The water body has been threatened by overfishing, climate change, and human driven activities that led to biodiversity loss. Communities who depend on it cry foul as efforts to safeguard fish species thwart.
Lake Tanganyika Authority (LTA) announced a three-month ban to allow biodiversity recovery starting from May 15th to August 15th, 2023 on riparian countries including Burundi, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Zambia.
Sylvain Toussanga, LTA Executive Director reported in January 2023 that the decision came after consultations of the concerned countries in a bid to restore fish species regenerations and stock.
“Not only we aim to increase and promote the production of fish species but also to enhance a sustainable management of fisheries resources,” said Toussanga.
According to him the catchment countries plan to train monitoring and surveillance personnel who will monitor the lake during this closure period where fishing boats are forbidden in the lake, only transport boats will be allowed to ship.
“This biological rest will allow the recovery of fish stocks in Lake Tanganyika as fish will freely breed and regenerate. Also, it will increase in the after the period fish harvests as fishermen and consumers remain key beneficiaries,” he added.
The move comes as fish reaping has declined for the past years. According to the World Bank data, in Burundi, harvest fell to 19,589 tons in 2020 from 21,805 tons in 2016.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo though the stats remain unknown fish harvest declined as well. According to Muzumani Risasi, the National Coordinator of the Lake Tanganyika Fisheries Management Project (LATAFIMA) initiated by Lake Tanganyika Authority, catch fish overtime fell off.
“Before, we used to fish offshore in deep waters, the estimates of catch fish were calculated on baskets or boxes. To date, it is hard to get a full box. There is nothing left. The open lake hardly regorge fish as the tendency is to lower down to the spawning coast areas where alevins (young fish) grow,” said Risasi in March 2023.
Lake Tanganyika supports a major fishery, which, depending on source, provides 25–40% or c. 60% of the animal protein in the diet of the people living in the region.
Currently, there are around 100,000 people directly involved in the fisheries operating from almost 800 sites across the lake basin. The lake is also vital to the estimated 10 million people living in the greater basin
Over 10 million people depend on Lake Tanganyika basin of which close to two million depend directly or indirectly on fishing. In addition, the fishery sector in Burundi contributes 1% to the country’s GDP which is mainly carried out on Lake Tanganyika and still traditional.
Most of the fishing vessels in Burundi waters are done by local communities using imported fishnets and locally made wood canoes.
Burundi accounts for over 100,000 people who rely directly on fishing stretching over the lake’s catchment from Gatumba (Northern West of the lake) to the Nyanza Lac (recurring Southern part of the lake bordering Tanzania).
In Rumonge province for example where bigger communities are registered, the decisions raised heavy concerns as local communities could not stand the government turning its back on them.
The lake attracts different people from different corners on the national level. Those who fish or are involved in trading fish in markets, provide to the population between 25–40% or 60% of the animal protein in the diet of Burundian dishes.
Patrick Manariyo 28, a fisherman who met at the fishing port of Rumonge (one of the main sites) reported that the temporary ban of three months is too long as they were accustomed to one or two weeks’ injunction.
“I am forced to go back and permanently become jobless. I don’t know what I will tell my wife and my two kids,” said Manariyo.
The ban period will end while the next school year crops up. For him, he anticipated how he would get school materials without proper solutions at his fingertips.
Another fisherman met at this port, a native of Rumonge province, urged the government to avail short term alternatives in the shutdown period.
“Since my birth I have never been on a farm. All my life I have been in the lake. I cannot imagine earning a living from farming rather than the authorities, at least, the authorities should accommodate us with small grants to set up mini business projects,” he added.
In the beginning of February 2023, the Minister of Agriculture and Livestock paid a visit to Rumonge province and held a live discussion with the population who did not hide their dissent toward the closure of the water body.
Déo Nduwayezu, General Director of the fisheries office sectors who accompanied the minister, told the population that during this period, the State looks forward to giving capital to the fishermen so that they can invest in other fields.
Few steps in Tanzania, according to fishermen, Tanzania has already started recording whoever is associated with fishing including boats’ owners, and human workforce. Landlords are expected to receive around 7 million Tanzania Shillings while 1,5 million will be cashed out for fishermen.
For the president of Fishermen in Nyanza Lac, Jean Pierre Mkubwa, the same initiative is being whispered. However, he added, the big portion will go to the boats’ bosses instead of hardworking fishermen who cripple in poverty.
“If it happens, which is our prayers that small capital is given for sharing, it will be the owners of the boats who will get the big share,” said Mkubwa. When it’s time for money there are selfish people who present themselves as fishermen,” he concluded.
During the fishing season, the population of the lake’s shores labor day and night all ages included. Women and children sell daily harvested fish during the night. Beaches are crowded with residents who gather to buy in small and big quantities.
Salma Amini (24) met at Kajaga beach at 9 a.m, who came from Kamenge market and reported that she does not see what she will do in the period when the lake will be at rest.
“It is a forced holiday, you can guess. I will try to sell vegetables or whatever I will cross to while waiting,” she said.
Imagine from selling Ndagala and Mukeke (respectively Limnothrissa miodon and Luciolates stappersii dominant fish species most consumed) to selling tomatoes, she added.
For her with only BIF 10,000 (around 2,5 Euros) she could easily feed her family and send kids to schools. She reported that she can easily earn double of her capital. “If customers come normally,I sometimes get BIF 5,000 (1,2 Euro), BIF 8,000 (1,5Euro), or BIF 10,000 (2,5Euros).
Package trayers who transport big boxes of fish to the places of sale are not also spared by measure. It extends also to the consumers of fish. For them, the period of closure of the lake will be too critical: “We are used to eating fresh fish mixed with vegetables. Their preparation is affordable,” they said.
“But, since we won’t have any more fish, we will turn to eating beans, which require a lot of charcoal. We also fear for the health of our children who may catch diseases related to malnutrition,” report the residents of the fishing ports of Kabonga, Nyanza-Lac, Muguruka, Karonda, Rumonge, Kagongo, Minago, Magara, Rutunga, Gitaza and Kabezi.
In an attempt to cope with this period, Sylvain Toussanga, Executive Director of the Lake Tanganyika Authority, called upon the population of the four countries to consume fish accordingly as storing is easier.
Same view shared by cooperative leaders, they mentioned that they cannot rely on government’s promises, rather prepare in advance and take proper moves including shifting to other income generating activating, storing methods, and for those who have financial means develop fish farming.
Environmental advocates applauded the initiative which they hope will continue at least every year.
“The lakes’ biodiversity has been fighting itself,” said Léonidas Nzigirampa, environmentalist and former Director of Burundi Environment Protection Authority.
“It gives a short breath to the lake in the meantime the fish pond process is freely executed, even growing for newborn children is guaranteed,” said Léonidas.
However, for Gaspard Ntakimazi, Lecturer and Researcher at the National University in the Department Biology who contributed to the Socio-economy of the small-scale fishing in the Burundian waters of Lake Tanganika at Mvugo and Muguruka research paper, other factors should be taken into consideration such as water pollution as well as the increasing of the lake’s temperature.
“Solid and liquid pollution have been for the last decade one of the drivers of the biodiversity loss in Lake Tanganyika. Also, efforts should be expended to contain deposit erosion into the waters to avoid eutrophication,” he concluded.
The Regional Charter of the Member States of the Lake Tanganyika Authority on measures for the sustainable management of fisheries in Lake Tanganyika and its basin came into effect on April 1, 2022. It was adopted during the 9th Conference of Ministers of the Lake Tanganyika Authority, held on 16 December 2021 in Kigoma, Tanzania.