Illegal fishing in Lake Ngami is a threat to species and local livelihoods and any move against it could spark conflict with Zambia and the DRC.
The Botswana ministry of environment, wildlife and tourism’s failure to crack down on illicit fishing operations in the wetlands of Ngamiland and the Chobe region may result in extinction of species, economic losses, and destruction of livelihoods in the northwest of the country.
Information gathered by the Oxpeckers Centre for Investigative Environmental Journalism suggests that the influx of Congolese and Zambian fishermen at Lake Ngami has left authorities worried about the depletion of resources and environmental challenges that arise at the fishermen’s informal settlements.
Lake Ngami falls at the southwest fork of the Okavango Delta and mostly feeds from the inflows of the delta. The Okavango, one of the largest bodies of inland water, was recently listed under the Ramsar wetlands of global importance by the United Nations.
Along the lake’s shores, fishermen can be seen drying fish and packing it in large consignments ready to be trucked into Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
A few years ago there were less than 200 fishermen from other countries, but the numbers have exploded to more than 3?000.
Ngami farming communities have appealed to the ministry to suspend fishing at the lake because of a proliferation of squatter camps and the uncontrolled influx of pirate fishermen attracted to Botswana by the booming fishing opportunity on the lake.
Bareetsi Bogaisang, chairperson of the Lake Ngami Fishing Cluster, said the problem had escalated beyond control.
There was a high demand for bream and barbel in Zambia because these species had been overfished in that country, he said.
“The Zambians now come to Botswana and fish in bulk,” said Bogaisang.
“Some even put in orders for 30?000 to 45?000 fish a month – a figure that has increased from about 7?000 a couple of years ago.
“The rising demand has caught us unprepared. This explains the failure to monitor, regulate and protect the trade from this exploitation,” Bogaisang said.
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