

Crested Crane Hotel
Jinja: 6 – 8 August, 1991


The basic policy underlying our existing fisheries regulations contained in the Fish and Crocodiles Act 1964 of the Laws of Uganda may be summarised as follows: “to manage the fishery resources so that we can obtain the maximum net benefits from them.” This implies an obligation on the part of Government to manage the fisheries for the common benefit of the citizenry. The common benefit referred to here which is reckoned largely in economic, social and nutritional terms accrue at different levels: to the fishermen, the fish processor, the fish trader, the consumer, the producer of fishing and fish processing inputs, and to the public treasury. In general terms, then, the management may restrict the fishing effort to limit costs and increase catch per fishermen; it may impose high fees so that the benefits accrue to the country as a whole; it may restrict exports in order to maintain supplies and reduce prices to consumers; and/or it may even remove barriers to fishing in order to increase social befits through employment.

Any regulatory measures must therefore provide a framework for defining and modifying objectives for different situations and must take account of enforcement. It should, however, be noted that mortality in a fishery is functionally related to four factors: the number of operating economic units, their catching power, their total fishing time and their spatial distribution during the fishing period (Gulland, 1977). So effective controls based on reducing fishing mortality must operate through one or more of these factors. Control of access to the fishery, imposition of restrictive access fees and a host of other management measures such as mesh size regulations, gear restrictions, minimum legal size regulations, etc. are employed in fisheries legislation. Management of fisheries can, therefore, be considered as the direct or indirect regulations of effective fishing effort in order to achieve an overall objective that reflects societal priorities (Greboval, 1990).


2.1 The Fisheries Industry

Slightly over 28,000 square kilometres or 41% of Lake Victoria is within the boundary of Uganda. Its estimated annual production is between 300,000 and 400,000 tonnes (Lyimo et. al. 1990) although this has not yet been precisely determined. The total commercial catch in 1990 was estimated at 120,000 tonnes which was an increase of over 1000% over the catches prevailing twenty years ago. The substantial increase in the catch levels in the recent years owes in large part to the upsurge of the introduced Nile Perch, (Lates niloticus) and Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) populations in the lake. The predetermined trend of these fisheries has been a remarkable success story in terms of employment, nutrition, earnings and other production within the industry.

Open-access into the fisheries prevails on the lake. However, as the fishing effort continues to increase, many important in-shore stocks are noticeably becoming heavily exploited. The undesirable consequences of heavy fishing are occasionally reflected in production loss per unit of effort, diminishing revenues, tendencies to fish farther offshore, the use of redundant inputs and decreasing profitability.

Knowledge of the ecology of fish stocks, the various aspects of the artisanal fisheries and their socio-economic characteristics is vital to management. This facilitates the determination of the regulatory measures most appropriate in terms of probable impact and applicability.

The fishing industry on Lake Victoria is characterised by being primarily artisanal in nature, featuring legions of small-scale operators working with gill nets. Most of the fishing crafts are planked canoes. A lake-wide total of 8674 active canoes was recorded during a recent frame survey (Tumwebaze and Coenen ed., 1990) with about 20% of the units being equipped with outboard engines. Industrial trawling operations are just beginning as pilot schemes. This is in the form of a large-scale pair trawling on the lake. Other characteristics of the dominant artisanal fisheries include limited fishing range, composite ownership of fishing units, relative lack of development resources available to fisherfolk, extensive social and financial linkages between the harvesting sector and the post-harvest sector, resistance to change, pamperization of fishermen and the suspicion and fear of government authorities as these are often identified with law enforcement and tax collection.

2.2. The Basis for Fisheries Regulations

It is the primary goal of the Government of Uganda to ensure that an optimal sustainable economic yield of fish is obtained from the available water bodies through scientific management of the fisheries resources. In order to achieve this biological and economic management policy objective, it should be understood that many of the problems in fisheries management arise from the nature of the fisheries resources itself as compared to land resources and the exploitation of these resources. Two characteristics of fisheries resources and fisheries exploitation are especially important:

2.2.1. The Uncertain and Limited Yields: The amount of fish available for catch depends on the growth of fish stocks; but a fish stock is a living resource which itself reacts to two factors - (i) the human fishing effort which has the effect of raising the mortality rate of fish and, therefore, of decreasing the stock size of the fish; (ii) the environment which may increase, maintain or decrease the growth of the stocks. The human fishing effort can be regulated by legislation since it is an act of man. The latter can, however, only be partially controlled through legislation such as in the case of pollution; but the rest is normally left at the mercy of natural environmental regulations.

