WHAT’S CHOKING LAKE KARIBA?

In the previous instalment Laiton Kandawire looked at overfishing and how fisheries authorities in both Zimbabwe and Zambia agreed to impose a Full Moon non-fishing ban of at least seven days to combat the scourge. The results, at least in the first two years of implementation, have been insignificant, though the authorities are hopeful that the little gained will spur further gains in the near future and wish to continue with the fishing ban. The Patsaka Nyaminyami Community Radio Environmental Series continues to probe factors that are negatively affecting Lake Kariba’s biodiversity and the fishing sector.

Siavonga-based Zambian journalist, Oliver Samboko, co-writes this piece to offer insightful commentary on the situation subsisting on the Zambian side of Lake Kariba and the way Zambians view this shared resource.
You have most likely read that Zimbabwe is embarking on Command Fisheries, a follow-up programme after what has been controversially claimed as a hugely successful trial with Special Maize Programme for Import Substitution – commonly referred to as Command Agriculture. We term it controversial because members of the same government, notably Professor Jonathan Moyo and Vice President Mphoko, have maligned the programme, with Prof Moyo cynically describing it as “Ugly Culture”. Command Fisheries is yet to be implemented so we cannot comment on how it will stabilise, improve or worsen the situation currently subsisting on Lake Kariba.

Overfishing, which was discussed in our last instalment, is closely related to poaching. Whilst overfishing could happen within the confines of the law, poaching implies harvesting fish resources without the necessary permits, fishing in undesignated and prohibited breeding areas and using un-recommended methods (like poisoning) and equipment (like twine nests). Combined with unsustainable harvesting methods of overfishing, poaching can lead to depletion of resources.

On Lake Kariba, poaching is made worse by rogue Parks officials who work in cahoots with fishing operations, advising them of “safe” nights when there would be no night patrols or even accepting bribes when they intercept poachers. The fine of US$2,200.00 imposed on licensed operations for fishing in undesignated areas is prohibitive enough, but rogue Parks officials impose their own lower fines and release poachers to poach again on other days. Some are known to collect bags of kapenta from these poaching operators. It is quite lucrative for individual Parks officers and they are thriving whilst the organisation suffers. So does the country. So does tourism which relies heavily on wildlife resources.

Whilst figures of arrests and successfully prosecuted poaching cases were not readily accessed on the Zimbabwean side, it has been established that in 2016 over 242 Zambian fishermen were arrested for poaching and use of wrong or prohibited fishing methods, including explosives.

The use of mosquito nets and chemicals such as Tephlozia Vogeli (locally known as “Ububa” on the Zambian shoreline) to catch fish is proving to be detrimental to the growth of the fishing industry. There is urgent need for both Zimbabwean and Zambian lawmakers to enact laws that outlaw and provide stiffer penalties for unorthodox fishing methods if the fisheries sectors in both countries are to flourish.

Communities living along the shores of Lake Kariba need to be sensitized about safeguarding their resources from poachers. For example, chemicals used to kill fish do not only kill fish but also wipe out a host of other micro and macro organisms in the water body, thereby adversely altering the ecosystem. This has long term consequences.
Law enforcement on both the Zambian and Zimbabwean sides need to be increased in order to rescue the situation.
The Deputy Tourism and Hospitality Industry minister, Anastancia Ndlovu, at the launch of the Zimbabwe Parliamentary Conservation in Harare recently, termed it “biodiversity terrorism”. We believe it should be viewed in that light in order to beget the appropriate governmental response.

There is also need for both Zambian and Zimbabwean authorities to research more on the negative effects of chemicals used by aquaculture companies on Lake Kariba in order to safeguard indigenous fish species which are being wiped out. Another area to be debated is the question of whether or not it is ethical to reverse the sex of fish fingerlings for profit motive alone.

Lake Kariba supplies 60 -70% of Zimbabwe’s fish requirements. Its importance to national food security and nutrition cannot be overemphasised. Fish forms part of a healthy diet and it is not surprising that the world’s great fish eating nations are also among the healthiest. Known benefits of eating fish include reduced risk of cardiac death and strokes, depression and improves neurological development in unborn babies.
According to a research paper by the World Food Programme (WFP) titled Fisheries in Zambia: An Undervalue Contributor Eradication, the fisheries sector contributes significantly to the economy and wellbeing of the people around Lake Kariba.

To bring this into perspective, Patrick Ngalande, a Director in Zambia’s Ministry of Fisheries, speaking at the launch of a fish stock feed factory in Siavonga last month, revealed that Zambia has a deficit of 70,000 tons of fish per year. Efforts to close this gap are hampered by poaching, among other issues.
Fishermen and operators on Lake Kariba who engage in fish poaching should know that they are contributing to the depletion of the resource and might, sooner rather than later, have to find other means to sustain their families.
In the next instalment of this series we are going to look at the effect of climate change on the Lake Kariba fishery.

By Laiton Kandawire and Oliver Samboko

Patsaka Correspondents

Fish poachers on Lake Kariba harvesting their catch