Pervasive net fishing in protected areas forces Sikunga Conservancy to employ full-time fish guards – costs have become prohibitive
Policing the Sikunga Channel against illegal fishing has turned out to be a more costly exercise than what the Bhukalo Traditional Authority anticipated when it applied for legal protection of the channel’s conservation status in 2015.
The application was submitted to the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources by the Sikunga Conservancy in cooperation with the Bukalo Traditional Authority and on 25 November 2015, both the Sikunga and Kasaya Channels were recognised legally as fish protection areas.
These channels are shallow backwaters of the Zambezi river where fish spawn during specific times of the year. As such they are important ecological reservoirs to replenish fish populations in the main river. The areas adjacent to the channels usually flood seasonally but the channels themselves remain clear and running, providing the terrestrial link to the Zambezi.
As part of the successful application to turn the Sikunga channel into a reserve, the conservancy is under the obligation to conduct patrols and train fish monitors. These functions have developed to the level where the conservancy now fields fifteen full-time fish monitors acting as guardians of the reserve.
It is their job to prevent or detect any illegal activity of which the most pressing problem is the pervasive fishing with nets by delinquent Caprivians. This problem has become worse over the past ten years with the free distribution of mosquito nets as a preventive measure against malaria. These same nets, designed and distributed to save human lives, are now the bane of fish stocks in many areas along the Zambezi.
Initially, it was expected that the income to pay the fish monitors will be generated by utility rights for which lodges and recreational anglers had to pay. But the criminal problem was so large that the number of guards grew to fifteen, to protect only 8 kilometres of channel. The income from selling fishing rights to angling clubs proved to be vastly inadequate.
Helping to ensure the sustainability of the guarding effort as well as the conservation area, FNB Namibia through the bank’s CSI arm, the FirstRand Namibia Foundation Trust, recently committed to support the conservancy with nearly N$800,000 over three years.
“We want to thank the team of Sikunga Fish Protection for their hard work and for playing an active role in the guardianship of our environment, particularly in Zambezi River ecosystem”, said Allan Matengu, FNB Branch Manager in Katima Mulilo.
Dgini Visser of the Gondwana Care Trust echoed “Conservation of our natural resources is only possible when like-minded organizations and communities work together to preserve these resources. The Gondwana Care Trust is sincerely thankful to FNB Namibia and the FirstRand Namibia Foundation Trust for its generous contribution to the Fish Protection Project in the Sikunga Conservancy.”
Caption: Fish monitors Bernard Sikwana, Obby Sifaya, Morrison Melida and Nelson Ndopu, with Allan Matengu (centre) of FNB, Willem Steenkamp (right) and Lappies Laubscher.