2.2.2. The Free and Open-Access Mode of Exploitation: The natural movement of fish and the tendency of fishermen to follow it preclude the placing of boundaries around it. This lack of property rights in fishing, or the free and open-access to Lake Victoria fishery resources has the tendency to attract more capacity than required for efficient exploitation and management of the resources.

Both of these are implied by Government control over the resources; which basically implies an obligation on the part of Government to manage the fisheries resources for the common benefit (which is reckoned in economic terms).


The current development policy of the Government with respect to food production is to ensure the supply of adequate and balanced food through the attainment of self-sufficiency and the reduction of post-harvest losses. In the case of fisheries, this includes (i) maximisation of fish production to increase animal protein production and per capita consumption; (ii) reduction of post-harvest losses; (iii) maximisation of net earnings from fisheries over and above what it costs society to produce; (iv) maximisation of employment opportunities in the sector, and (v) maximisation of foreign exchange earnings from surplus production of fish and fish products traded internationally. Fisheries regulations, fisheries research and monitoring of the exploitation through routine collection of fish catch and marketing statistics are, therefore, essential if the above objectives are to be realised.


The concept of fisheries regulation was contemplated long before the commencement of some semblance of commercial artisanal fisheries. Several fisheries legislations have been passed, revised and/or amended over the years since 1950. An Ordinance No.47 of 1950 was introduced in 1951 as Chapter 161 of the Laws of the then Uganda Protectorate. The associated Fishing Rules came into force through Legal Notice No.59 of 1951. Besides the general provisions of the Law, the Fishing Rules specifically provided for the types of nets and methods of fishing that were prohibited, the use of long lines, landing and disposal of fish, the purchase and processing of fish by non-natives, licences and fees, and the type of fishing vessels. In addition, specific legislation was introduced for Lake Victoria - The Lake Victoria Fisheries Act 1950, Act No.3 of 1950. The Act which was enacted by the then East African High Commission made provisions for the development, control and regulation of Lake Victoria fisheries by the Lake Victoria Fisheries Board. Later on, Act No.3 of 1953 which amended the L.V. Fisheries Act, 1950, introduced a set of Subsidiary Legislations on registration of boats, licensing of fishermen, use of nets and penalties for offences.

Since 1964, the fisheries of Uganda including that of Lake Victoria, are provided for under the existing Laws of Uganda through the Fish and Crocodiles Act, Chapter 228 of the Laws, Revised Edition, 1964. The latest Amendment Act, 1967 simply re-defined some terms and strengthened the provisions on fishing and processing of fish and crocodiles, on introduction and transfer of fish or their eggs and on issuing of licences.

All the Laws and Regulations are aimed at controlling either the quantitative or the qualitative dimensions of fishing effort. The rules have, however, seldom been introduced in the context of an explicitly elaborated management plan. Furthermore, the application of some of the rules has generally been quite in-effective due to very limited enforcement capabilities.

Since industrial commercial fisheries have never been extensively developed on Lake Victoria, the prevailing regulations deal with control of effort in the small-scale fisheries. Even here, very little effective control is presently exerted. A draft Amendment Act is in the process of being enacted to cater for trawl fishery on Lake Victoria.

Pollution is another area which has a direct impact on fisheries. The population growth in Uganda, as elsewhere, is being accompanied by a steady increase in urbanisation, industrial and agricultural land use. This entails a tremendous increase in discharge of a wide variety of pollutants to receiving water bodies, and may already be causing undesirable effects on the different components of the aquatic environment and on fisheries.

The Fish and Crocodiles Act, 1964, makes provision generally for “the control of fishing, the conservation of fish, the purchase, sale, marketing and processing of fish, the catching and processing of crocodiles, the sale and control of the movement of the skins thereof, and matters connected therewith.” The Act also provides for the making of “Fishing Rules generally for the better carrying out of the purposes of this Act.”

The Act is currently being applied by the Fisheries Department in the implementation of fisheries management policy of this country - that is to ensure that an optimal sustainable economic yield of fish is obtained from the national bodies of water through scientific management of the fisheries resources. The Act is therefore one of the tools to ensure the success of the management plan.

