The fishing industry is facing uncertain times following a progressive decline in catches in recent years, fishermen in Lake Kariba have said.
This is compounded by overfishing in Basin 5 in the lake where people are leaving basins 3 and 4, according to their Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks) permits.
While there are many reasons for the low catches, fishermen contend that the industry was not being properly regulated leading to overfishing and disturbance of breeding, resulting in some fishermen fishing in breeding areas to meet daily targets set by rig owners.
Others just seek to balance what they remain with, after paying permit holders.
Permit holders are leasing out permits to those with fishing boats and paid with part of the catch.
There is a secondary permit of buying and selling, which allows people to trade in Kapenta, even when they do not have the primary permit.
Such permits allow people to buy fish and sell across the country, increasing demand for Kapenta, resulting in some unscrupulous fishermen engaging in unsustainable fishing.
Official data puts yearly yield of around 9 000 tonnes of fish as of 2012, down from a peak of 27 000 in 1999 with several companies folding citing viability concerns.
Some experts project that the Kapenta industry could easily produce 50 000 tonnes of fish per year with proper regulation.
There are about 400 boats in Lake Kariba with a significantly higher number of boats on the Zambian side.
A high number of unregistered boats and artisanal fishermen are also present in the lake.
A study conducted by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) showed that the lake could sustain 500 boats, with 250 on either side.
Kapenta Operators Association executive member, Mr Chartwell Tanga Kanhema, said the decline in catches had been evident over the years.
“Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority used to give a permit that allowed us to catch kapenta, dry and sell but they later introduced another one, which allows people to buy and sell the Kapenta.
“This has created problems where everyone wants to have the kapenta knowing they can sell anywhere. It makes it difficult to regulate,” said Mr Tanga. Some crews and other artisanal fishermen are drying kapenta on islands dotted around the lake, fishing camps and in Kariba’s residential areas.
Basin 5 is regarded as the most viable owing to its proximity to mainland Kariba, while Basins 3 and 4 are further into the lake, and therefore away from consumables such as fuel and food.