Trans-boundary fisheries management – Sustainable utilisation of the Caprivi floodplain fish resource

Three key projects – NNF empowers communities in Caprivi
July 15, 2012
Tribute to the Namibia Nature Foundation – The NNF’s growing contribution to conservation
July 15, 2012
Three key projects – NNF empowers communities in Caprivi
July 15, 2012
Tribute to the Namibia Nature Foundation – The NNF’s growing contribution to conservation
July 15, 2012

by Denis Tweddle, Project Executant, NNF/ MFMR/ WWF, Integrated Co-Management of the Zambezi/ Chobe Fisheries Resources Project

Makoros at Lake Liambezi

In recent decades, increased human populations and uncontrolled increases in the fishing effort has damaged river and lake fisheries throughout eastern-central Africa. Fortunately the Caprivi floodplain fishery has remained healthy because of the relatively small human population and poor communication links with major urban centres.

Improved roads and rapidly rising populations in the last two de-cades, however, have resulted in a greatly increased fishing effort. This was exacerbated by unusually low annual Zambezi River annual floods over many years, which restricted fish migrations and breeding on the floodplains and made the fish vulnerable to capture in the river channels. Monitoring of catch rates confirmed the fisher-men’s complaints that catches of large fish were declining. Floodplain dwellers complained about the influx of outsiders who were exploiting the fish stocks using damaging (and illegal) fishing gear. Neither the Namibian nor the Zambian Government had a strong enough presence in the region to control the fishing effort.

In 2007 the Namibian Nature Foundation- (NNF), with support from the WWF, initiated a trans-boundary fisheries management project. The project base was established in Namibia, where the major part of the floodplains are and which is thus the main fishery area. The aim with the project is ‘to manage the shared Zambezi/Chobe River fisheries resources sustainably by promoting trans-boundary coordination and collaboration on the introduction of fully integrated fishery management systems’. This entails setting up fully integrated management systems in targeted pilot communities for livelihood and sport fisheries, providing optimal benefits to all stakeholders reliant on this valuable resource.

The first phase of the management project followed up the findings of the initial studies and set out to guide fishing communities in setting up fisheries committees to work with fisheries development officers recruited and trained through the project. Radio programmes covering all aspects of the fisheries, from the biology of the fishes to possible measures for their management, were broadcast on the NBC to inform the communities.

One idea that was adopted enthusiastically by the communities was setting aside areas of the river and floodplains as protected areas where no netting was allowed so that the fish in those areas would be able to grow and breed and thereby repopulate the surrounding fished areas. The communities saw added benefits in the promotion of angling tourism around the protected areas, and information provided through the project has helped inform decision-makers and the communities alike.

Several tourist lodges operate in the project area, offering angling as a major attraction. These lodges provide the only source of paid employment on the floodplains and also supply other services to the communities. Angling is therefore an extremely valuable use of the fish resources, and the needs of anglers and food fishermen are identical, namely having a healthy stock of the larger, more valuable fish species.

The natural resources of the Caprivi Region are increasingly resorting under the control of conservancies, which provide an excellent opportunity to empower the communities to manage their resources themselves. This was recognised by the project managers, who work closely with the Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC), the key NGO that provides support to conservancies in the Caprivi.

Following the progress made in the first phase of the project in laying the groundwork, Phase 2 began in 2010, with the following objectives:

• Managing the fisheries resources through cross-border collaboration;

• Devising a management plan with the neighbouring countries to benefit the communities;

• Establishing fish reserves in targeted pilot communities that would be fully functional;

• Operating with tourist angling lodges in agreement with local fishing/conservancy committees; and

• Capacity building in research and monitoring of fish resources.

Great success has been achieved in attaining these objectives. The project managers are already looking towards further involvement and expanding to other fisheries areas, based on the lessons learned.

A meeting of the fisheries sub-committee of the Namibia/Zambia Joint Permanent Commission was held early in 2011 to develop cross-border collaboration further, with the sub-committee now assisting in harmonising fisheries regulations in the two countries. The next step is to assist the Zambian Department of Fisheries to empower the communities to become more involved in managing their resources themselves through the involvement of appropriate traditional and provincial authorities.

In Namibia, two pilot Fish Protection Areas (FPAs) in the Impalila and Sikunga Conservancies have been approved by Traditional and Regional Authorities. Guided by the project managers, the conservancies have been developed and are implementing management plans for the FPAs. More FPAs are proposed and will be established in due course. In Zambia, the African Water Facility (AWF) has followed up on Namibia’s example for FPAs by proposing similar reserves. Via the project, discussions are facilitated between the conservancies, angling clubs, and tourism lodges in the conservancies over the development of the FPAs, which provide an opportunity for conservancies to earn money from anglers paying fees to fish on a non-consumptive basis (that is catch-and-release angling) in FPAs. There is still, however, a lot of work to be done in assisting the conservancies to publicise and manage the FPAs themselves to prevent illegal netting.

Key areas were identified for research to enhance the knowledge base and educate communities about appropriate management for the various fishery areas. Through collaboration with the Ministry of Fishing and Marine Resources, the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity in Grahamstown and the University of Namibia, three coordinated research projects are now underway. These include age and growth studies on the important fish species in the catches, and a multi-disciplinary study on ecosystem functioning with particular emphasis on Lake Liambezi. This lake is an excellent example of community involvement in fishery management, and serves as a model for other fishing communities to follow.

The lake was virtually dry for many years but filled up in 2009. Rapid increase in fish stocks led to a rapid and initially uncontrolled influx of fishers from elsewhere. Alarmed by this, the local community set up a fishery committee and in 2010 established a register for fishermen who would be allowed on the lake, all of whom had to comply strictly with regulations. Regulations were drawn up on allowable fishing methods that are, in fact, more restrictive, but were much more relevant to the fishery than the Namibian Government regulations.

The Lake Liambezi example shows that community management can work and that the lessons learned there can be applied to the other fisheries, not only in the project area but also elsewhere in the region. The project managers and the NNF will continue to support initiatives to ensure that the fisheries are optimally managed for the benefit of all stakeholders dependent on these extremely valuable resources.

This article appeared in the 2012 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.

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