|RAP fish team angling for fish.|
"In the past 12 years I've seen birds, otters and crocodiles stuck in the nets," said Jan Drotsky, owner of a fishing camp in the northern panhandle of the Okavango River. "Without fish quotas, the rivers will be cleaned out."
Fishing is a natural pursuit along any river but it's a particularly sensitive issue here in Botswana where opinions about the state of fisheries clash heavily among competing interests, including commercial fishermen, lodge owners, and villagers.
Commercial fishermen see the river and its fish as a resource that is up for grabs. Some of them have created lucrative businesses that send fish to far-away cities. Villagers, using less sophisticated fishing methods, still depend on the fish they catch for protein and their livelihood.
||"The observations expressed by both fishermen and lodge owners are consistent with one another, but each of the groups place a very different slant on their interpretation of the problem."|
Now, at the height of the tourist season, the conflict is growing. The sport fishermen report fewer, smaller fish than before and say they are seeing more sophisticated fishing methods being used. During the expedition we've heard reports that freezers at commercial fishing camps are being run off generators and that bycatch (unwanted fish) are being tossed away. We've also seen wide nets stretched across lagoons leading into the main channel.
Part of the conflict stems from the fact that commercial fishing has been promoted throughout the country. Fishermen can receive more than 60,000 pula (approximately $12,000) to purchase boats, motors, and fishing apparatus from the government. Many consider this type of grant an important economic development incentive for local people.
ARTICLE: Not Such a Fine Kettle of Fish.
The debate is also about policy. There are no fish quotas in the Okavango, which allows fishermen of all types to take as much fish as they can from the river. Instituting a quota system may be one of many options, but it is perhaps not the most feasible given the vast extent of the waterways here. Who could possibly patrol it all?
While the AquaRAP team is focused on gathering scientific data about fish and other organisms, no one can ignore the fisheries issue. Everyone on the team recognizes the potential for the information and observations collected during the AquaRAP as useful in policy information.
Fisheries expert Denis Tweddle has been interviewing commercial fishermen and lodge owners and, with fish team member Ben van der Waal, the two have been exploring the angling potential themselves. "The observations expressed by both fishermen and lodge owners are consistent with one another, but each of the groups place a very different slant on their interpretation of the problem," said Denis.
ARTICLE: The Net Loss of Overfishing.
The issue is not simply one of overfishing. All the scientists who have looked at this issue agree that the fish populations of the Delta overall are not yet badly overfished. The conflicts arise because individual groups are exploiting a very small slice of the overall fish populations which happens to be the same slice of the same pie, so to speak. Both target the large bream species. Plus, the camps for the commercial fisheries and tourist sport fishers are often located immediately adjacent to one another, which creates higher tensions.
No conclusions or recommendations from the AquaRAP team yet, but there's still another half of an expedition to go.
– Lani Asato
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