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Understanding fisheries in Uganda

10 December 2020
Hennie Stander Ia Vxff K Go Unsplash


In Uganda, fisheries are critical for livelihoods and food security, as well as being an important export. However, overfishing and other issues like water pollution pose a significant risk to the sector.

The Government of Uganda (NEMA, UBoS and NPA), with support from UNEP-WCMC, IIED and IDEEA Group, has developed a set of natural capital accounts to help inform actions to address this issue.

Fisheries, food and livelihoods in Uganda

Uganda’s fisheries are a major source of food and are crucial to livelihoods and local economies, as well as being an important export. It is estimated that between 1.0 and 1.5 million Ugandans work directly in capture fisheries, with another 5,000 people engaged in the industrial processing fisheries sector. The fisheries sector accounted for 1.6% of Uganda’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2016 and, in reality, the contribution is likely to be much greater, given that at least 80% of fishers are categorised as ‘artisanal’, meaning fish are largely caught for domestic use or sold directly to consumers.

Over recent years, overfishing, destructive fishing methods and illegal fishing have had significant impacts on fish stocks. For example, around 40% of large species captured in Lake Victoria are immature, meaning they are caught before they can reproduce. There are other threats too, including pollution and invasive species.  Collectively, these pressures have huge implications for freshwater biodiversity and, by extension, food security, health and livelihoods in Uganda.

Natural capital accounts: what they are, and how they can help

There is a widely acknowledged lack of information on artisanal fisheries in Uganda, which means that their contribution can often be underestimated in national accounts, such as GDP. This then has a knock-on effect on policy, as it can mean that artisanal fisheries are not fully accounted for by officials and policy makers when making decisions that directly affect the sector.

Thanks to a Darwin Initiative project, funded by the UK Government, UNEP-WCMC and partners are working with the Government of Uganda to address this information gap through natural capital accounts.

Natural capital accounts quantify the stocks and flows of natural resources and services that ecosystems provide; they help decision makers to value more accurately how, and to what extent, we benefit from nature. This allows policymakers to consider both the environment and the economy in their plans, ultimately supporting green growth, alleviating poverty and accelerating progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

Our work with the Government of Uganda and our partners delivered Uganda’s first set of integrated natural capital accounts for the major capture fisheries and associated ecosystems.  These natural capital accounts the enable informed decision- and policy-making which can support the sustainable management of fisheries and the freshwater ecosystems and fish stocks they rely upon.

This is crucial to maintaining the livelihoods and food security benefits that the fisheries sector provides.

Insights into fisheries

The natural capital accounts give valuable insights into the fishery sector in Uganda. They show trends in physical and monetary values of fish catches, with fishing effort, fish stocks and freshwater ecosystem condition.

The accounts’ findings are important for policymaking. For example, they can direct local and national policies towards reducing damage from fishing activities or towards increasing infrastructure investment to reduce post-harvest loss. They also draw attention to actions that could boost fishery stocks and freshwater biodiversity generally, like protecting nursery grounds, reducing the abundance of invasive weeds, and addressing water pollution. 

For Uganda’s fishery sector to develop sustainably, the social and economic opportunities it provides must be understood in the context of the underlying natural capital. That is, to understand and manage fisheries, we must also understand the stocks of fisheries and the condition of ecosystems they live in.

The natural capital accounts will directly benefit decision-makers in trying to achieve national objectives for fisheries and delivering international commitments, such as reporting on SDG indicator 14.4.1 (Proportion of Fish Stocks within biologically sustainable levels).

This project has laid the foundations for an information system on the economic, social and environmental dimensions of the fisheries sector that will continue to inform environmental and economic policy decisions into the future.