Zambezi records 500 tons in illegal fish trades

The Zambezi Region has shown rife dealings in illegal exports of fresh fish, with 500 tons (500 000kg) of fish leaving the country through the Zambezi borders on an annual basis.
The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR) said that there is unrecorded and unregulated trade across the Zambezi River as it forms a permeable 140km long border where both Namibian and Zambian fishers freely fish and move back and forth between the countries.
Namibia’s fishery industry generated over N$10 billion in overall exports of fish and fishery products in 2015/16 fishing season, and this shows an increase of 42.6% compared to the N$7 billion in export revenues in the 2014/2015 season, which was also an increase compared to the N$5.7 billion in 2013/14.
Meanwhile, the MFMR raises concerns over the exploitation of fish by “scrupulous business people and foreigners using illegal fishing techniques” noting that monitoring of such activities is difficult, mainly because they do not benefit Namibia but instead are sold in Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo”.
“The major problem in the system is that while 80% of the floodplains are in Namibia, there are more Zambian fishermen and they set up temporary, though illegal, fishing camps in Namibia when the annual floods subside. Almost all their catches are sold in Zambia,” Public Relations Officer at MFMR, De Wet Siluka told The Villager.
The sustainable utilization of Inland Fisheries is prioritized by the Ministry as the Zambezi River will be closed for fishing annually during the crucial breeding season of fish in order to allow fish populations to recover to sustainable levels.
The Ministry has an Operations Directorate which monitors and controls surveillance activities and is currently expanding its staff capacity in the attempt to curb illegal fishing and the influx of illegal fishermen from neighbouring countries. The Ministry has joint patrols with law-enforcement bodies and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism.
“It is however handicapped by the conditions in which it has to work, with most illegal activities taking place at night and with 140 km of river patrols associated with over 2 000 km of floodplains. The cost on the Ministry is in the form of overtime and S&T (subsistence and travel) which is paid to staff during camping and field patrols,” Siluka said.
Siluka added that trans-boundary coordination does take place and that communication with neighbouring governments are improving, with trans-boundary community meetings to discuss issues of common concern and fisheries issues at the forefront of their agendas. The Impalila Conservancy in Caprivi has taken the initiative to ban the illegal cross border shipment of fish via its river channels in the attempt to conserve the fish for their own food security needs.
The main fish species exported from Namibia are large breams (Tilapia) of which are most important is the three-spot tilapia, redbreast tilapia, greenhead tilapia and Catfish, exported mainly in fresh, dry, salted and smoked form.
Siluka continued to say that Namibian fishermen and traders benefit from fish export and that the direct loss to the country’s economy is fairly low.
“The major issue in this regard is that the commercialisation of the fish trade has led to severe overfishing and the use of environmentally destructive fishing gear. This is much more severe problem than the fact that the fish movements over the most of the region are unregulated,” he said.
The overall budget allocation for the MFMR in the 2016/17 national budget stands at N$295 040 000 with and amount of N$254 473 000 earmarked for operational activities. About 60% of the operational budget is devoted towards personnel expenditure.
The Ministry requested about N$38 million for the maintenance of Fish Farms in the Karas Region, Hardap Region and the Mpungu Fish Farm in the Kavango West Region for the financial year 2015/26. The Ministry also highlighted that with a 42% budget cut the funding to maintain its existing aquaculture centres and fish farms is insufficient.
Fisheries has a slight decrease on GDP by 0.5%, considering that it is the second largest earner of foreign currency behind the mining sector. The overall amount the ministry requested for approval for the 2016/17 financial year stands at N$295 million.