This is a review article that combines research findings to highlight the negative effects of Uganda’s adoption of the liberalization policies in its fisheries sector. Using Lake Victoria as a case study, the paper discusses the impact of a liberalised fisheries industry on the socio-cultural landscape of small-scale/artisanal fishers and fishery-dependent communities in Uganda. Dominated by the Nile perch, Uganda’s fish export industry is an important foreign exchange earner following the adoption of trade liberalisation policies by Government in the late 1980s. Although considered a ‘success story’, the positive effects of the industrial fishery have hardly ‘trickled down’ to the small-scale fishing communities. Conversely, small-scale fishers have been marginalised as they can ill afford to remain competitive amidst declining fish stocks. In early 1990s, there was considerable increase in the fish exports to the international market unmatched with effective measures to balance between local and international demand, ecological sustainability and sound fisheries conservation and management practices. By the late 1990s there was inevitably a noticeable decline in total Nile perch catches owing to widespread over fishing, harvesting of undersized Nile perch, and use of illegal fish gear and fishing methods. This unsustainable exploitation of the fishery resources undermined the ‘conservation ethic’ and the traditional fisheries resource management institutions and practices that governed sustainable exploitation of resources and ensured ecological stability and cultural homogeneity. As a consequence, the fishery is today characterised by unemployment, malnutrition, food insecurity, environmental health hazards, and criminal activities such as thefts and piracy. The paper recommends a series of policy measures with a view to integrating social and cultural issues in the policy and regulatory framework.
Key words: Trade liberalisation, commercial fishery, artisanal fishery, socio-economic livelihoods, ecological degradation.
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