In general, variable management measures can be imposed by regulations or as conditions for licence. The Act provides for both. For Lake Victoria, provisions have been made at one time or another for gear ban, mesh size regulations, closed seasons and areas, places and time for landing of fish, licensing, taxes on effort, access fees, fishing and fish processing, transfer of fish and eggs, pollution, immature fish, buoying of set nets, obstruction to navigation, and for private marks. Section 43 of the Act (Chap. 228 of the Laws) empowers the Minister concerned to gazette Statutory Instruments to amend or strengthen the Fishing Rules.


5.1. Control of Access

The Act grants access to the fisheries through the provision of fishing vessel licences to nationals; non-Ugandans are required by the Act to obtain specific or special licences before being permitted access and the use of any fishing vessel licensed under the Act (Sec. 7 and 13). Similar procedure is followed in granting access to fish processing and marketing; i.e. through the issue of specific licences (Sec. 8 of the Act).

An amendment has been proposed to reinstate Section 5 of the 1951 Ordinance which required every fishermen to be licensed.

A Committee on Fisheries Exploitation has recently been established to assess and ensure that access to fishing, fish processing and fish marketing is related to sustained availability of the resources and to an optimal level and distribution of returns to social resources, to the industry and to the national economy.

5.2. Access Fees

Since fisheries are valuable national economic resources like forest or a mine, it is only fair to charge for the economic benefit conferred on the user. It is already a requirement under the Act (Sec. 15) for a fisherman to obtain a fishing vessel licence on the basis of a calendar year. The Act, in Sec. 16 to 24, contains a number of special conditions for licences. They restrict the duration of the licences and prohibit their transfers, assignments and borrowing; they specify procedures to follow on loss etc., of licence. Production of licences on demand by authorised officers, punishment for false statements and the powers to restrict number of licences are additional conditions.

It is now being proposed that the conditions should also restrict a fishing vessel to specified areas, require landing in a specific location, restrict fishing from any vessel with more specified gears than may be authorised and prevent the sale of fish on water and during forbidden period. The proposal shall also require that the unit to licence should extend to the types and number of gears in use on the vessel. Where gear alone, such as seines and traps, is employed, it should also be licensed. Fishermen should also be licensed particularly for activities that do not require a vessel.

The amount of fees charged should be reviewed from time to time to cater for inflation, and since they also serve both to raise revenue and to ration access to the fisheries.

5.3. Management Measures

5.3.1. Restrictions on Fishing Gears and Methods

The Act has general restrictions on types, mesh-sizes and dimensions of fishing gears and methods of fishing which are considered destructive to the fish stocks. The responsible Minister as well as the Commissioner for Fisheries are empowered to limit the number of licences which may be issued under the Act either generally or in respect of any particular waters or area of Uganda. The Fishing Rules provides for specific numbers, dimensions, mesh-sizes and methods in respect of controlled lakes but not for Lake Victoria.

This section is now being strengthened by adding mesh size regulations, limited entry and licensing, and closed seasons as well as a ban on destructive fishing methods. The Rules are also being amended to provide for closed areas in identified breeding places, fixed prices for fish landed, and stiff punishment for violations of any of the rules.

5.3.2. Minimum Size Regulations

The Act as amended by Statutory Instrument No. 15 of 1981 sets out minimum legal size at which fish are to be taken in accordance with Section 35 of the Act. But the current rules refer to Nile Tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) and Nile Perch (Lates niloticus). It has been proposed to extend this rule to bear on the other commercially important fish species such as Hydrocynus, Alestes, Bagrus, Clarias, Barbus, and other Tilapine species as well as Rastrineobola.

5.3.3. Prohibited Fishing Methods and Gears

Use of other destructive methods such as poisons, explosives, noxious substances, lamp, light, fluorescence torch or electrical device for fishing is forbidden under the Act (Sec. 9) except in cases where permission is granted in writing by the Commissioner for Fisheries, such as in the case of light fishing for Rastrineobola. It is important that the use of these other devices remains illegal under the Act.

5.3.4. Closed Areas and Seasons

These measures which aim at improving the productivity of the resource by ensuring the uninterrupted spawning and growth of juvenile fish have not been introduced on Lake Victoria. They can also be used to control total effort and catch. Despite the inconveniences these methods provide, they are being proposed for Lake Victoria, particularly with respect to closed areas.

5.3.5. Fish Introductions

The prohibition against introduction or transfer of fish or eggs without prior consent in writing of the Commissioner for Fisheries will be extended to include other fisheries resources such as aquatic animals and plants. Section 14 of the Act should be strengthened against illegal diversion of waters of any lake, river, stream, pond or private waters in which fish has been introduced.

