Fish is a vital dietary resource and is the last major food source that is primarily collected from the wild. However, overfishing can decimate local species, affecting both the communities and the ecosystem.
In response to this, Peace Parks Foundation, in partnership with the Simalaha Community Conservancy and the Namibia Nature Foundation, established the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area’s (KAZA TFCA) first community-managed transboundary fishery project. This initiative seeks to establish fish reserves and protect critical fish breeding sites on the Namibian and Zambian sides of the Zambezi River.
The fish sanctuaries along the Zambezi River are shallow bodies of water where nets and fishing are banned, lagoons that are slow flowing, which allows the local flora and fauna to rejuvenate and repopulate. These areas are chosen by the community themselves. Each local chiefdom of the Simalaha Community Conservancy elects their own Village Fisheries Management Committee (VFMC) which, with the support of Peace Parks and the Zambian Department of Fisheries, protect their own sections of the Zambezi River which can be as large as 5km in the case of Mungogo sanctuary.
Frequent patrols alert the conservation teams to netting or fishing boats in restricted zones and any individuals caught fishing in these areas can have their licenses revoked.
One of the first critical tasks of the committees was the urgent banning and confiscation of the monofilament nets (made from mosquito nets) used in the area. These nets are less durable and are frequently discarded in rivers, continuing to drift in the water catching and needlessly killing fish and other animals. They are also so fine that they even catch fish eggs, which is incredibly detrimental to restoring healthy fish populations in the river.
To have more fish in the area, and to protect the future fish populations, is very important for Simalaha, and for Zambia. It is part of the economy and can bring new development opportunities to the country. Through sustainable fishing, these fishermen and women can provide for their families and send their kids to school. The most important part of this process however, is that, through these fishing management committees, the communities are empowered to looking after their local wildlife and resources, thereby protecting and regenerating the natural and cultural heritage vital to enabling and sustaining a harmonious future for humankind and the natural world.