November to March marks a new beginning for many of the fish species in Lake Kariba’s eastern basin in Zimbabwe. It is spawning time, when mature fish migrate into rivers to breed. Sadly, breeding season also provides an opportune time for poachers as the fish are easily caught closer to shore.
Poachers use nets to remove large numbers of fish simultaneously, which has dire consequences for the population as it destroys breeding stock before they have spawned.
“The consequences are disastrous not only for sporting anglers and tourists but for the whole ecosystem,” explains Kevin Higgins, operational manager of Matusadona Anti-Poaching Project (MAPP). MAPP
was set up by lodges to help the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management
Authority. With regards to illegal fishing, MAPP is operational along the Matusadona National Park shoreline, between the Sanyati and Ume Rivers, demarcating the eastern and western boundaries of the park.
The fish implicated are mainly bream and the iconic tiger fish (Hydrocynus vittatus). Like salmon, tiger fish return to their birthplace to breed. Eastern bottlenose mormyrid (Mormyrus longirostris), Cornish jack (Mormyrops anguilloides) and vundu (Heterobranchus longifilis) are also poached, plus crocodiles and freshwater birds are caught in the bycatch.
Fish poaching on Lake Kariba
Poaching mainly takes place at night, with activity increasing during spawning season and during full moon. Most of the poachers are from Zimbabwe and Zambia. “Zambians appear to be better equipped, and fish in Zimbabwe because they have already decimated their local fish resources,” says Higgins.
It is believed the illegal fish harvesting is not for subsistence purposes, but to supply large dried fish markets in Zimbabwe and Zambia. Dried fish provides a comparatively cheap source of protein.
“It is cheap because it is illegally harvested with no permits, no fees and no health conditions to abide by,” explains Higgins. “There are many legally registered fishing cooperatives operating on the lake from which many communities derive a living,” he says.
Written by Georgina Lockwood
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