5.3.6. Regulations on Fish Processing and Fish Trade

Restriction on fish processing and marketing as specified in Section 8 of the Act is being further strengthened to take into account fish product standards which should include legal authority to certify the quality of fish products destined to both local and export consumer markets.

In the case of industrial processing and marketing, which are now mushrooming in Uganda, the law is being strengthened to require that the installation of processing capacity must be related to sustained availability of the resources. This implies that expansion of production capacities should not occur without obtaining advice on the situation of fish stocks and on the national policy on access to the exploitation of the nation's natural resources.

5.3.7. Additional Rules and Regulations

Laws regarding the collection of fisheries statistics, fisheries research, and pollution are being strengthened in the Act. Section 38 (a) and 39 of the Act which provided for the collection of statistics is being reinforced through providing for stiffer punishment for obstructions and misinformation. It is being proposed that industrial fishermen (trawlers and purse seiners) be required to fill out statistical survey forms and submit monthly returns on catch, effort, costs and prices.

While researchers and their vessels, on application, may be exempted by the Commissioner for Fisheries from management measures, it is being proposed that they be required by laws to file approved research plans and to report results in raw data and analysed forms to the Commissioner for Fisheries. Where foreigners are involved, provisions are being made for the use of local crew and researchers on board.

The discharge of industrial and domestic effluents directly into the waters of Lake Victoria to such an extent as to cause any waters thereof to be poisonous or injurious to fish, or to the spawning grounds, spawn, or food of fish was prohibited under the Lake Victoria Fisheries Act, 1950. This is being revived in the proposed Amendment Act. Installation of waste treatment plants by industries discharging liquid pollutants shall also be a requirement.

5.3.8. Law Enforcement

In the Act “Authorised Officers includes a Fisheries Officer, a Chief Magistrate, a Magistrate of any grade, a Police Officer of or above the rank of corporal or any employee of the Fisheries Department authorised in writing in that behalf by the Chief Fisheries Officer - The Commissioner for Fisheries.” These officers are, under the Act, authorised to enforce the content of the Act and the Rules thereof. This role, however, more often than not conflicts with the role of fisheries personnel as extension workers. Police and other personnel could be used, but they usually lack the necessary knowledge of fisheries.

Because of the limited means, fisheries law enforcement must be cost-effective. Rather than beginning with the problem of enforcing certain regulations, the approach should be first to revise the regulation themselves to aim at conditions that are easy to comply with and easy to enforce. It is, for example, being proposed that every fisherman operates from gazetted Fish Landings. This means Fish Landings must first be defined and gazetted. Sale of fish on water is also being prohibited.

No matter how easy conditions are to comply with, certain legal powers are necessary. Many are found in general police and criminal procedure laws, but some are peculiar to fisheries. The most important, and those which have been included in the Act are the powers to stop and search vessels (necessary on large lakes) and inspect fish, gear and documents routinely with any suspicion of an infraction. Where crime is discovered aboard vessel, powers of seizure and arrest are required in order to prevent the culprit and his catch from sailing away. The same powers shall apply for the routine inspection of establishments for fish processing routinely. The need for other powers such as stopping and searching vehicles and buildings which are no different for fisheries than for other sectors have also been proposed for enaction. The Act currently empowers authorised officers to enforce fisheries regulations as provided for in Sections 31 to 40 of the Act. But since the police and other personnel usually lack the necessary knowledge of fisheries, it has been suggested that the law should require them to always operate side by side with fisheries personnel. The law should also encourage the fisheries communities and the public to work closely with the authorised officers in enforcing fisheries regulations. Joint participation in law enforcement would greatly reduce incidences of infringements.


6.1. Need for the Harmonisation of Fisheries Regulation

Lake Victoria is shared by Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. These countries have obviously recognised the importance of establishing a regional mechanisms for co-ordinated or joint management. A mechanism for Lake Victoria is therefore required for effective collaboration.

Under the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations' Sub-Committee of the Committee for the Inland Fisheries of Africa established in 1968 for the Management and Development of the Fisheries of Lake Victoria, the three countries are formulating an integrated fisheries policy with a single regulatory code that is applicable within the internal legislations of each nation. With the assistance from UNDP/FAO Regional Project based in Bujumbura, Burundi, the riparian states are involved in (a) the formulation of common regulations or general conventions accompanied by detailed enforcement measures, and (b) the formulation of a general agreement covering all the problems related to the management of the lake basin and its fisheries. It is hoped that these actions shall be followed by (a) the adoption of the convention and (b) the conclusion of the convention for the sole purpose of establishing a joint Independent Commission.

