Overfishing threatens OkavangoBy: TANJA BAUSE
NAMIBIA, Angola and Botswana must harmonise or introduce fishing control measures to address overfishing in the Okavango River.
The Ministry of Fisheries and the Southern Africa Regional Environmental Programme (Sarep) funded by USAID have set the process in motion to control fishing in the river.
There is no controlled fishing on the Angolan side of the river. During the civil war in Angola not much fishing took place on the Angolan side of the river, but now that peace has returned, Angolans are fishing on a large scale with no controls whatsoever and are joined by their Namibian neighbours.
Sarep is working on a process to harmonise the inland fishing laws of Namibia, Botswana and Angola, who share the river.
Angola has no fishing law or fish inspectors to control fishing in the Okavango, which leads to overfishing.
Namibians cross into the Angolan half of the river where they use the notorious drag nets that are outlawed in Namibia.
Fishing has not been part of the Angolan lifestyle but it has become more and more so in recent years, mainly for commercial gain.
In 2003 the Ministry of Fisheries started to enforce fishing laws on the Namibian side. “We confiscate nets which are not according to the specifications and we fine the people who are dragnetting,” said Christopher Munwela, chief fisheries biologist of the ministry.
Dragnetting is when fishermen use their mukoros (canoes) to drag fishing nets behind them. Drag netting is not allowed as it is not selective and the nets catch all sizes of fish, wiping out breeding grounds.
The fishermen can be fined up to N$300 for this illegal activity.
The ministry is educating those living along the river and dependent on its fish for survival not to use illegal methods, either in Namibian or Angolan water.
So far the ministry has refrained from issuing fines and just warns the fishermen and confiscates their nets.
The lack of personnel makes the enforcing of the regulations difficult, said Munwela. “People are dragnetting and as soon as they see us coming they cross into Angola and we are powerless,” said Munwela.
“The Namibian inland fishing law allows people to own four fishing nets and we want to reduce this number to one or two nets as this is enough to fish for own consumption,” added Munwela.
More and more people are fishing for financial gain, which puts huge pressure on the fish source. People need a licence to fish in Namibia and Botswana, but not in Angola, and this means that a lot of people fish on the Angolan side of the river where there is no control.
Sarep has established contact with the Angolan authorities to research the fish population and the decline of resources in the river.
“During this survey we have recorded five new fish species endemic to the Okavango River; species which have never been recorded before and need protection,” said Christopher Brooks of Sarep.
They have started working on a transboundary fisheries plan. The draft should be ready by the end of this year and implementation should start next year.
“In Angola there is no inland fishing legislation, which means no regulations on mesh sizes, no fishing permits are required, and all this leads to overfishing and the depletion of natural resources,” said Brooks.