The trade in fresh water fish in the Zambezi Region resumed yesterday after the three-month moratorium on fishing that came into effect in December ran its course on Tuesday, bringing joy to thousands of residents who depend on the resource.
The ban on fishing in the region was aimed at allowing the fish to grow and spawn without any disturbance and to ensure improved catches when the fishing season reopened.
At the time of the closure the Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources Bernard Esau had urged Zambezi residents to embrace the decision, stating that it was to their benefit as it would help improve catches in the long run.
This message however fell on deaf ears as illegal fishing was widespread. In a joint operation the police and fisheries ministry inspectors worked tirelessly to halt illegal fishing.
Among others, eleven foreign and six Namibian fishermen who were found fishing despite the ban were arrested last month and charged with contravening the Inland Fishing Resources Act.
When this reporter visited the office of the fisheries ministry he saw numerous bundles of confiscated fish. However, officials were not willing to divulge much information as they are not allowed to speak to the media without authorization from the permanent secretary in Windhoek.
But they said the closed fishing season was not easy to police as people were not cooperative and the ministry had no choice but to swoop on illegal fishermen.
“As you can see this is a lot of fish that was seized. Some people were found transporting illegal fish stocks to Zambia, Congo, Zimbabwe and Angola, but all those who were found were charged,” said one of the staff members.
The confiscated fish will be handed to the regional council which will most probably distribute the fish to schools or possibly for drought relief.
However, the opening of the fishing season is a huge relief for fish vendors, whose lives depend heavily on selling fish to make a decent, honest living.
“If it were my decision I would not have imposed the fishing moratorium as some of us depend on selling fish and when there is a seasonal moratorium we are left stranded. I could not put bread on the table,” said Chuma Simasiku, one of the women who buys fish from fishermen for re-sale at the Katima Mulilo open market.
Another fish vendor Nsozi Mutemwa echoed Simasiku’s sentiments. “We were starving all this time, what do they think of us poor people, how can they close fishing for three months? They should just have closed it for a month,” she suggested.
Mutemwa said she had to borrow money from other people for her and her family to survive. “Now that we can sell fish again I am very happy; however, I still have a lot of debts to settle.”