Zambia’s environment ministers and his Zimbabwean counterpart have begun new talks on Lake Kariba to reduce overfishing and improve fisheries management as part of efforts to promote resource conservation and sustainable use on the world’s largest man-made lake and reservoir by volume.

Collins Nzovu, Zambian Minister of Green Economy and Environment, and Nqobizitha Mangaliso Ndlovu, Minister of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry, held the discussions on the sidelines of the United Nations Environment Assembly’s fifth session, which just ended in Nairobi, Kenya.

The problem of overfishing, which is threatening the two countries’ fisheries, was one of the main topics discussed.

Small-scale fish operators from both countries were in violation of bilateral agreements signed in 2014.

A technical committee on the development and management of the fisheries and aquaculture of Lake Kariba recommended that Zimbabwe and Zambia should reduce the number of fishing rigs operating in Lake Kariba to ensure the survival of the industry.

The countries had agreed on the number of rigs each country could deploy on Lake Kariba with the 500 sustainable maximum divided to have Zambia hosting 225 and Zimbabwe 275.

The slight extra number allocated to Zimbabwe is because most of the large eastern basin on Lake Kariba is on the Zimbabwean side.

“However, currently Zimbabwe has 429 rigs, while Zambia has 1 500. This among other fish methods is creating overfishing, fish mortality, small sized bred fish,” Minister Ndlovu said.

Apart from over-fishing, pollution of the Zambezi river was also threatening fish stocks as well.

The Kapenta Producers’ Association of Zimbabwe says there has been a steep decline in the stocks of kapenta, a key fish resources both directly for harvesting and a food fish for other species.

This, the association says, has led to a rise in the price of the fish.

At its peak in the 1990s, the association says, fisher rigs realised between five to 15 trays per vessel, but they are now netting as little as two trays per vessel or even less.

In 2020, Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks) stopped the issuing new fishing permits to curb the depletion of the fish.

Millions of people in the Zambezi basin region eat kapenta in their daily diet and thousands of fishermen earn their living by catching it.

But over-fishing – together with an increase in the numbers of the introduced freshwater crayfish, which eat kapenta eggs and hatchlings – is threatening livelihoods, jobs and food security.

In addition to the huge numbers of unsustainable fishing vessels, fish poachers who reportedly flood Lake Kariba at night have also compounded the problems.

Small-scale fisheries play a significant role in enhancing livelihoods, creating employment and contributing to food security for both Zimbabwe and Zambia.

The fishing communities in both countries are highly dependent on natural resources, which are climate sensitive.

Marine experts say food insecurity, wildlife attacks, lack of access to information systems, lack of fishing equipment, the existence of the predator crayfish, poor lake co-management and shrinking fishing boundaries are now threatening fish stocks on Lake Kariba.

They urge governments to develop small-scale fisheries policies that could positively enhance livelihoods and food security.

More than a third of the fish stocks around the world are being overfished and the problem is particularly acute in developing countries, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation said in a report released in 2020.