Why the fish ban is important
Published On January 7, 2014 » 9474 Views» By Hildah Lumba » Features
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By Winston Muleba Jr. –

Zambezi commercial fishing area recently petitioned Government to suspend the fish ban on the lower Zambezi River in Luangwa because Zimbabwean fishermen are uninterrupted on their side.

Not too long ago, the Fisheries Department in Kafue confiscated more than 1,000 kilogrammes of fresh and dry fish from the Kafue fishery in observance of the annual fish ban.

Every year the Government of Zambia through the Department of Fisheries (DoF) enforces the fish ban, which basically aims at promoting sustainable utilisation of fisheries resources in Zambia.

This move contributes to the economy through the generation of employment, income and improved availability of fish which adds to poverty reduction by making it available as a reliable and sustainable source of protein, especially for the rural communities.

The department is also responsible for the enforcement and regulation of the Fisheries Act, cap 22 of 2011 of the Laws of Zambia (ACF/FSRP, 2009).

Nearly every year when the fish ban is enforced, it brings about controversy among the stakeholders involved who include the fishermen, traders and consumers, for the reason that parties involved have different perception of the fish ban activity and their level of interest and use of fish during the period differs.

Basically, the fish ban is the restricting of fishing activities in the fishery areas, to allow the fish to breed. This includes the commercially preferred species, mostly Tilapia species.

Fish breeds throughout the year, but according to research findings, this period of the year and at the onset of the rainy season, fish reaches their peak. This is attributed to a number of reasons such as favourable conditions in terms of availability of food run-offs recharging nutrients in the water bodies and most important of all, fish species have a cue in their brains that triggers breeding, a behaviour that is common to most commercially important species.

Therefore, the period from December 1, to end of February has been identified as fish breeding period.

Fish is a renewable natural resource but not inexhaustible. The transformation of the fishing sector from subsistence fishing to the status of an industry has necessitated implementation of various conservation measures for sustainable harvesting and to maintain the equity issues, in this regard, conservation of this resource has been emphasised since time immemorial by different means including traditional community-based fisheries management.

Therefore, this being the case, the fish resources ought to be monitored and managed to maintain harvest at sustainable levels as they provide food and livelihood security to millions of the population.

Management of fisheries is not confined to management of stocks alone but it should consider all the stakeholders associated with the sector directly or indirectly such as fishers, traders, those involved in post-harvest operations and those who provide support services to the sector.

Besides, fish stocks live in a highly variable and a complex ecosystem and are affected by human interventions and vagaries of nature, which emphasises the need for including the risk and uncertainty factors in the management strategies.

If the fishery areas are not managed or regulated, this may cause several problems ranging from resource extinction to socio-economic conflicts.

To avoid such conflicts, the Government’s function through department of fisheries is to endeavour conserve, manage and develop fishery resources and waters in a sustainable manner.

As a result, the usage of illegal fishing gear including mosquito nets, potato bags and shading netting material, which have continued to be used in most of the fisheries in Central, Luapula, Lusaka, Northern and Western provinces negatively impact on the fish stocks.

It must be understood that in almost all the areas, the fisheries officers in collaboration with the security wings should patrol to arrest the offenders but due to resource constraints, manpower, finance and inadequate marine support equipment especially boats and engines, such efforts retard the effective operation to contain teh situation and hence some people take this as an advantage to break the law.

Current fishing practices show a global trend of stock depletions.

Over-fishing, among others, is recognised as one of international problem in the fishery sector.

Over-fishing affects per capita consumption. The drop in the per capita consumption is also attributed to the decline in fish stocks in some of the fisheries as a result of excessive fishing and use of bad fishing methods, as well as an increase in demand due to the increase in the human population.

As such, the Department of Fisheries in the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock’s is mandated through the Fisheries Act, Cap 200 of the Laws of Zambia, to manage the fishery resources of the country.

In line with the provisions of the Act, among other control measures that are employed from December 1, to the end of February annually include mesh size restriction of not less than 50 milli metres for all stationary gill nets, (this restriction allows for new recruits to attain a minimum size before being exploited); introduction of permanently closed areas as sanctuaries and breeding grounds for commercially important species, a complete ban on use of some destructive fishing methods such as forcefully driving of fish into set nets, using explosives, use of weirs targeting migratory fish, and beach seine nets operated in shallow waters, which incidentally destroy fish nests and foul the water by stirring up silt, prohibited fishing areas for all or designated species of fish or methods of fishing, limitations on the methods or fishing gear, including mesh sizes of nets that may be used for fishing, limiting the amount, size, age and other characteristics and species or composition of species of fish that may be caught, landed or traded, control the introduction into, or harvesting or removal from any fishery waters of any aquatic plant and any other measures that are necessary for the proper management of fishery (Fisheries act, 2011).

It is suffice to say that during the operations to check on compliance – in the fishery, a combined team of Zambia Police and fisheries officers work together in patrolling. When the offenders are apprehended, they are formally charged by the law enforcers and then taken to court. It is the magistrates’ who determines the sentence to be meted out on the offender.

Considering the depletion and over-fishing of fish species of commercial and economic importance, regular monitoring and impact assessments are imperative to suggest timely management measures.

This then suggest the need for increasing sensitisation and awareness among the fishermen, traders and consumers towards issues of sustainability.

In a nutshell, fish ban helps in long-term sustainability of stocks, fish growing, thereby improving the price and value. Perhaps a combination of several other regulatory measures such as minimum or maximum legal size at capture, mesh size regulation, licensing, regulation of operation of motorised boats and capping the number of boats are necessary along with seasonal closure for replenishment of fish stocks.

(The author is Copperbelt University student

For comments: mwenyamuleba@gmail.com)

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