In 2019, the rivers were low and fish species had difficulty to find appropriate and secure breeding grounds. There were no shallow waters in the flood plains to offer opportunities to hide and young fish had to stay in the mainstream where they became prey to larger fish and illegal fishing methods. Catching fish the traditional way was difficult in the deeper waters. This year however, the rivers are high and floodplains are covered in water, providing the perfect breeding grounds and the optimal habitat for fish. While the fish populations surge, the locals also once again have a valuable food source to rely on. This has also meant that illegal fishing methods are on the rise and traditional ways of fishing in conjunction with laws and regulation, have become ever more necessary to ensure that fish are being harvested in a way that reiterates the importance of sustainable practices.
Fishing plays an important role in the lives of the communities and it is no longer just for own use and/or making a living by using the resource sustainably, but fish of all sizes are caught with all kinds of methods and as many as possible are also caught for commercial use. This has a tremendous negative impact on the populations of fish in our rivers.
Instead of using illegal mosquito nets and monofilament nets or illegally-sized nets, it is important to promote the traditional way of catching fish. This does not only keep certain traditions surrounding established fishing methods alive, which could also be beneficial for the tourism industry, but it also guarantees that the material used for fishing does not in any way harm the environment. Traditionally, people make their fishing traps from natural materials found around their homes – reeds, twigs and palm leaf fibres. These traps are as effective as a simple fishing rod which many of the locals can also be seen using on the embankment of the river and which simply consist of a long twig, a piece of string and a hook.
While the women and children mainly set the traps in shallow water and also check them regularly, the men usually set nets with the help of a traditional boat (mokoro) in the deeper waters, or use self-made fishing rods to catch fish from the shore. Most fish that is harvested in this way, is for own use. Some people sell their catch to have a small income to be able to buy food and other necessities.
While people in the central north utilise fish only when the Efunja comes down and iishana are filled with water, the people in the Kavango West, Kavango East and Zambezi regions are able to catch fish all year round. The floods this year have made catching fish easier, since there is a lot of shallow water to set traps in.
During the lockdown the police, army and members of the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, increased their patrols to arrest illegal immigrants fishing in Namibia, confiscated illegal nets like mosquito nets as well as the catch of those who used prohibited methods to capture the fish.
A number of the traps are well-thought out decorative materials and when not used for fishing they can be used alternatively as lampshades or as unique souvenirs for tourists.
Author: Dirk Heinrich