Kapenta fish in Lake Kariba in danger of extinction

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OLIVER SAMBOKO writes

ON  May 17, 1960, during the grand inauguration of the Kariba Dam, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, highlighted the benefits of the lake to the citizens of the federation of Northern Rhodesia now Zambia and Southern Rhodesia now Zimbabwe.

Apart from the purpose of hydroelectricity power generation, several species of fish were introduced into the lake, including the famous Kapenta (sardine) also known as silver cyprinid transplanted from Lake Tanganyika for the benefit of the citizens of the two countries.

One of the greatest national responsibilities and obligations to future generations is the conservation of natural resources.

This means not allowing the greedy affluent to rob the nation of these precious resources.

Lake Kariba in Siavonga is a prime example of how the nation has failed to look after its natural resources properly and which can ostensibly and negatively affect the lives of locals who depend on particular resources for their livelihood, the Kapenta fish.

This otherwise life-saving sector which others believe has for a long time served as a safe net to most rural and urban population, is under threat from the illegal gangs commonly known as ‘PILIBUKA’ that operates in the area and responsible for the depletion of Kapenta fish on the lake through their use of wrong fishing methods such as mosquito nets and other harmful methods. 

Of more concern on Lake Kariba, which was once well-endowed with fisheries resources, is the fact that even though the conservation infrastructure is quite good, there is under-deployment of manpower by government to deal with the poaching situation.

The private sector has had to jump in to protect their fishing businesses from illegal dealers by investing in security infrastructure such as installation of CCTV cameras and sometime deployment of drone cameras to monitor the activities on the lake.

According to a research paper by the World Food Programme(WFP) “FISHERIES IN ZAMBIA: AN UNDERVALUE CONTRIBUTOR ERADICATION”, the fisheries sector contributes significantly to the economy and wellbeing of the people both out and around Lake Kariba.

However, the report also indicates that this very important resource will soon be completely depleted due to use of wrong fishing methods and other factors.

The use of drown mosquito nets and chemicals such as Tephlozia Vogeli locally known as “Ububa” to catch fish by these fishermen operating on Lake Kariba is proving to be detrimental to the growth of the fishing industry and therefore there is need for law makers in the Zambia and Zimbabwe to strengthen regulations regarding use of wrong fishing methods, if this sector is to continue flourishing.

The fishermen should be made aware that the poison they use to catch fish would not only kill the fish but also wipe out other micro and macro organisms in water bodies subsequently destroying the eco-system.

The fishermen engage in illegal fishing activities with impunity and threaten to destroy fish breeding grounds and fingerlings as well as threaten the lives of many potential consumers.

 Lack of law enforcement is the major contributor to depletion of fish and despite various sensitisation campaigns on the matter, some fishermen on the lake have continued to use these bad fishing methods and fishing in the breeding areas.

In most cases, enforcing of the already existing established laws has been identified as one of the deterrents that can be a success if properly implemented but the challenge has been under-staffing in the Fisheries Department and lack of adequate resources to carry out their activities including enforcing of the Fisheries Act of 2011, Section 15 of the Laws of Zambia which forbids use of harmful fishing methods.

The depletion of this very important resource has not only have the potential to lender the people around Lake Kariba destitutes but also can be source for conflict between Zambia and neighbouring Zimbabwe who owns 55percent of the lake.

Poor Zambian fishermen are brutalized, shot and killed whenever they cross the imaginary border line on the lake.

Those who are spared are arrested, harassed and heavily fined up to K40, 000 payable to National Parks in Zimbabwe without being given receipts in some instances.

From the narration above, it’s evident that the continued decrease in fish population on the Zambian side of the lake which often times has forced many fishermen to risk crossing the red line into Zimbabwean territory to poach fish, has dire consequences in future.

A fisherman, James Sialumba, recently revealed that in the olden days when fish was still in abundance, he used to harvest between 500 and 1 000 kilogrammes of Kapenta every night but that number has since plunged down to less than 20 kilogrammes.

Indeed if Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother had to wake up from her grave to come and see activities at what she grandly inaugurated on May 17, 1960, she would probably politely ask to go back to her resting place with a broken heart.

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