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Battle for lake dominance as Zim, Zambia’s fishermen tension rises



TENSION is escalating on Lake Kariba between Zimbabwean and Zambian fishermen due to overfishing which has persisted over many years, culminating in the depletion of fish in the world’s largest man-made dam.


In interviews, fishermen in Binga, as well as government officials in Zimbabwe and Zambia revealed clashes between fishermen amid counter accusations of straying into foreign waters.

This news article, supported by the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ), is part of an investigation on transnational crimes.

Binga fishermen alleged they were being subjected to crimes including armed raids.
Zambian authorities also say Zimbabwean fishermen are in the habit of trespassing onto their territorial waters in pursuit of fish.

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 200 kilometres and is downstream of the mighty Victoria Falls.

There are five fishing basins along Lake Kariba. Basins one to three are in Binga while basins four and five are in Kariba.

Binga is situated about 438 kilometres from Bulawayo.

The problem of overfishing has been occurring over 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 Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and 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 the 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 do 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 overfishing.  

Other than a large number of licensed operators, unlicensed operators were also found in both Zimbabwean 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.”

Binga Kapenta Association chairperson Givemore Gwafa expressed concern over “under-reported and illegal poaching scandals ruining the membership’s livelihoods”.

The association was formed in 2019 with a membership of 46 who are witnessing water crimes.

‘‘The local fishermen are not happy. They struggle to ward off Zambian poachers committing night raids along the river. We are appealing for protection from our government and other authorities over this abuse and crimes,’’ a visibly angry Gwafa said, during a visit by this reporter last Saturday.

Gwafa said fishermen’s night errands in the lake were no longer safe.

‘‘Most of our members are losing out as the Zambian poachers target them after their catches.

They take everything including kapenta, salt and trays.

‘‘They cross into Zimbabwe and they raid fishermen using speed boats. Some of the poachers will be armed and at times fishermen will let it go than be killed,’’ he explained.

Gwafa said fishermen had reported the raids to Binga police on several occasions, but no action has been taken.

Matabeleland North police spokesperson Inspector Glory Banda declined to comment.

On Tuesday he said he was out of office. Subsequent efforts to get a comment from him were unsuccessful.

The Zambian poachers’ hotspots include some breeding zones at Sengwe River situated about 50 kilometres south-east of Binga, Liizilukulu River (another 70 kilometres away) and Sengwa River, a further 100 kilometres away.

Gwafa expressed concern over overfishing, which had resulted in a depletion of resources on Lake Kariba.

He recommended that both countries enforce annual closures during the breeding period.
‘‘We must have regular and increased anti-poaching programmes along Lake Kariba to enhance production,’’ said Gwafa.

‘‘There is a need for the government to put barricades or cables in rivers that stop boats driving in but now it will affect some local, regional and international tourists that visit Binga as an attraction.’’

Kariba Urban Residents Association chairperson Tapiwa Tawonameso blamed the two countries’ governments for failing to manage fishing on the lake.

‘‘The oversubscribing of fishing rigs in the lake has far-reaching negative effects on socio-economic growth of the once-viable fishing industry,’’ said
Tawonameso in a telephone interview.

‘‘Arrested suspects in breeding zones must get stiffer penalties or imprisonment to deter others from engaging in these crimes.’’

Kariba Incorporated Residents and Ratepayers Association chairperson Sam Mawawo blamed the 2000 land reform implemented in the lake where Zimbabwe exceeded its 275 licence mark issued by the Zimbabwe National Parks Authority (ZimParks), mandated to licence fishing rigs and inland vessels along Lake Kariba.

‘‘Zimbabwe has more than 500 licenced fishing rigs after the black empowerment drive in 2000. This has negative effects on fisheries habitat and overfishing from both nationals,’’ said Mawawo.

ZimParks spokesperson Tinashe Farawo however denied the allegations of overfishing on Lake Kariba.

‘‘ZimParks has trained ecologists who monitor breeding zones and they are well versed with what happens on the lake. We will not allow anyone to abuse nature including animals, fish and anything within our scope, come what may. We remain principled that our sound policies of living in harmony with nature remain part of our mandate. The fishing industry will strive as we want business-minded people to be part of the future,” said Farawo in a written response.

He said both countries are maintaining the agreement under a 1999 protocol increasing patrols on the lake and promoting better production of kapenta fish.

The permanent secretary in Zambia’s ministry of Livestock and Fisheries, Anna Songolo, confirmed that Lake Kariba has not been spared the global overfishing trend due to increased demand for fish amid a growing human population.

‘‘Additionally, most of the fishing riparian communities have limited opportunities for alternative livelihoods, hence the dependency on fisheries resources that leads to overfishing. 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.

According to Songolo, the fishing sector is not immune to challenges.

‘‘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 defence 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 Committee that meets 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 overfishing and use of unsustainable fishing practices through surveillance and enforcement patrols to ensure compliance with 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 for 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, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality minister Mangaliso Ndlovu said efforts are underway to curb overfishing through empowered communities around Lake Kariba.

‘‘Overfishing 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.

But Tawonameso said the governments of both countries should walk the talk.

“Both governments must act over depleting fish in Lake Kariba. We call upon Zimbabwe and Zambia authorities to increase patrols along the river. Our economy is affected by overfishing in Lake Kariba,’’ said Tawonameso.

Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing remains one of the greatest threats to marine ecosystems due to its potent ability to undermine national and regional efforts to conserve and manage fish stocks, inhibiting progress towards the attainment of long-term sustainability.

Globally, aquatic foods provide about 17% of animal protein, reaching over 50% in several countries in Asia and Africa where an estimated 58.5 million people in primary production alone are employed where at least 21% are women.

According to The State of World Aquaculture and Fisheries report published in 2022, overfishing is .defined as “stock abundance fished to below the level that produces maximum sustainable yield (MSY)” that causes negative impacts on biodiversity and the ecosystem, reduces fisheries production, leading to negative social and economic consequences.

‘‘Many developing countries, in particular low-income countries, face great challenges to achieve their national aspirations of aquaculture development in support of national food production to feed and create jobs for their growing populations,’’ says the report.

According to Eco Redux that shares environmentally friendly ideas on climate change and encourages a greener future, overfishing drives environmental destruction, as each species plays a vital role in maintaining its habitat’s health.

‘‘Specific species are often targeted in the fishing industry concerning what consumers want, leaving many environments depleted of a vital food chain member,’’ says the organisation on its website.It further says the environment is affected by overfishing, resulting in the depletion of marine, leading to ecosystem collapse. 

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