Making Hay While the Fish Bite

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The northern floods may have caused great devastation for many, but for others this is a bumper season for fishing in the oshanas. New Era went around to see just how people are doing it.

By Catherine Sasman

OSHANA REGION

A deep, swirling mass of brown water rushes through the culvert under the Okanjengedi Bridge that carries a heavy traffic load between Oshakati and Ongwediva day in and day out.

Young boys and girls stand waist deep in the water with short branches they have plucked off the surrounding trees, and attached fishing lines to the end.

They throw the fishing lines in with small Tilapia fish as bait and wait for two, three seconds before they pull up the stick with a catfish dangling on the hook.

“I came here just after school,” says an 11-year-old Maria Kambode, who stands on the side of the river and collects the fish the boys literally throw to the bank of the river as soon as they have untangled the fish from the hook.

She grabs the writhing fish that falls on the ground, takes a hold around its head and with her thumb makes a hole right through the gaping mouth. She then sticks a blade of grass through the hole to tie up the fish onto a piece of wood that was stuck in the soft sand at the edge of the river, leaving the fish bobbing limply in the water to stay cool.

“We come to fish here everyday. Some fish we sell, and what is left over we take home with us. I like the fish. It tastes like chicken,” she says before she runs off again to catch more fish flying in from the deep end where the boys are busy.

“I tie the onjolo (fishing line) onto the stick like so,” explains Nestor Elago, who stands a short distance away in the water before he swing-swings the hooked bait in the shallows of the water. And in a matter of seconds he pulls out a catfish.

“The fish is too much here,” he says satisfactorily. “The fish is hungry, so we catch a lot of them.”

Nestor has been making money catching catfish in the oshanas since the rains and floods in late January. A bunch of fish sells for between N$5, N$10 or N$20.

A bunch has 10 or more fish.

The rest of the fish, he says, he takes home where he stays with his grandmother.

The Ministry of Health and Social Services has warned people fishing in the oshanas that due to the overflow of the sewerage ponds at Oshakati the water in the oshanas is not clean, and can therefore pose a serious health threat. But no one seems to heed the warning.

“There is nothing wrong with the fish,” maintains Elago.

“All you need to do is wash the fish with clean water until the water becomes clear, and then you can cut it up in pieces and cook it with onions, carrots or other vegetables. It tastes very nice.”

Andreas Shafofudja (28) came to fish after he finished his shift at the Spar supermarket.

He makes an extra income by selling a bundle of 15 catfish for between N$10 and N$20.

“The fish is very popular; people like this,” he says as he hooks fresh bait before he throws in the line.

He is also not concerned about the health warnings.

“You simply throw the fish in boiling water, take it out and then boil it in oil,” he says.

Lukas Kashinamuene sweeps his small net through the water a couple of times and then emerges with Tilapia in his nets. He says he makes about N$100 from the sales of the fish everyday.

“Fishing is good, especially on this side of the bridge,” he says.

All along the roads in the Oshana region young and old, men, women and children, are making hay while the fish bite.

Everywhere people stand in the waters, on the side of the waters, they hang over bridges or sit by the side of a pool catching fish in any conceivable manner. Every puddle of water is as good enough a place to fish as anywhere else.

Some fish with the branches and fishing line at the end, or they simply stand with the fishing line rolled around their fingers with one end thrown into the water to minutes later pull it out with a slight jerk every time the fish bites.

Others span mosquito nets across the oshanas to catch the small Tilapia, which they disentangle from the netting and put in buckets as bait or lay out on the ground to dry, which they then sell. So big was demand for fishing nets that there were reports of people going so far as to steal mosquito nets from the Oshakati State Hospital for this purpose.

But, said a source, mosquito nets are being sold at the many Chinese shops in the area for N$30, so people would rather have bought the nets than to face the wrath of the law for the small incomes derived from these fishing expeditions.

Yet others have devised more innovative snares of twigs and grass, or traditional into which the fish literally washes in from the streams.

Not wanting to get wet, some entrepreneurial boys take plastic containers with wide open mouths, tie these onto the side of the bridge with long ropes and throw in the containers while they wait for the fish to get caught before they pull up their catch.

Others have been seen to scan the shallows of the oshanas with pangas, which they use to nick the fish on the back and then scoop out the fish from the water.

Some merely block the mouths of the culverts with plastic bags as they wait for the fish, or simply catch the fish in cupped, bare hands.

The oshanas in the region – or drainage channels in the complex Cuvelai system of winding and interconnected streams – receive large numbers of fish during a large flood, or efundja as it is locally known, in good rain seasons as had been experienced this year.

Mostly catfish, barbel and Tilapia are carried down the oshanas from permanent water in streams and rivers 200 kilometres north of the border between Namibia and Angola. Initially, as many as 17 species of fish have been recorded in the Cuvelai system, with as many as another 46 other species available in the oshanas to a lesser degree.

In earlier years, the abundant fishing fields have also attracted large numbers of fish-eating birds. Sightings of these birds have reportedly decreased dramatically due to unchecked hunting on these creatures.

Fishing in the oshanas is an age-old practice in the North, and is in many instances a seasonal livelihood for many.

In March 1976, it was estimated that 123 people caught as much as 4??????’??

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