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Opening the National Assembly on 18 September 2015, President Edgar Lungu announced the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock will be split into the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock [1]. Noting the rapid depletion of fish in rivers and lakes due to intensive and unsustainable harvesting he said Government would invest in sustainable management of the natural fisheries resources through restocking and working with the local communities in promoting sustainable fishing methods.
In addition, to encourage fish farming, government will establish fish hatcheries in each province and promote privately owned hatcheries. It will also establish community fish fingerling nurseries in each district and train 1,400 fish farmers in fish feed production. The aim is to produce 90,000 tonnes of fish from natural fisheries and 80,000 tonnes of farmed fish to achieve self-sufficiency in fish production within the next three years.

Some 300,000 people currently derive their livelihoods as fishermen and fish farmers, or as fish traders, processors and other service providers. Nevertheless about 45,000 tons of fish is imported annually [2, 3]. In the last 40 years output per fisherman has fallen by almost half and total annual output has consistently failed to exceed 70,000 tonnes, even in favourable years.

The state of Zambia’s fisheries reflects a failure to manage open-access resources operated by impoverished rural communities, resulting in their collapse [5]. Rapid population growth has increased competition for fishery resources leading to declining catches, disappearance of large valuable fishes, and the introduction of illegal, small-meshed active fishing gears. The concept of balanced harvesting with moderate effort has no relevance to these fisheries, where the lack of alternative livelihoods for small-scale fishers means they have no choice but to continue fishing despite dwindling returns. In some areas, co-management with local communities has potential for success (e.g. around Lochinvar National Park), but other fisheries are so severely depleted that there is no prospect for recovery without radical restructuring of exploitation patterns coupled with habitat restoration [4, 5]. Increasingly however the harmful effects of climate change are apparent. On Kariba for example, lower rainfall and higher temperatures result in smaller floods adversely affecting water levels, the stratification cycle, nutrient fluxes and the Kapenta fish production [6].

The state of the three important fisheries of the Kafue river basin – Kafue Flats, Lake Itezhi-tezhi and Lukanga Swamp – is typical, with the situation on the Flats perhaps the most in need of intervention and co-management agreements. Phenomenally productive, the Flats was once Zambia’s most important fishery, lying close to the line of rail and urban centres. Change came in the 1970s with completion of the dam at Itezhi-tezhi and regulation of the natural flood. The height of the dam was increased during construction so that extra flood storage would enable prescribed flood releases to be made in most years to mimic the natural flood. This was intended to help maintain the productivity of the fishery as well as dry season pasture for cattle, lechwe and other floodplain wildlife. However it is doubtful whether ZESCO has ever made these releases, in contravention of its licence. Instead, unseasonal and unexpected floods have been noted downstream, damaging floodplain productivity, wildlife and the livelihoods of people living there. More recently fears for the fishery have increased following the installation of turbines at Itezhi-tezhi. These will draw deoxygenated water from the bottom of the reservoir in the late dry season potentially killing the fish downstream (see Post December 2013 : Itezhi-tezhi hydropower discharge threatens Kafue Flats fishery).

Crayfish damage to gill net catch

Crayfish damage to gill net catch

The Nile tilapia, an alien species, escaped from a Nakambala fish farm and is now common on the Kafue Flats.

The Nile tilapia, an alien species, escaped from a Nakambala fish farm and is now common on the Kafue Flats.

The story from the Flats provides one further lesson for fishery management. In recent times, local fish farmers have released invasive Red-claw crayfish Cherax quadricarinatus and Nile tilapia Oreochromis niloticus into the Kafue river, perhaps damaging the fishery irreparably. The crayfish are of little commercial value but now spoil about a third of the fish caught by fishermen, while their catches are dominated by a single species, the Nile tilapia. Sustainable fishery management will thus require effective regulation of the fish farming industry if further harmful releases of alien species to unaffected lakes and rivers catchments are to be prevented.

The new Minister, Mr Greyford Monde, has been MP for Itezhi-tezhi since 2011, so will understand the problems. He faces a herculean task – we wish him well!

References:

[1] Post, 18 September 2015. President Edgar Lungu’s Parliament speech in full. http://www.postzambia.com/news.php?id=11461
[2] FAO Fishery Country Profile: Zambia 2006. (ftp://ftp.fao.org/FI/DOCUMENT/fcp/en/FI_CP_ZM.pdf)
[3] Lusaka Times, 5 August 2015. Zambia shouldn’t be importing so much fish-President Lungu (https://www.lusakatimes.com/2015/08/05/zambia-shouldnt-be-importing-so-much-fish-president-lungu/)
[4] Landell Mills, 2011. Elaboration of a Management Plan for the Kafue Fishery. Final Technical Report. Project Ref. N° CU/PE1/MZ/10/002. “Strengthening Fisheries Management in ACP Countries”. Project funded by the European Union.
[5] Tweddle, D., Cowx, I.G., Peel, R.A. and O.L. F. Weyl, 2015. Challenges in fisheries management in the Zambezi, one of the great rivers of Africa. Fisheries Management and Ecology, 22: 99-111.
[6] Ndebele-Murisa, M.R., Mashonjowa, E and Hill, T. 2011. The implications of a changing climate on the Kapenta fish stocks of Lake Kariba, Zimbabwe. Trans. Roy. Soc. South Africa, 66: 105-119. DOI: 10.1080/0035919X.2011.600352.

 

Fish trading in Lochinvar National Park disturbs wildlife and discourages tourists.

Fish trading in Lochinvar National Park disturbs wildlife and discourages tourists.

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