Protect Lake Kariba's Kapenta Fish!

by Ignatius Banda / IPS, 12 January 2011

Binga, Zimbabwe — "The fish are disappearing." The words and the world-weary gaze could belong to a fisherman from almost anywhere, as stocks come under pressure due to over-exploitation all over the world.

Tjilo Tjilo is a 67-year-old veteran from the Zimbabwean town of Binga, on the banks of the Zambezi River. He has spent a lifetime fishing for species such as bream and the two varieties of freshwater sardine known locally as kapenta fish. Dried or smoked, these small pungent fish are an important and affordable source of protein throughout the region.

As the sun sets, Tjilo joins a group of men he has known for decades near the shore for another night's work: kapenta are typically caught with the aid of a bright light to attract schools of fish close to the surface where they can be caught with a large net.


"The fish are disappearing," he says, softening newsprint between his fingers to roll a rough cigarette - part dirty pleasure, part defence against the mosquitoes.

"While we have embarked over the years in breeding fish as part of our efforts to make sure that we survive the threat of overfishing, foreigners are crossing into our waters and we are concerned about our future."

The Zambezi flows through six countries en route from its Zambian headwaters to where it enters the Indian Ocean in Mozambique. Binga is on the southeastern shore of Lake Kariba, the immense man-made lake created when the river was dammed in 1959; the village was built to re-settle Tonga whose land was submerged by the Kariba reservoir.

The foreigners that Tjilo Tjilo and his fellows speak of are fishing crews from the Zambian side of the Lake, who the men from Binga say pursue kapenta in particular into Zimbabwean waters in powerful boats. There is a ready market for the fish in towns all around the lake and in cities as far away as Bulawayo and the fishery is a major employer on both sides of the border.

Regulation of the fishing fleet is a problem. Johann Jordan, director of Zambian commercial fishing company Maaze Holdings, was among those raising the alarm in 2010.

Jordan told the Lusaka Times Zambian authorities had issued more than 700 licences, but he believed at least 1,000 boats were fishing the lake. "There is no control in the kapenta industry, people are fishing any in the breeding areas and there are no road blocks to curb the theft," he said.

Over in Binga, the fishermen say that for many years they have been breeding kapenta, bream and tiger fish to bolster stocks. Their efforts will this year receive a boost following the declaration of the Zimbabwean side of the mid-Zambezi Valley as a reserve under the United Nations Education and Science Organisation's Man and the Biosphere Programme.

The programme is intended to support the sustainable management of terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine resources with the active participation of local communities.

"We have always tried to do something to make sure we do not destroy our own livelihoods but having other people realise that we need to work together to save the fish is important, because know we will be assisted by people who know what they are talking about," says fisherman Justin Modhlari, who works alongsideTjilo in their six-man co-operative.

"Management of fisheries should be complemented by the development of a sustainable modern but community-based fisheries industry, including fish taking, culturing, harvesting, processing, preserving, storing and marketing of fish products," researcher Sobona Mtisi, from the UK's Overseas Development Institute's Water Policy Programme.

"Rather than being solely dependent on fishing, local fishermen can be involved in various aspects of water-related tourism in the Zambezi Basin.

The Zambezi basin is a reservoir of biodiversity. In addition to further improving their stewardship of the kapenta fishery, communities like Binga will try to develop sport fishing and wilderness tours.

There is also potential, if irrigation infrastructure can be built, to promote agriculture as part of a mixed livelihood for people like Tjilo who presently rely exclusively on fishing for a livelihood.

source: Copyright © 2011 Inter Press Service. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (