The purpose of the research was to determine economic returns for the different commercial fish species enterprises on Lakes Albert, Kyoga and Victoria and develop strategies for enhancing profitability and market access, aimed at improving incomes of fishers. The methodology involved secondary data review, focusing on past fisheries frame, catch assessment and socio-economic surveys and a sample survey of fishers conducted at 20 landing sites covering 587 respondents. the key profitability indices, namely gross annual profits, break-even points and pay-back periods were computed for the commercial species of the water bodies. The main market destinations and characteristics were also identified and transaction costs determined.
Net profit is a measure of the profitability of an enterprise after accounting for all costs. It is the money left over after paying all the expenses of the fishing business. Break-even point is the level of catch a fisher needs to achieve for costs and revenues to be equal, resulting in neither loss or gain for the fishing unit. Pay-back period refers to the period of time required for the return on an investment to "repay" the sum of the original investment. All else being equal, shorter payback periods are preferable to longer payback periods.
2. Results and discussion
2.1 Characteristics of fishers
The results revealed that there was gender disparity in the fisheries, with 85.6% and 14.4% of the boat owners being males and females respectively, implying inequitable distribution of earnings from fisheries. Most respondents had attained incomplete primary level education (46.8%), followed by incomplete secondary education (22.2%), a condition which would limiit their capacity to adopt improved resource management practices and productivity technologies.
2.2 Fish production costs
The average number of days fished per week was 5, giving an average of 260 fishing days in a year. The number of days fished for mukene on Kyoga and Victoria and B. nurse/ N. bredoi on Albert was about half of this, as fishing the species during full moon was not considered paying. Most respondents targeted B. nurse/ N. bredoi (48.2%), tilapia (56.8%) and Nile perch (43.1%) on Albert, Kyoga and Victoria respectively.
The main type of boat used on Albert was the Congo barque, on Kyoga the ssese and “parachute” and on Victoria, mostly the ssese with a few parachute. Average costs of boats were Shs 636,336; 823,000 and 277,280 for Congo barque, ssese and parachute respectively. The life spans for the above boat types were 3.1, 4.2 and 3.3 years respectively.
The respondents who fished with outboard engines were 21.1%, mostly found on Albert and Victoria, using outboard engines of less than 10 HP, of average cost of Shs 3,636,208, with average life time of 10 years.
Labour was the highest cost item in fish production, incurred in fishing, gear preparation and splitting fish. Annual labour costs per boat were highest for Nile perch (Shs 16,623,418), followed by tilapia (Shs 11,920,497).
Of the different gear types in use, the most common legal types were the multifilament gill nets of legal mesh sizes and mukene seine nets. On average, respondents used 72 gill nets per boat, with a unit value of Shs 50,817. For mukene seine nets, the average number of units used was 1.4, valued at Shs 459,173 per unit. Annual expenditures on gear were highest for B. nurse/ N. bredoi (Shs 1,617,553) and mukene (Shs 1,018,814) per boat while for Nile perch it was Shs 467,987.
Other costs included the small implements, namely oars, floats, sinkers and anchors. For light fishing, lanterns, paraffin, basins and drying racks are used. Operational expenses included food, polythene sheets, charcoal, blankets and cigarettes. The proportions of the cost items indicated that the highest were labour (50%) and crew expenses (32%). Overall, annual total costs per boat were highest for Nile perch (Shs 25,016,983), followed by mukene (Shs 21,129,148).
2.3 Sales revenues
Revenues were determined by the catches and fish prices. On average, Nile perch average daily catches per boat were 24.7 and 89.2 kgs for low and high catch seasons respectively. Its average prices were Shs 6,094 and 4,764 per kg during low and high catch seasons respectively. Low catch seasons lasted on average for 8 months in a year. Overall, annual total revenues per boat were highest for B. nurse/ N. bredoi (Shs 92,342,467), followed by Hydrocynus (Shs 72,063,160).
2.4 Profitability indices
Based on annual total cost and revenue data, the highest annual gross profits before taxation were for B. nurse/ N. bredoi (Shs 77,487,687), followed by Hydrocynus (Shs 61,337,783). The annual profits for Nile perch, tilapia and mukene were Shs 38,434,631, 11,327,840 and 36,846,693 respectively.
Break even points for Nile perch and tilapia was 4.6 tonnes per year, mukene 1,091 basins and B. nurse/ N. bredoi 1,427 basins.
Pay back periods were for Nile perch 1.3 months, tilapia 7.0 months, mukene 0.8 months and B. nurse/ N. bredoi 0.2 months. The pay back periods were low because as shown above, investments were not the main cost items in fish production but labour, which is not included in pay back period computations.
The factors respondents considered most import for profitability of their business were high fish demand (89.1%), effective enforcement of fisheries regulations (67.3%) and access to input supply (65.9%). Access to refrigerated trucks/ boats and access to credit were not considered so important (30.1%).
2.5 Market access
With respect to access to market, the main buyers of fish were local traders (55.6%), direct consumers (21.1%) and factory agent/industrial processors (12.8%). The fishers sold mostly at their beach markets (83.5%) and in other districts (10.0%). Respondents’ most commonly used means of transport for fish were boats (31.6%) and hired trucks (27.5%). The main market destinations for Albert were Panyimur and Kampala, for Kyoga were Soroti and Gulu and for Victoria were Kampala and Jinja.
On average, respondents made 2.1 trips to the market per week, covering a distance of 3.6 km to the main markets and incurring annual transaction costs of Shs million 8.4 and 3.6 on transport and Fish Movement Permit charges respectively.
3. Conclusions and recommendations
Fishers have a chance to achieve high income levels compared to other rural producers in the economy. However, to compensate for declining stocks and catches especially of Nile perch and tilapia, they have to apply a combination of high price markets and high value products. Stable stocks of the small pelagics are also opportunities for high incomes but fishers should guard against high cost production and economic as well as physical post-harvest losses, triggered mainly by weather variations. They should operate in groups to minimize their costs by purchasing gear in bulk and hiring transport to markets jointly. Through the groups, they would also be given training in business management to improve their decision making.