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Real-time fisheries data: a big catch for Ugandan lakes

July 13, 2023

Over 670 stakeholders of Uganda’s fish value chain are accessing comprehensive fisheries data from Lakes Albert and Victoria in real-time thanks to a mobile application supported by the Cultivate Africa’s Future (CultiAF) fund. Through the app, lake management officials, researchers and policymakers, among others, can freely access this data to make more informed fisheries-management decisions.  

Trained data collectors at Uganda’s lakes are using the electronic Catch Assessment Survey (e-CAS) app to gather varied, reliable data from local fishers, including catch quantity, type of fishing nets and boats used and fishers’ expected earnings. With the potential to accommodate unlimited data sets, the system is an invaluable resource for the sustainable development of fisheries for wealth creation and food security.  

“Before the app, we used paper. It was a tiresome job that took a lot of time and then it could be weeks before an official agent would collect the files,” said Ocakacon Muhammed, a data collector based at Lake Albert.  

Since the system was set up, over 12,000 data records have been documented and consolidated in one place.  

Patrick Bwire, systems administrator at Uganda’s National Fisheries Resources Research Institute (NaFIRRI), said it would normally take two days to conduct a physical census of the boats and fish landed to estimate fish stocks. This manual approach was costly, with the government spending about Ugandan shillings (Ush) 400 million (CAD143,431) per year. According to Bwire, e-CAS has brought this down to around USh80 million (CAD28,686) – a fifth of the cost.

The app, which is freely accessible through the Google Play Store, was developed in 2021 by NaFIRRI in partnership with regional research institutes in Tanzania and Kenya, under the coordination of the Lake Victoria Fisheries Organization (LVFO).

The benefits of e-CAS were recognized by CultiAF’s NutriFish project in Uganda. The project has customized e-CAS to suit the local context by, for example, including local names for fish species.  

“Under NutriFish, e-CAS was piloted at six landing sites on Lake Albert and further expanded to three landing sites on Lake Victoria in 2022,” said Jackson Efitre, a principal investigator with the project.  

Reducing fish losses through improved technologies 

Fisheries and aquaculture offer opportunities to reduce hunger, improve nutrition, alleviate poverty and generate economic growth in Uganda, where nutritional deficiencies are widespread in vulnerable rural and urban communities. However, fish has become less available to Ugandans due to declining stocks of large fish species, coupled with high exports and post-harvest losses.  

The overall aim of the NutriFish project is to find ways to reduce losses in the fishery and aquaculture sector, increase access to animal protein and micronutrient-rich foods, and enhance product quality, safety and acceptability through improved post-harvest and processing technologies. 

The data-sharing system is helping to preserve lake fish stocks: “e-CAS will allow us to know whether the lake is being overfished,” stated Bwire. “For example, if one boat has been catching 10 kg of fish and now there are five boats in the same place catching 3 kg, this is an indication of the lake being overfished. Those fishers can be relocated elsewhere,” he says.  

Figures captured by e-CAS are used by researchers and Ugandan government bodies, such as the Directorate of Fisheries Resources and the Fisheries Protection Unit, to assess the value of the fishing industry – and whether the lakes are being overfished.  

“We want to know the type of boat, the gear size that was used, if it is a small seine net [vertical net], what is the mesh size, how many days do the fishers work in a week, and then we want to know the species or the type of fish that has been landed. So, if it is Mukene [small fish] in Uganda, or Dagaa in Tanzania, or Omena in Kenya, we want to know how many basins [crates] and what they are earning from that fish,” explained Anthony Basooma, a NaFFIRI research scientist.  

NaFIRRI and the Directorate of Fisheries Resources are working now to scale up and roll out e-CAS across all Ugandan lakes. And, as Basooma explained, with the technology already in place in Tanzania and Uganda as part of the LVFO partnership, it will be easier for other countries, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo – which shares Lake Albert with Uganda – to invest in the same technology.  

CultiAF, which supports research to achieve long-term food security in eastern and southern Africa, is jointly funded by IDRC and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research.