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Armed poachers terrorise Lake Kariba fishers



ZIMBABWEAN players in the fishing industry in Kariba have stepped up efforts for a holistic approach to curb over-fishing and poaching in the world’s largest man-made lake, investigations have revealed.


They say practical steps must be taken to curb over-fishing and poaching that has resulted in international crimes within southern Africa.

An investigation sponsored by the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe on transnational crimes published by The NewsHawks revealed massive over-fishing in the lake, culminating in reduced catches and an escalation in clashes between Zimbabwean and Zambian fishers.

Players want the Zimbabwe National Parks and Management Authority (ZimParks) to allow independent conservationists to help in monitoring the lake ecology.

Binga Fisheries Association chairperson Givemore Gwafa revealed that law-abiding fishers are being subjected to daily raids by armed poachers.

Last week on Friday, a team of fishermen was raided by armed poachers and lost everything including kapenta fish, salt, clothes, and boat batteries, among other possessions.

‘‘One of our boats was raided last night (Friday) in Sengwa. The armed poachers took away kapenta,  both dry and wet, along the  Zambezi River,’’ said Gwafa in a written response.

He said fishers are now living in fear from the armed robbers.

‘‘Occasionally, I receive distress messages from our fishermen around Zinyama, Kudu, Kasatse and Sikipa Island where kapenta rigs are forcibly taken by suspected Zambian fishermen. The Zambians’ kapenta rigs and gillnetters are crossing into the Zimbabwean side, day and night, poaching fish and kapenta. They do so with impunity,’’ added Gwafa.

He called on ZimParks to engage other players to help curb poaching and armed night raids targeting local fishers by Zambians.

The targeted areas are Sengwe area, situated about 50 kilometres west of Binga business centre, while Kudu is a further 70km.

Other areas are Zinyama, which is 60 kilometres away and Kasatse about 75km and Sikipa which is the furthest about 100km away.

‘‘We call upon the engagement of non-government anti-poaching that can assist in conservation measures, including advocacy, to curb poaching. ZimParks stopped them, demanding a memorandum of understanding (MoU). We are appealing to the authority and pushing for the approval of such MoUs as they work better than parks officers suspected of getting payment as facilitation fees into the lake to suspected poachers.

‘‘There is a lot of deep water corruption by ZimParks officials who may be part of the scandal,’’ charged Gwafa.

He added that fishing associations should be given MoUs to assist in conservation activities.

‘‘We have a grassroots membership that can listen to us and it can help as part of a holistic approach to curb poaching and overfishing,’’ added Gwafa.

He charged that Zambian authorities have not been forthcoming to help out with such joint operations.

According to sources, there is a plan plans by Zimbabwean security agencies for a round table meeting that may help ease the armed robbery scourge along Zambezi Valley.

‘‘We are planning on suspected armed Zambians robbers that are targeting fish and kapenta rigs. We need to engage all rig owners or representatives in the Sengwa basin and other areas to work together and arrest the Zambians,’’ said a source, speaking on condition that he is not named.

Another victim, Clever Mutondohori of Cledga Enterprises, that operates Maruva Fisheries, confirmed a recent armed raid by suspected Zambians.

‘‘My boats were fishing in basin 3 Chibuyu-Makuyu area in the Zambezi River during the night of 16 September 2023. The fishermen were attacked by a group of more than four armed male adults. The guys took dry and wet kapenta. The gang took fishermen’s clothes, all the food, diesel, salt, engine and some spares. They even went further to take fuel, salt and anything they could put their hands on. The raiders went on to beat the fishermen and they were left nursing wounds from the beatings,’’ said Mutondohori in a written response.

Mutondohori has fallen victim to such raids since 2015.

‘‘This is the second time it has happened to me but in a very long time. My team was attacked in October 2015. We call upon responsible authorities to help out,’’ he added.

However, he is grateful how the media has exposed the criminality.

‘‘On behalf of other fishermen we are grateful for putting our plight to the public and government so that they understand the struggles that fisheries and fishermen go through in this trade where we make a living for our families,’’ he added.

ZimParks spokesperson Tinashe Farawo admitted that there were concerns of over-fishing on the lake.

He was quick to dispel accusations implicating ZimParks officials in corruption fueling over-fishing.

‘‘As ZimParks we have challenged those making allegations that ZimParks officers are corrupt to bring evidence rather than making wild allegations without substance at all. On our part, we have regular inspections,’’ said Farawo in a telephone interview.

He said efforts are afoot to ensure that all fishing rigs operating on the lake are registered as required by responsible practice.

‘‘We are making regular inspections of how many rigs are registered that are operating as required scientifically. The move is aimed at reducing over-fishing in some parts of Lake Kariba that has become a serious issue of concern,’’ said Farawo in a telephone interview.

Late last month, ZimParks officials were deployed on Lake Kariba where they patrolled the various basins.

The Zambezi River has five basins. Basin1 to 3 are located within Binga and 4 to 5 are under Kariba.

Farawo added the inspection is an ongoing process.

‘‘We will continue with regular inspections and involve all stakeholders locally and regionally so that we maintain better standards as required globally under Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) guidelines of sustainable development on fisheries,’’ said Farawo.

A report by The Convention on Transnational Organised Crime published in 2000 says “transnational crime” is committed in more than one state, but part of its preparation, planning, direction, or control takes place in another state, and is committed in another country.

