Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Tshekedi Khama has vehemently defended the controversial one-year ban on fishing in Lake Ngami saying it will nip a looming ‘ecological disaster’ in the bud.
Speaking in an interview at parliament following the recent imposition of a ban on fishing in Lake Ngami Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Tshekedi Khama told BG News that fishing in the area was unsustainable and didn’t benefit the community. He said government had issued 186 fishing license but that the licensees took with them large numbers of people to go and assist them with fishing.
This in turn drove the number of fishermen in the area to over 1000, a matter that was of great concern.“The number even exceeded the 500 people allowed in a settlement and caused an environmental disaster.” The fishing method (by net) used was also a source of contention for the ministry, as they feared that it might wipe out the fish population. “The fish were not even sold locally they benefited only the few who exported all their catch and the local community was not really benefiting.” Khama added that it is upon each country to manage and sustain its resources especially one as sensitive as the delta. “We had warned the fishermen before the one-year restriction that if they did not strive for sustainability the inevitable will happen and now it has.”
As a way forward there will be a community management plan for the Lake Ngami community, which will allow sustainable fishing for the community. The community trust in the area is already making progress towards making more developments such as building lodging facilities and campsites. Fish farming in Ngamiland remains a key resource for the rural communities on the fringes of the Okavango Delta. However Okavango Research Institute Fishery Biologist Ketlhatogile Mosepele, is adamant that the ban is not informed by research. The professor said there is no evidence that indicates that the fish population within the lake is depleting. Mosepele said the main challenge is that fishermen in Ngamiland have always struggled to find a market for their products. “The local market only consumes limited number of fresh fish, which also comes with high capital as it requires one to invest in refrigeration,” he said adding that the local demand is just a small fraction that cannot make any difference to fishermen’ income.
On the other hand Zambia and DRC offer a more open market ready to consume fish in any form, and especially crave salted fish. “Salted fish is less expensive to sell and it is an affordable alternative for many fishermen within the lake.” He explained that salted fish used to have a local market back in the 1980s when government was the main consumer but that the market collapsed when government stopped purchasing. “We live in an open market that allows trading and I don’t see anything wrong with the trading of fish to neighboring countries,” he said adding that it’s the only way for fishermen to make an income. He said that government should offer an alternative market and come up with regulations that will help control pricing issues to avoid exploitation.
He said that the fishing ban is ill advised and adds more salt to the wound, as it will now create more pressure to other areas across the Delta. His fear is that fishermen will relocate to areas that have fish but are, unlike Lake Ngami species, not accustomed to heavy fish, which have adapted to the pressure of heavy fishing. Another Professor from University of Botswana Okavango Research Centre, Joseph Mbaiwa, shares the same environmental concern with the minister adding that perimeters within the lake were filthy. He pointed out that if the situation was left uncontrolled it could affect the lake and other animal species in the area.
“There was lack of proper sanitation and areas around the lake were filthy,” he said adding that the challenge was not only focused on fishing. “Issues of pollution around the lake could not be ignored as they might have rippling effects later on.” Mbaiwa also concurred with the minister that residents from Zambia and the DRC were reaping the benefits of the fishing activities more than the locals. “They had relocated to the lake and were taking advantage of the local fishermen.” He added that the university will take up the issue of fishing in the area on an academic level to clearly determine the challenges and their causes.