Muziri Fishing and Indigenous fisherfork Experience on Lake Albert in Uganda

Muziri (silver fish) is a tiny, thin fish measuring less than 4 cm. It’s used for human consumption as well as a component of chicken feed. Muziri is its local name in Alur, and the fish is also called mukene by bantu-speaking people. This article describes the alternation of the light fishing of muziri in the fishing village of Runga, located on the east side of Lake Albert in the Republic of Uganda. There are approximately 8000 people and above 1000 boats in this area that mostly depend on muziri light fishing, and Runga became the second revenue collection in Hoima District of recently. The fishing of muziri is more difficult work compared to other methods of fishing in Runga, as fishers must continue to cast and collect nets during the night and simultaneously manage lamps to cast light. Before the introduction of rampart nets, there were some break periods for workers during the full moon phase. Currently, however, fishers manage to continue their work through shifting the time that they fish and by using more lamps.  There is an ethnic division of labour in Runga wherein fishers are generally Alur and Bagungu. In the 2000s, fishmongers were mainly Baganda, and since 2014, the Bafumbira have joined this group as well. Most workers here are the Alur from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and from the West Nile in Uganda. The methods of fishing muziri as the main labour system of fishery in Runga have been changed by the relationship among stakeholders.

The Introduction of Muziri Light Fishing in Runga  

In 2001, most muziri fishing was carried out in Bikunyu, about 14 km south of Runga, using landing nets which are locally called bench or kitambi kya muziri . Bukunyu is a small bay with no light or clear water. This method of fishing included placing a lamp at the top of the boat and paddling offshore to scoop out the muziri from the water using bench. In 2002, some fishers moved to Runga to fish muziri, and in 2003, rampart nets, or muziri fishing nets made up of towels sewn together and edged with rope and corks to serve as floaters, were introduced in Runga in 2003.

Initial Causes of Muziri Light Fishing  

There were two major reasons for the introduction of muziri light fishing. First, the Fishery’s Office in Entebbe sent marines to destroy fishers’ gill nets and seine nets as well as to enforce the illegality of fishing what are considered to be undersized fish in the entire landing site of Lake Albert . In 2002 and 2003, Runga was attacked four times by marine officials from the Fishery’s Office in Entebbe. In this area, the types of fish considered legal for fishing are Nile perch measuring at 20 inches and above and tilapia measuring at 11 inches and above. The size of fishing gear considered legal in Uganda is set at size 9 and below for hooks and 4 inches and above for mesh of gill nets, although most gear utilized in this area were illegal such gears are referred to as marafuku , with hooks typically measuring at around size 12 and above and gill and monofilament nets measuring at about 2 and a half inches  . The reasoning behind workers utilizing marafuku is that people need to fish to survive in Runga, and there are other species of fish in Lake Albert providing good sustenance which require smaller mesh nets and hooks in order to be caught. Since officials’ enforcements, however, locals have shifted to the muziri light fishing method to avoid further prosecution through net burnings. Second, there are many fishing robberies in this area, and most such robberies occur when gear remains submerged in water for several hours. To alleviate this issue, muziri nets have been implemented as they are large enough and they do not need to be submerged as deep into the water for several hours as do gill nets and hooks. Currently, there are lights scattered on Lake Albert during the night, and these cast a brighter glow in the dark. However, as a greater number of nets are introduced in this area, it has become increasingly difficult to acquire fishing workers, referred to as liter in Alur.

The Revenue of Muziri: Fish Movement Permits

There are many kinds of fishing taxes such as those placed on costs for obtaining licenses for boats, nets, fishing and processing. As for muziri, the major tax revenue collected is obtained through the requirement of a fish movement permit (FMP). This tax is applied for the transport of fish, set at 30 UGX/kg for dry fish and 20 UGX/kg for fresh fish. The tax, which was introduced in 2003, has never changed since its implementation and remains the same in 2017. Muziri light fishing is thus welcomed by the Fishery’s Office due to its great revenue. FMP is collected by members of the Beach Management Unit (BMU) when lorries or buses carrying fish depart from Runga. Revenues collected are sent to sub counties, and 25% of the revenue is then returned to the BMU of each landing site.  There are two types of muziri markets. The first is dried muziri reserved for human consumption, which is transported mainly by boats to fish markets in Panyimur to send to the DRC and northern areas of Uganda up to South Sudan. Cleanly dried muziri are packed into plastic sacks, usually measuring around 30-35 kg. One sack is worth about 120,000 UGX in 2016, and smaller variable sacks worth anywhere from 60,000 to 100,000 UGX are also distributed.Another type is dried muziri which is mixed with other materials to produce chicken feed. This type of muziri is transported by lorries to factories in Kampala and Jinja for processing. Dried muziri are then packed into a big plastic sack, presumed to be around 80 kg and sold for about 140,000 UGX in 2018.

