Depleted Lake Lyambezi leaves fishermen despondent

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Aron Mushaukwa

Katima Mulilo-The dwindling of fish stocks in Lake Lyambezi and the inward rivers in the entire Zambezi Region has left fishermen despondent – particularly at the region’s lake that was once considered the region’s main source of fish.

Since the beginning of the year the region’s common Zambezi bream has been scarce, despite the fact that fishing was off limits between November and March, but it appears ever since the fishing season re-opened there have been no fish at all.

When New Era visited Lake Lyambezi at Muyako area on Wednesday there were no fishing activities taking place. The only fishermen at the lake were there “to just relax”, as they have already given up on fishing.

“We have already lost hope, you can take your net and go cast it and you come back the next day hoping that maybe you will find something for relish, but you end up getting nothing at all. We have done that several times and we have already given up,” said one of the fishermen, Passy Mbumba. He added that their only hope is that by the end of August they might start catching catfish, as for now they have no hope that they will be able to catch bream this year.

“In 2015/2016 we had an abundance of fish here at the lake, when you go in the water when you come back you have a good catch, and customers will be waiting by the shore, we could sell and put bread on the table, but now we are just surviving on vegetables,” added another fisherman, Mbeha Sitwala.

The scarcity of fish has also had a negative impact on the fish traders, whose livelihood depends on buying fish from the fishermen and selling it at the Katima Mulilo open market. Chuma Simasiku, one of the fishmongers, told New Era that “it is currently tough to put bread on the table”.

“However, we are trying by all means to survive by selling the smaller fishes we get from Lisikili and Nan’ombe. There is hope, as recently we have been getting fish from flood-prone areas of Ihaha and Mbalasinte, so hopefully this is a good sign that flood-prone areas may become our suppliers,” said Simasiku.

Some fishmongers have resorted to buying fish from Zambia, reportedly from a farmer who has a fish pond. But Simasiku says that fish is simply too expensive and not favoured by customers.

“The fish from Zambia is too expensive. Previously the farmer used to sell them at a reasonable prize, for N$1000 you could get up to 42 fish, but now for a thousand dollars you can only acquire twenty-four fish, if it is a lot maybe thirty. Customers also don’t like those fish, they say they are tasteless and are full of fat, as they are just fed in the fish pond and they don’t eat waterlilies, like the river fish,” Simasiku explained.

According to the Ministry of Fisheries, the lack of fish in the region is due to overfishing in previous years.

Ministry spokesperson De Wet Siluka said the use of monofilament nets which are three times more effective as multifilament in catching fish and the illegal use of destructive methods, such as (shade nets with cloth lining (locally referred to as sefa-sefa), contributed to the scarcity of fish in the region.

“Fisheries in the Zambezi used to be on a substance basis, but nowadays commercial greed took over, with non-local businessmen hiring fishermen from neighbouring countries,” Siluka elaborated.

Thus, the ministry introduced a closed season to allow the fish to reproduce undisturbed between December and March, as most riverine fish breed during this period.

He, however, pointed out that this intervention has been fruitless as fish stocks in the region continued to decline at an alarming rate, because it has been “economically overfished”.

He further revealed that there are about 88 fish species in the Zambezi Region, with the most common ones being the bream, tigerfish, catfish and the smaller fish.
He stressed that in order for these species to be preserved communities need to “take control of their natural resources”.

“The communities should understand that the catch rates in the Zambezi are decreasing, fish communities are changing and the larger valuable species have been replaced by smaller much less valuable species due to increased effort, reduced mesh sizes and ultimately the use of environmentally destructive fishing gear”, Siluka noted.

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