In a remarkable development for Uganda's fisheries sector, stakeholders along the fish value chain can now access comprehensive real-time fisheries data from Lake Albert and Lake Victoria. This game-changing access is made possible through a mobile app called the electronic Catch Assessment Survey (e-CAS). By utilising this app, lake management officials, researchers, policymakers, and others can effectively make well-informed decisions to manage fisheries.
The e-CAS app simplifies data collection by engaging trained data collectors who collaborate with fishers to update the app seamlessly. Valuable information such as fish catch quantity, fishing nets and boat types, and projected earnings can be easily recorded. The system can accommodate extensive data sets, including fisheries surveys, aquaculture, socio-economics, and marketing. By harnessing this technology, Uganda's fisheries can be developed sustainably, fostering wealth creation, employment opportunities, and food security.
It was a tiresome job.
Before the e-CAS app's introduction, data collection from fishers relied on cumbersome paper-based surveys. It was a time-consuming task that often took weeks before official agents could compile the information. Ocakacon Muhammed, a trained data collector based at Lake Albert, explains, "Before the app, we used papers to ask questions to the fishers. It was a tiresome job because it took a lot of time and could take weeks before an official agent would collect the files."
This archaic system often led to inaccuracies in data. Peter Enyou, an enumerator at the Kikondo landing site on Lake Victoria, highlights the problem, stating, "With the paper system, someone could just sit at home and guess where a boat had been and what fish were caught, but with the e-CAS technology and GPS coordinates, even the head office in the city knows where the boats are, so enumerators cannot make it up."
Since its implementation, the e-CAS system has consolidated over 12,000 data records, providing a centralised and easily accessible repository of vital fisheries information. Patrick Bwire, the systems administrator at the National Fisheries Resources Research Institute (NaFIRRI), explains the significance, stating, "Previously, it would take two days to assess the boats and fish physically landed to estimate fish stocks. Moreover, the manual approach incurred an annual cost of around Ugandan Shillings 400 million (USD 106,340) for the government. With e-CAS, the cost has been reduced to approximately Ugandan Shillings 80 million (USD 21,270)."
The successful development of the e-CAS app began in 2021 through collaboration between NaFIRRI and regional research institutes in Tanzania and Kenya under the coordination of the Lake Victoria Fisheries Organization (LVFO). Recognising the app's potential, the NutriFish project in Uganda, funded by the International Development Research Centre, Canada, and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, adopted and tailored e-CAS to suit the local context.
Jackson Efitre of the NutriFish project explains, "e-CAS was piloted at six landing sites on Lake Albert under NutriFish and later expanded to three landing sites on Lake Victoria in 2022." The customised app has proved instrumental in real-time data capture, analysis, and timely reporting, leading to improved fisheries management, sustainable fish catch monitoring, informed licensing of new boats and fishers, and increased availability of fish for local food security.
e-CAS allows us to determine if the lake is being overfished.
The implementation of e-CAS has also significantly contributed to the preservation of fish stocks in the lakes. Bwire emphasises its importance: "e-CAS allows us to determine if the lake is being overfished. For example, if one boat used to catch 10 kilograms of fish, and now there are five boats catching only 3 kilograms each, it indicates overfishing. In such cases, the fishers can be relocated to other areas."
Additionally, lake managers can instantly access data on the value of fish landed and estimate revenue at specific landing sites, enabling more informed decision-making for effectively enforcing fishing regulations.
The comprehensive data collected through e-CAS includes crucial details such as boat types, gear sizes, working days of fishers, and specific fish species landed. Basooma elaborates, "We want to know the type of boat, the gear size that was used, if it is a small seine net [a net that hangs vertically], 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 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."
These figures provide essential insights for researchers and government bodies, such as the Directorate of Fisheries Resources and the Fisheries Protection Unit, to accurately evaluate the fishing industry's value and assess potential overfishing in the lakes.
Building on its success, NaFIRRI and the Directorate of Fisheries Resources plan to expand the e-CAS system to cover all Ugandan lakes. Moreover, as the LVFO partnership has already established the technology in Tanzania and Uganda, it will be easier for other countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, which shares Lake Albert with Uganda, to adopt this transformative technology.