6.2. Areas of Harmonisation and Positive Law

Areas in which legislative harmonisation are currently being examined by the bordering states while considering the prevailing national regulations and practices include the following:

  1. Collection and analysis of fisheries statistical data on catch, effort, costs, prices, etc.;

  2. Fisheries development and management plans for the lake and its basin;

  3. Fishing categories such as industrial, artisanal, customary, individual and sports relative to the diversity of fees charged;

  4. Fishery efforts and conservation measures with respect to number of fishing units, types, mesh-sizes of gears, minimum size limits, etc.;

  5. Fishing licences with high disparity in licence fees and systems;

  6. Introduction of non-indigenous species into the lake;

  7. Other water uses detrimental to fisheries, such as irrigation and manufacture which may have an impact on fisheries;

  8. Access of a State's vessel to waters under the jurisdiction of other States which is not directly linked to the harmonization of legislations but it could be a consequence;

  9. Status of research vessels as to whether they should be permitted free access to all parts of the lake.


The elements of fisheries law set out in this document are conceived as integral parts of a single system. Each of them should relate to the others with the aim of reducing the burden of fisheries management while creating its effectiveness. Note is taken of whether a requirement can be complied with and enforced, whether it enforces or weakens other provisions, whether it contributes to fishermen's acceptance of the law or induces them to evade it. Fees, for example, need to be viewed in terms of their collectability, of their effects on collection of statistics and of their effects on fishing effort.

The powers granted by the law are also considered to be sufficient to sustain the enforcement programme required for the management measures foreseen. It is believed that they do not exceed the requirements and risk making enforcement even more difficult by alienating fishermen.

Regional collaboration through harmonization of fisheries legislation is obviously desirable, although the idea is only beginning to receive attention. The working group, with the assistance of the CIFA Sub-Committee for Lake Victoria and of the UNDP/FAO Regional Project (IFIP), should be advised to expedite the formulation of a draft text of the harmonised regulations to be introduced in each State's national legislation in accordance with its legal system and its distribution of responsibilities between the proposed Joint Commission and the national Governments.

Finally, whatever the fisheries law, the ultimate effectiveness of fisheries management depends on the programmes and hard work of the fisheries administration. The law will succeed to the extent that it supports appropriate programmes and their implementation.


Fish and Crocodiles, Chap. 161, Laws of Uganda Protectorate, 1951, p. 2135 –2152.

Greboval, D., 1990. Principles of Fisheries Management and Legislation of Relevance to the Great Lakes of East Africa: Introduction and Case Studies. RAF/87/099 - TD/90, IFIP. 41p.

Gulland, J.A., 1977. Fish Population Dynamics, (Ed). John Wiley & Sons, N.Y. 372p.

Lyimo, E, Nhwani, L.B., and Mkisi, M. 1990. The Fisheries Statistics of Lake Victoria, Tanzania Sector. In Report of the First Workshop on Fisheries Statistics and Information Systems for L.V. ed. by G.W. Ssentongo, IFIP Project. 72p.

Orach-Meza, F.L., 1991. The Basis for Fisheries Legislation and Regulations Relevant to Uganda. A paper prepared for COFE, MAIF. 23p.

The Fish and Crocodiles Act, 1964. Chap. 228 Laws of Uganda, Revised Edition, 1964. p.3149 – 3163.

The Fish and Crocodiles (Amendment) Act, 1967. Act No. 3 of 1967. p. 5 – 14.

The Fish and Crocodiles (Immature Fish) Instrument No. 15 of 1981. Statutory Inst. No. 15 of 1981. p. 24.

The Fish and Crocodiles Ordinance, 1950. Uganda Protectorate, Entebbe. 12 p.

The Fishing Rules, 1951. Fish and Crocodiles Ordinance, 1950. Legal Notice No. 59 of 1951. 7 p.

The Lake Victoria Fisheries Act, 1950. Act No. 3 of 1950 p. 1–9.

The Lake Victoria Fisheries (Amendment) Act, 1953. Act No. 3 of 1953. p. 10 – 20.

Tumwebaze, EA.. and Coenen, E. 1991. (Eds.) Report on the Frame Survey Conducted in the Ugandan Part of L. Victoria (3rd Sept. to 20th Dec., 1990). UGA/87/007 - FISHIN Project. 13 p.

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