Fishery as a Livelihood  

Fishers in Runga are mainly Alur and Bagungu, with the majority of workers being Alur peoples from the West Nile and DRC who work for survival. Typically, three workers can operate one boat with muziri net.

Fishing as a Team

Muziri fishing is usually carried out by teams of individuals. To illustrate this commonality, I will describe one worker’s case. This particular man works alongside eight other colleagues, and their boss owns three boats and one engine. The first boat houses the engine and pulls two other boats in order to conduct fishing work. Each boat is manned by three people who operate directing, casting, pulling and managing the night lamps. The fish catches are distributed within each boat. On 7 August 2018, the first boat gathered two basins of muziri, the second received five basins, and the last boat gained three basins. The individual member focused upon in this case was working with the team on the last boat. Their boss negotiated on prices with fishmongers, and set the price of one basin of muziri at 14,000 UGX. This particular business is consistently conducted using cash. On this particular date, the teams received 42,000 UGX (14,000 UGX multiplied by three, subtracting 4,000 UGX accounting for paraffin fuel costs for engine and 8,000 UGX in ‘program’ costs (referring to cigarettes, food, and battery charging) to amount to a total of 30,000 UGX. The total profit was divided in two, with half going to the boss’s share and the other half distributed amongst the workers. Then, 15,000 UGX was divided into three, and our individual worker made 5,000 UGX. In this case, the boss and all of his workers were Alur from the DRC, and the fishmonger was Bafumbira from the southwest.

Inflow of Baganda in Runga

After the initial practice of muziri light fishing was introduced in Runga, a commercial route was established by Baganda people sent by Kampala and Jinja chicken feed factories. These representatives buy muziri at landing sites from boat owners and workers, and employ women to carry and dry muziri by basin, a practice called goiting in Alur. The dealings are always conducted using cash as payment, and cash robberies in 2005 and 2007 resulted in the murders of Baganda people. Buying muziri has thus proven to lead to some difficulties, and in an attempt to avoid further risk, the Baganda introduced lending as a means to furnish money for fishers. This Baganda system is called a credit base. First, the Baganda lend a small valuable such as paraffin, tobacco, drinks, and daily commodities to fishers. Then, they determine the price of muziri with an advantage and monopolise the workers’ muziri catch for their loan. They then bring new colleagues in one by one, and the fixed price is applied to all of them. In 2008, one fisher remarked, ‘Runga has been spoiled by muziri light fishing. The market system has changed by Baganda using new roads. They are different from other tribes. The problem is that a good market of muziri is only located in Kampala’. As a matter of fact, there exists some level of constructed mutual aid wherein fishers are supported by the Baganda who lend lamp fuel, living expenses, and even children’s school fees in exchange for fishers’ muziri catch.

