Fish catches plummet at iconic Kariba Dam; boats stuck in mud as water levels recede

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By James Muonwa l Mashonaland West Correspondent

KAPENTA fishing cooperatives and individual fishermen say they are experiencing an unprecedented decline in Kapenta catches on the iconic Lake Kariba owing to overfishing and receding water levels.

At its peak in the 1990s, the industry realised between five to 15 trays per vessel, but they are now netting as little as two trays per vessel or even less, Mapfumo said.

“The water has gone down to such very worrying levels, especially to the fishing industry. As you know, we are affected by quite a number of issues including the depth of water.

“We are not allowed to fish in all areas that are less than 20 metres deep. So the area has become smaller and smaller such that it is likely to cause a lot of fish depletion because boats will be just concentrated in a few areas” said the KPA chairman.

“If you go to areas we used to fish, there is no water or its considered shallow ground, and from the shoreline to inland we are supposed to fish two kilometres from shoreline.

“So with this low water levels, the area we are fishing is now too small. Quite a number of companies are closing.

“I think you can notice at harbours, a lot of boats are now stuck in mud, and so forth. People are failing to remove them because of the expenses.

“It is now not viable to resuscitate those boats because of the huge expenses as compared to the low fish catches one would get,” said Mapfumo.

He urged government to review downwards the US$1,200 per year fishing permits, which he said were nolonger viable in light of poor catches.

The huge number of fishing vessels in Kariba dam from both Zimbabwe and Zambian side has led to a decrease in catches.

In 2020, Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority stopped the issuance of fishing permits in a move aimed at curbing the depletion of the fish species, including Kapenta which forms a major part of local dietary needs.

According to sources, the maximum fishing rigs allowed in Lake Kariba is 500.

Out of this, 275 should operate on the Zimbabwe side while 225 should operate on the Zambian side, but currently the lake houses more than 1,500 fishing vessels.

On the Zimbabwean side, Lake Kariba is divided into five hydrological basins; Basin 1 (Mlibizi), Basin 2 (Binga), Basin 3 (Sengwa), Basin 4 (Bumi/Chalala) and Basin 5 (Sanyati).