Zambezi kapenta fishing business faces gloomy future

By Bonani Muleya

BINGA-The future of kapenta fishing along the Zambezi River in Binga,
Matabeleland North hangs in the balance as local fishing cooperatives
fear the river might soon run out of fish.

Overfishing and very low levels of water on the river have been cited
as the cause for depletion of fish quantities at the tail of Lake
Kariba in Binga.

Zimbabwean and Zambian fishermen operate at night using rigs with
flood lights as they compete for fish.

Some use mosquito nets or banned four-millimetre fishing nets that can
catch the smallest fish even in breeding areas. The recommended nets
are 8-milimetre that can allow small fish to escape and replenish
supplies.

A recent visit to different cooperatives in Binga showed that the
price of a kilogram of kapenta has gone up from $5 to $10.

“There is no kapenta in the river anymore as you can see our drying
pans and sacks are empty,” said Pride Mudenda, a member of Bacikula
Kapenta Fishing Co-operative.

Some of the cooperatives in are Binga, Mwenda, Kariba, Kujatana, among others.

Some members left their homesteads to take up a new life on the riverside.

Their children sometimes join them during school holidays to help dry
and sell the fish while some no longer go to school, said Konson
Munsaka from another cooperative.

Cooperatives blame Zambian fishermen for overlapping into the
Zimbabwean side of the lake to poach fish.

A ranger from the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management
Authority said: “Fish are no longer multiplying because poachers
invade breeding areas. We have a challenge with poachers both from
Zambia and Zimbabwe.”

The ranger said it’s difficult to monitor poaching at night.

Poaching fish attracts a fine of $4 000.

Boats flood the river and are differentiated by the type of lights, as
those from the two countries have different types as a way of
detecting poachers who sometimes use sophisticated methods.

Kapenta fishing is a source of livelihood and employment for the
generality of Binga community.

Their market is as far as Hwange, Victoria Falls and Bulawayo.

During peak periods one can catch a full bag per night, sold either
fresh or dried, said Mwenda Kapenta Cooperative chairperson Samson
Munsaka.

A bucket can fetch around $15 wholesale and more in smaller.

Despite low productivity, cooperatives have to pay around $600 for
permits quarterly to Zimparks.

Binga’s fishing cooperatives are appealing to government for financial
assistance so they can diversify and replace aging fishing rigs.

They are pinning hopes on the Command Fishing programme introduced by
government, that it can be extended to Lake Kariba to replenish fish
quantities.

Two years ago former first lady Grace Mugabe handed permits to each of
the 17 chiefs in Binga for them to start fishing projects.

The permits are however gathering dust as the chiefs cannot afford fishing rigs.

Chief Pashu of Tinde area recently said the situation was favouring
those with money from Harare at the expense of locals who cannot
afford a fishing rig.