Changes in Fishing  

Fishers often state that one cannot expect a good catch of muziri when the sun is shining bright in the daytime, especially during the month of July, as the fish swim deep to avoid the sunshine. Fish go up to play when the rain comes, then you can expect to get good catch like May. Previously, there was a break in the fishing season during the full moon phase, which is called ‘Luna-time’ in Runga, where fishers could take rest, repair their damaged gear, and wait for the fish to mature. Now, however, there is no such break, and fishing continues throughout all seasons. In the evening, the time of work depends on the position and movement of the moon, and fishers prepare pressure lamps to cast light. These lamps are tied onto stands made of reed, locally called ondodi  , which are folded into a triangle. The lamps are placed on the centre of the triangle , which provides stability as the flame of a pressure lamp is unstable when placed upon the water. The muziri are typically located about 6 km or further from the landing site, and workers use paddles to row out into the water. In 2002, there were few engines available, and people were required to paddle to move offshore. The height of the net in the water was 8 metres, typically using two rolls for nets. Then, in 2009, people generally used four to eight rolls, and the height of the net reached 16 m while the length of the net reached 50 metres. One fisher remarked that in order to retain workers, it was essential to give them a place to stay and food to eat, but this was becoming increasingly difficult to provide. Workers have often stated that their nets ‘never become older’, which means that workers can go to any fisher who has a good net, sufficient gear, and decent care. In the 2010s, it became difficult for fishers without engines to find workers. There are some methods to obtain an engine, such as through renting one on a monthly or daily basis or co-renting engines with other individuals. As the number of available boats increased, however, fishermen found it easier to obtain a space that allowed them to work and live on the water. Further, in 2015, fishing nets grew even bigger: fishermen were using about 10 to 15 rolls to craft muziri nets. The use of engines has become more commonplace than paddling, and some fishers without engines gave up their search for workers and sold nets and boats instead

Purchasing Strategies at Landing Sites

Immediately after landing, the purchase of muziri begins. There are mainly two groups of buyers:(1)fishmongers for chicken feed, and(2)women who are sent to process and sell muziri at the market. The prices of muziri at landing sites are actually quite negotiable. The price is influenced by the climate, the character and number of fishmongers, the quality of muziri, and so on. From the same boat, people could buy muziri at a different cost. During the rainy season, the price of muziri is lowered as drying the fish becomes more difficult since the muziri are typically dried on the ground directly under the sun. Although human consumption muziri are not dried out directly on the land 0, chicken feed muziri are dried on the ground and mixed with soil to dry faster. The price of one basin of muziri at landing site on 16th August 2018, was set at 40,000 UGX, only to be raised to 45,000 UGX on 17th of the same month. The reason for rise in cost was due to the wind, called swasi, which was blowing strongly on the night of the 16th, causing many boats to give up casting their nets in the water. The swasi occurs frequently and often causes accidents to occur on the water, and the strong gusts usually continue for a few days. On the morning of the 17th, a few boats landed and the muziri catch proved smaller than the previous day’s, causing the price to immediately go up

Fishmongers, who are mainly Baganda employed at either the Kampala or Jinja factories, occasionally employ goiting women to transport muziri from the boats to dry and refurbish their fish stock. Some women are also conducting their own businesses, which is called abicamukani in Alur. This abicamukani, literally meaning ‘where will I eat’, involves buying, processing, and carrying fish to sell at the markets in Runga, Kigorobya, Biso, and Panyimur, among others. One basin is used as the measurement and carrying method of muziri. The quantity of one basin of muziri is also adaptable according to the individual fishmonger’s measurement method. The standard measurement is about 20 kg, but the actual quantity is said to be around 25-30 kg as fishmongers are assumed to exaggerate the size. When a boat takes more time to return to the landing site, the muziri become limp and many people assume that the basins can then be packed into a basin measuring up to 30 kilograms. Other types of fish, such as the Nile perch, angara, munama, ragogi, and mangarama, are also caught during muziri fishing. People are accustomed to dividing them into half between workers and owners. The ‘Congo rule’ was gradually introduced in 2009, which states that workers have the right to most of the other fish obtained while only a few are designated for the owner, as workers are forced to fish during the night without any sleep.

The Cost of Fishing

The future of muziri light fishing is facing a higher cost than any other fishing method, for there are many items required for preparation. Prior to beginning muziri light fishing, approximately 2,000,000 UGX is necessary as a starting cost in 2018.

The Change of Lamps

Initially, people used one pressure lamp for fishing, but this number grew to two or even three in 2016, and reached four in 2017. The pressure lamp is tied on the grass to flow into the water and attract muziri from the deep water. Pressure lamps can prove to be a headache for fishermen, as they are easily turned off when placed on the water and require special care to ensure proper lighting. These lamps, although sensible, can be difficult to maintain. The maintaining cost of three pressure lamps in 2018 is 30,000 UGX. To use a pressure lamp, kerosene worth 5,000 UGX is necessary for each lamp, and it further costs 15,000 UGX for three lamps. The flaming portion of the lamp used to light the fire is called the kitambi, and this component must be changed each time the lamp is used. Ten kitambi cost 2,500 UGX in total. Further, ngom, a white clay used to stick kitambi to the head portion of the lamp, costs 1,000 UGX for a set of two. In total, at least 19,000 UGX daily is necessary to regularly use a pressure lamp. To maintain a pressure lamp, even more items are necessary.

