Fish wardens of the Sikunga Conservancy pulled an illegal net containing 341 fish from a tributary of the Zambezi in September this year (2018). The tributary, known as the Kalimbeza Channel, is a fish sanctuary on the Namibian side of the river. The Nwanyi Angling Club and Zambezi Mubala Camp are situated on this riverbank, with Zambezi Mubala Lodge at the far end of the tributary. Neither Namibians nor Zambians are permitted to cast their nets or fishing lines there, but nevertheless they do, and the fish wardens wage a relentless battle against illegal fishing activities. It seems that mostly Zambians pole their traditional mokoros (dugouts) to the Namibian side in the dark of night and throw banned monofilament nets or longlines in the fish protection area. They are back before sunrise to haul in the catch and quickly return to the Zambian side. Another record was set in July this year when fish wardens were able to confiscate a longline with a total of 328 hooks.

Fish Wardens
A traditional fish trap with a large catch was confiscated by the fish wardens.

Last year (2017) the fish wardens seized 57 mokoros and 112 illegal nets. The corresponding figures until the end of October this year are 51 mokoros and 375 nets. Netting that was confiscated and burned between 1 September 2017 and 31 October 2018 amounted to a total length of 131.4 kilometres. The nets contained 3474 dead fish (20 different species), including 128 tigerfish. The fish was distributed to the local communities in the conservancy. Any fish still found alive in the nets was immediately released by the fish wardens without being counted or the species being recorded.

The work of the fish wardens is not without danger. A few months ago one of the men drowned after he was pushed into the Zambezi River when a dispute with illegal fishermen turned into a fight.

In order to protect fish stocks and ensure their sustainable use, private companies and organizations in conjunction with public and traditional institutions have set up the Sikunga Fish Sanctuary Management Committee. The committee consists of eleven members: two representatives each from the Sikunga Conservancy and from the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, and one representative each from two private lodges, the Nwanyi Fishing Club, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, the NNF (Namibia Nature Foundation), the IRDNC (Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation) and from Kalimbeza’s traditional leadership. The chairman is Jaco Visser, the financial director of the Gondwana Collection and an avid angler himself.

Thanks to a private initiative and in cooperation with the management committee, the 15 Sikunga fish wardens are paid a regular salary and each of the men was kitted out. Two motor boats were purchased with the fuel costs also sponsored. Furthermore, a mobile phone contract was signed for each warden and is paid monthly on their behalf. Meals are provided for the men while on duty; they work in two shifts. The fish wardens are former game wardens of the Sikunga Conservancy. From each settlement in the conservancy one member was selected to become a fish warden.

Fish Wardens
Fish wardens of the Sikunga Conservancy on patrol with one of the sponsored boats.

The significance of protecting fish stocks in the rivers on Namibia’s borders was underlined by the fact that in December 2016 the Ministry of Fisheries and Maritime Resources announced three important new regulations in the Government Gazette. Firstly, the sale and use of monofilament nets was banned. Secondly, the Kasaya Canal between the Zambezi and the Chobe in the Impalila Conservancy was proclaimed a fish sanctuary, and thirdly, the Zambezi-Chobe-River-System was declared a fish sanctuary, with fishing prohibited from December 1st until February 28th.

The success of the fish wardens depends on the generous donations of the private sector. Many lodges rely on good fish stocks, because numerous anglers come to the Zambezi Region in pursuit of their hobby. Angling is subject to the rule of catch and release. Communities also depend on healthy fish stocks as a vital food source. However, uncontrolled commercial and illegal fishing can seriously damage fish stocks in the long term.

Author: Dirk Heinrich

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