Lake Tanganyika is the second largest freshwater fishery on the African continent, after Lake Victoria. The lake is shared between four riparian countries (Burundi to the north, DR Congo to the west, Tanzania to the east, Zambia to the south). The potential annual fish production was, in the 1990s, around 200,000 tonnes. By 2011, the lake’s total annual fish production had dropped to between 110 and 120,000 tonnes, according to fisheries experts.
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At the origin of this fall, the number of fishermen had increased dramatically during the previous decade, and these new fishermen were adopting fishing gears that destroy the stocks. Indeed, population growth in the region had put tens of thousands of young adults on the job market each year, while employment and income opportunities in rural areas were rare. Instead, as access to fishing was free, these young people gathered some financial means, bought fishing equipment and rushed to the resource. At the same time these new fishermen, without a culture of fish ecology, caught fish from an early age, before they could reproduce and renew the stock. Thus, each year, the quantity of fish in Lake Tanganyika decreased.
From 2016, the situation got even worse. As adult fish became increasingly rare throughout the lake, the more experienced fishermen also began to fish for juveniles to survive economically. Thus, the fish which before was caught at 350 grams, when it becomes an adult, was now caught at 5 or 50 grams, before having reproduced. The collapse of fish stocks accelerated. The year 2017 was catastrophic for fishermen, and it was even worse in 2018.
It is in this context that the fisheries experts of the Lake Tanganyika Authority (LTA) alerted the authorities and donors to the urgency of finding a solution to this anarchic overfishing, before the fish stocks are destroyed. There was exposed the challenge of the survival of the resource in Lake Tanganyika, but also of the populations who live from it.
Among the possible answers, the European Union, within the framework of the ECOFISH program of contribution of sustainable fishing to the Blue Economy of the region of East Africa, Southern Africa and the Indian (EA-SA-OI), granted funding to launch the LATAFIMA fisheries governance and management project “Lake Tanganyika Fisheries Management”. This project is carried out jointly by the Lake Tanganyika Authority and FAO, to put in place a sustainable management of fishing on the entire lake.
The objectives of the project are specifically to:
- Strengthen and harmonize regional policies to better coordinate lake-wide fisheries management;
- Coordinate the establishment of surveillance structures and personnel to eliminate fisheries that destroy resources.
To achieve these objectives, the following concrete actions are implemented:
- Determine at what size the most important fish (the 3 offshore species) become adults and put in place laws and regulations that prohibit catching these fishes when they are smaller than adult size;
- Map the fish breeding areas that must absolutely be protected;
- Evaluate what motivates people to engage in fishing with destructive gear and the solutions to be proposed to eliminate this problem;
- Raise awareness among populations, from fishermen to consumers, on the irreversible damage caused by the capture of juvenile fish;
- Find sources of supply of illegal nets and neutralize these parallel channels;
- Permanently patrol the lake to drive out fishermen who refuse to give up their harmful practices.
The project activities involve the scientists and authorities from the four riparian states, who actively participate in the progress of LATAFIMA. Tools are also put in place to ensure the sustainability of project actions over the long term, such as:
- Analyse and improve the collection of fishery statistics data, to create a common database, train the staff in charge of data collection and processing, including its socio-economic aspects;
- Update the census of all fishermen and other actors in the fish sector;
- Assess the performance of local groups that oversee fisheries: Fisheries Co-Management Institutions (CMI);
- Create regional networks to coordinate institutional actors;
- Create a regional monitoring group to strengthen the capacities of patrol units on the lake, in particular by providing the teams on the ground with simple and appropriate equipment for monitoring and patrolling campaigns.