Division of Labour  

Fishery owners typically employ three categories of people. One category is women who carry muziri from the landing site and place them on the ground to dry prior to collecting them for storage. The entire process involved in the cycle of dealing with one basin pays 1000 UGX. Women who are employed locally in Runga are called boda, which is usually a term reserved for the bike taxis in Uganda. The second category includes workers who dry the muziri on the ground using gardening tools or rakes. These workers, simply called ‘boy’ mainly accompany their bosses and are paid 100,000 UGX per month. The third category is made up of fishing workers. Owners supply all the needs for fishing such as nets, boats, an engine, and fuel. The bosses and their workers are bound to a contract setting the price of muziri per individual ndombolo during one season. In 2018, the price of muziri was between 25000 and 50,000 UGX,. The other remaining types of fish caught are reserved for workers, except for a few fish that are given to their bosses. Different from the employees of other bosses such as Alur, Mugungu, or Muganda owners, these fishers need not worry about the fuel and other cost reductions, which used to be called ‘programs’. Most workers reported that they feel better adhering to this system. Because there are many kinds of potential risks involved for all fishery workers, such as rain during the drying of muziri, lack of muziri catch caused by wind, and so on, but all of these risks are assumed by the owner or boss. According to this system, workers and women are Alur, and boys are Bafumbira; there has been no exception to this fact in both 2015 and 2016.

Other Bafumbira Businesses in 2015 and 2016 For businesses focusing on muziri reserved for chicken feed, workers buy dried muziri from the women who are abicamukani at 4,000 UGX/kg. Further, a loaned engine is also provided. There are two methods of lending engines in this regard. One is lending an engine using cash as collateral wherein engines are loaned out at a charge of 350,000 UGX, 400,000 UGX, or 500,000 UGX depending on the horsepower. Another method of loaning out engines involves the free lending of engines to mainly Alur fishers. In this system, all of the muziri caught by a fisher should be sold to the Bafumbira who loaned them the engine. The price is negotiable, and the fuel is paid by the renter. This business is called tyend (meaning ‘legs’) by the Alur. According to this system, the general price was about 14,000-15,000 UGX in 2015, but the price of tyend muziri eventually grew to about 6,000-8,000 UGX. One engine can  usually pull four boats, and the owner of the boats share the cost of fuel, which is set around 20 litres for about 10,000-15,000 UGX. Most muziri are bought by the Baganda from the Bafumbira. The price of dried muziri in 2015 was set at around 2,800 UGX/kg, and one sack was priced around 110,000-120,000 UGX depending on how tightly the fish were packed. Typically, one big sack weighing 120 kg is sold at around 300,000 UGX.

Politics of Muziri Light Fishing : Prohibition of Fishing at Night  

Although night fishing was illegal due to security purposes since the ‘Fish and Crocodile Law’ was issued in 1954, muziri light fishing was an exception to this rule until 2007. Some issues surround the fishing of muziri have been pointed out by the Fishery’s Office, and night fishing for muziri became illegal in Lake Albert. The District Fishery’s Officer  (DFO in Buliisa District insisted on halting light fishing based on a scientific view in 2007 at a meeting in Hoima. His reasoning was that some species of fish are affected by the light illuminating the water during the night. He also warned that Lake Albert’s entire ecosystem will collapse if the muziri species dwindles, which he argued is possible as the nets are getting bigger and more people are entering into muziri light fishing without any phases reserved for non-fishing. This, he argued, could affect the food chain system. However, the commissioner of Hoima suggested softening the law according to the social economic perspective as people at the landing sites depend on muziri light fishing for survival. According to his view, politicians should stand against the law of prohibiting light fishing until people can find alternative subsistence. He also added that prohibiting light fishing should be done on a regional level as well as at the district level. Until now, this decision prevailed and light fishing was allowed in landing sites.