Lake Kariba is situated in the north-eastern section of Zimbabwe, on the border with Zambia along the Zambezi River.

It measures over 200km and is downstream of the mighty Victoria Falls.

The problem of over-fishing has persisted for many years, and is well documented.

For example, a Kapenta rig survey of the Zambian waters of Lake Kariba conducted by Guy Paulet on behalf of the UN’s FAO and the Indian Ocean Commission in 2014 showed massive over-fishing on the Zambian side.

“This survey revealed the huge extent of overfishing of kapenta that is occurring on the Zambian side of Lake Kariba and the rate at which this problem is expanding,” the report reads.

“It can be confidently reported that there are at least 950 boats but more likely over
1 000 on the Zambian side of Lake Kariba. This is four times the number of vessels estimated to keep fishing at the original maximum sustainable yield.

“Rapid action is required to prevent further collapse of the kapenta fishing industry and it is therefore important to highlight the lack of enforcement and the lack of resources within Local Government and DOF (Department of Fisheries) to police these waters. This lack of enforcement is identified to be one of the leading problems. The DOF does not appear to have any record of the number of rigs registered legally on the lake,” reads the survey.

The problem is not limited to the Zambian side. A 2012 report titled Bio Economic Analysis of the Kapenta Fisheries Lake Kariba — Zimbabwe & Zambia commissioned by the FAO and Indian Ocean Commission revealed that catches per unit were decreasing on both sides of the lake, compared to the 1980s and 1990s, because of over-fishing.  

Other than a large number of licensed operators, unlicensed operators were also found in both Zimbabwe and Zambian waters.

“The fishing capacities in the Kapenta fishery have greatly increased since the early 2000s, from approximately 600 rigs allowed on the lake in 1999 to 1 098 in 2012 (5th Technical Consultation Meeting, 2012). There are also an unknown number of unregistered and unlicensed rigs (illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing),” the report reads.

“. . . The harvesting systems and the technical productivity of fleets in the two countries are relatively homogeneous. Catches per unit of effort have fallen by 35 to 50 percent since 2005;
“Qualitative indicators based on the situation of fishing enterprises show that the kapenta fishery is overfished and revenue from resources is widely dissipated.”

Zambian permanent secretary in the ministry of Livestock and Fisheries Anna Songolo confirmed that Lake Kariba has not been spared the global over-fishing trend due increased demand for fish and human population.

‘‘Additionally, most of the fishing riparian communities have limited opportunities for alternative livelihoods hence the dependency on fisheries resources that leads to over-fishing. Those that are over-fishing are the local citizens in need of incomes and livelihoods for their families from a readily available open-access resource,’’ she said in a written response.

‘‘It is possible that some fishers may stray into Zimbabwean waters just like some fishers from Zimbabwe find themselves drifting or fishing in the Zambian waters. Whenever such illegal acts occur the authorities respond appropriately based on the law that has been violated. It should however, be noted that some of these infringements border on immigration laws and the ministry of Fisheries and Livestock may not have the legal mandate or jurisdiction to enforce immigration laws. Zambia and Zimbabwe have in place a Joint Permanent Commissions (JPC) as a platform to address some of these issues affecting the shared common border such as defense and security, immigration and fisheries among others.

‘‘Therefore, this is where collaboration and exchange of information on matters affecting different aspects on the shared common border are discussed and addressed. Additionally, the two authorities responsible for the management of fisheries resources of Lake Kariba have in place a Technical Management Committees that meet regularly to discuss and review progress on matters pertaining to the management of fisheries resources of Lake Kariba. It considers fisheries and aquaculture research and extension activities and collaborative resource management where fishers and other stakeholders are involved,’’ she added.

Songolo said efforts are underway to curb overfishing.

‘‘Our ministry continues to engage and sensitise communities and various stakeholders on aspects pertaining to over-fishing and use of unsustainable fishing practices through surveillance and enforcement patrols to ensure compliance to the prescribed legal provisions pertaining to sustainable fishing. Promotion of identified alternative livelihoods in riparian fishing communities,’’ she added.

Both Zimbabwe and Zambia subscribe to the FAO’s code of conduct on responsible fishing and management of trans-boundary fisheries resources such as those on Lake Kariba.

‘‘Zambia is also a signatory to the Sadc protocol on fisheries that also prescribes the minimum standards that member states should adhere to with regards the management and development of fisheries and aquaculture within the Sadc region,’’ she said.

Songolo further explained that one of the immediate ecological impacts of over-fishing on the aquatic environment is the disappearance of some sensitive species that are being heavily and unsustainably exploited.

“This can ultimately result in change in species composition and/or displacement from their niches or habitats. This may result in the emergence of new aquatic species (flora and fauna) that could not previously thrive due to the predator-prey relationship that usually exists in these aquatic environments/systems.  Further, this can also lead to loss of biodiversity as a resulted of reduced populations of some species or total loss. Livelihoods of communities that depend on these resources would also be negatively impacted by loss of incomes and food and nutrition, ‘ she said.

Environment minister Mangaliso Ndlovu is on record as saying efforts are underway to curb over-fishing through empowering communities around Lake Kariba.

‘‘Over-fishing can be halted if communities are empowered to look after nature, including fisheries. Zimbabwe is working towards implementation of the Lake Kariba Inshore Fisheries Management Plan that was done through assistance between the Zimbabwe government and the FAO for Enhancing Community Resilience and Sustainable small-scale fisheries,’’ Ndlovu said.

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