The police in Kavango East have joined forces with a border patrol organisation to curb illegal fishing in the Kavango river where incidents of illegal fishing for profit have emerged in the last six years by people using prohibited nets.
Although the operation is done on a two-weekly to monthly basis and is in full swing, the fishermen are devising new tactics to fish illegally every day.
“It is an organised patrol by residents to go through the river to curb illegal fishing. It was initiated by the community living along the borders of the Kavango river, and they invite the police to join them every time they go on river patrols,” said border guard commander, Andreas Shilelo.
The operation is looking at illegal fishing by other border residents who use illegal nets, which is contributing to depleting the river of fish resources. The group also looks at other crimes, like illegal crossings and border movements.
“The community should not resort to illegal fishing. There are permits given, and they should apply through constituency offices, and also make sure that they have the appropriate nets that are approved by the ministry of fisheries for them to conduct their fishing for household consumption only, not to engage in sales,” Shilelo said.
“I urge the community to report any activities to the police so that together, we make sure that we save and take care of our river resources,” he noted.
In most cases when these fishermen are found in possession of unauthorised nets or with large quantities of fish that is suspected of being prepared for sale, they are just given fines.
“If you look at how they are conducting their fishing, these people are taking even the small ones. The future of our river fish species is thus at risk, and they destroy the river’s ecosystem in the process,” Shilelo stated.
Deon Botes, owner of Okacuito River Camp at Makena village in Kavango East, initiated the river patrol operation to clear the river of illegal fishing nets to save the various species. “What the community doesn’t understand is that this is their livelihood, and those who are engaged in these illegal operations are maybe four or five people. They are getting all the money, and leaving everyone hungry because the community won’t be able to catch fish anymore when they are depleted,” he said.
Botes noted that if the operation continues and they get the Angolan government involved to fight on both sides of the river, the operation might stand a chance to save the river’s resources.
“We effectively started engaging them before Covid-19, but now that the borders are closed, we cannot get them on board. But hopefully the borders will open soon, and we could have a good understanding and start working together,” he said.
Botes said although fishing with monofilament fishing nets is prohibited, many still use them illegally, and this has gradually caused a strain on fish species and on the river's ecosystem.
“With the Chinese who have set up shop everywhere, one can just walk in and buy these nets, and that is the problem. If government can ban the selling of these nets, it could perhaps solve the problem. We take these nets out, but the culprits just go and buy new ones from a Chinese shop . It’s a never-ending problem,” he lamented.
Botes told New Era that over the past three years, they have taken out hundreds of nets. Last year alone, they took out about 200 illegal nets, and this year close to 60 nets.
“According to the ministry of fisheries, we only have 7% fish left across the whole river. That’s based on a study they did two years ago, but they are busy with a new study now. I have also noticed that there is a definite improvement in the quantity of fish. I grew up along this river, and I can see the difference in fishing from 10 years ago to now when the netting problem started,” he added.
Botes said the major drag netting in the Kavango river started about five to six years ago, and within five years, these fishers depleted 90% of the fish population.