Reverting Back to Pressure Lamps  

As previously mentioned, people have been shifting to use the new LED lamps and fewer fishers use pressure lamps due to easier usage and lower costs. However, an announcement of the minister in Hoima was informed by the Assistant Fishery’s Officer (AFO) on the 13th of January 2015 prohibiting the use of the new LED lamp and forcing people to go back to using the pressure lamp. The Assistant Fishery’s Officer (AFO) gave a lecture on the necessity to changing back to using the pressure lamp from the new LED lamp based on scientific reasons, using many technical words to describe that the LED light, reaching deep into the water, can leak battery acid which can contaminate the water and affect the fish. The BMU of Runga notified the announcement to fishers in February of 2015. People could hardly understand this as they recalled the AFO previously telling them that the new LED lamp was in fact better than the pressure lamp as it does not involve the use of paraffin in the water. People thus questioned whether the paraffin used in pressure lamps would contaminate the water and adversely affect the fish. In addition, some assumed that many who were in the business of selling paraffin now had no market, and due to this suspicion, many went to parliament to complain. Shortly thereafter, the Fishery’s Office redacted the decision and forced fishermen to go back to using the pressure lamp for using paraffin. Regarding this rule, I will reveal some fishers’ opinions, as follows.

The government program is different from local people’s will. The government thinks that the lake is government property, then any time they can just come up with the law and there is no negotiation. At this time, it is the same. They just announce the new rule. But it is difficult to buy a new lamp and no one buys the older one.

People can’t fish with pressure lamps now. If the government forces people to use it, people will give up fishing, as buying paraffin and keeping spares make the people poor.

The situation has never changed in Runga landing sites since the time when fishers’ nets were burnt in 2002 and 2003 to enforce muziri light fishing. The local people are always affected by such governmental policy.

Tax Shifts  

The FMP is a significant issue; the fee has been set at 30 UGX/kg for dried fish and 20 UGX/kg for fresh fish since its introduction in 2003. For example, with the FMP, muziri with sand estimated at 100 kg results in an FMP of 2,000 UGX, and muziri for human consumption estimated at 50 kg results in an FMP totaling 1,000 UGX. In late 2014, the Fishery’s Office attempted to change the FMP to 10% for fresh fish and 20% for dried fish. With this new FMP, it is assumed that 50 kg of muziri should result in an FMP cost of 5,000 UGX. However, this has not yet been applied to any landing sites because it is necessary to obtain permission from the local government such as through sub-counties and the Local Government Council. Moreover, the collection of FMPs ceased from the beginning of 2016 to August 2016 by the NRM party’s movement for the presidential election. In addition, user fees have been introduced since 2012. Each boat is supposed to pay 50,000 UGX for fishing each year. The BMU is supposed to collect this money. The reasoning behind introducing a user fee is based upon the fact that other taxes collected in landing sites go to headquarters in Entebbe and are never returned to the district. To alleviate this issue, the district introduced the user fee and 25% of users’ fees were returned to the landing sites. To illustrate the success of this fee, 2.5 million UGX were brought back to Runga landing sites in 2014, and the BMU could build its own office as a result.

Closing Remarks  

This article described the life world of a fishing village on the shores of Lake Albert from the view of their subsistence. The lives of fishers, workers, and fishmongers are affected by the politics of government, and these groups try to improve upon their lives utilizing individual strategies. Fishers often stated that their personal character is constructed by their livelihood. One day, they spent 40 litres of fuel to fish and got nothing, but another day when they gained a good catch, they forget everything about how much they spent and the fact that they had just recently experienced a poor catch. The people from the DRC use the word kikwere to describe the expression, ‘no fish and no life’. For survival, they use marafuku. Runga is greatly associated with revenue collection, and in this area, there is merely a government school, while there are no dispensaries or proper markers, among other issues. Some people say that Runga seems like a refugee camp, as 80% of people are from outside other areas and the ‘UNHCR should register us’. When the Albertine Watchdog asked one fisher why people come to stay here for fishing, he answered, ‘Here is our Kampala’. This sentence can serve as an answer as to why the people of Runga keep moving and shifting, not only according to location, but also in their life strategies.

 

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