An extract from a 2016 article by Denis Tweddle, Project Coordinator – NNF/EU Community Conservation Fisheries in KAZA Project.
Namibia is well-known for its highly productive sea fisheries. But there is much less awareness of the vital role the inland river and floodplain fisheries in the north of Namibia play in food security and livelihoods for much of the country’s rural population, including some of the poorest communities in the country.
Three major perennial rivers in the north east of the country, the Kavango, Kwando and Zambezi, all support major fisheries, with additional fishing in Oshanas, the shallow depressions that fill in the north central area during the flood season. However, these freshwater fisheries have in recent years suffered serious declines due to increased, uncontrolled exploitation using environmentally destructive fishing gear.
There is a direct link between the fisheries collapse in the Zambezi River and the introduction of fishing nets made of monofilament nylon in the late 1990s. Monofilament nets are made of single strands of transparent nylon and replaced the previous multifilament (string) nets. Monofilament nets are on average three times more effective than multifilament nets, so even if the number of nets in use remains the same, fishing effort is tripled.
Even hippos have been seen entangled in such nets, and a hippo injured by the twine can become a very dangerous animal. A complete ban on the importation and use of monofilament nets in Namibia’s rivers is urgently needed. Unfortunately, there is an unrealistic expectation in many fishing communities that government will be fully responsible for managing fisheries and controlling fishing methods. Because of this, communities hesitate to take initiatives themselves.
The Namibia Nature Foundation (NNF) has a long-term programme, in partnership with ministries and other organisations, to address the situation. The current NNF EU-funded project, Community Conservation Fisheries in KAZA, aims to encourage and empower local communities to take responsibility for managing fishery resources sustainably.
Throughout the world, Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are increasingly used to protect fish breeding stocks. Through the information provided by the NNF project, this approach is increasingly understood by the Zambezi fishing communities, and the concept of Fish Protection Areas (FPAs) is being adopted by communities. Two pilot FPAs have been established by Namibian communities, one in Sikunga Conservancy and another in Impalila Conservancy. In a landmark decision in 2015, at the request of the conservancies and with the Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources (Hon. Bernard Esau) having taken a direct interest, the FPAs were formally designated as “Fish Reserves” by the Namibia Government. Each of the protected river channels is over 12 km long and together they represent a major commitment to protecting the breeding stocks.