The fish rich waters of Lake Ngami have finally rested following a ban that was imposed by the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism earlier this year.Hundreds of people had in recent years flocked to the lake to set up fishing businesses following its resurrection after years of dry out.
Ngamiland wildlife coordinator, Bolt Othomile told The Patriot on Sunday in an interview on Friday that the ban had been so far successful as no illegal fishing activity was reported at the lake. Othomile said his department was working well with communities of the six villages surrounding the lake to set up a community trust that will manage any commercial fishing activity at the lake from next year going forward. "We are currently at an advanced stage and hope that by next year the trust will be up and running,” said Othomile.
The Lake Ngami Conservation Trust consists was formed after six (6) villages surrounding the Lake applied for a lease for controlled Hunting Area NG38 in which the lake lies. According to the wildlife coordinator the management plan of the trust has also provided for other activities such as boating, and camp sites licenses which were otherwise suffocated by the high number of fishermen in the area.
The large fishing community that had set camp at lake camp had according to Othomile dispersed and had spread to other streams and rivers in Ngamiland where fish is available. Though he admits that the same scenario as the one that prompted the fish ban at Lake Ngami might occur, he could not say how they were addressing the situation. "At the moment we only advising them to camp in villages near their fishing spots to avoid congestion near rivers,” said Othomile.
Earlier this year, former senior research fellow at Botswana Institute of Development Policy Analysis (BIDPA) Professor Roman Grynberg wrote an article chronicling the somehow unregulated fish trade in Northern Botswana, particularly at Lake Ngami. Grynberg opined that the Ngamiland fishery has become a lawless “wild west” of Botswana and government needs to act. Botswana, according to the Professor, is silently becoming a significant exporter of unknown quantities of tilapia and catfish to water rich countries like Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Despite this Grynberg says Lake Ngami fishing is completely unsustainable as the lake will one day disappear as it has in the past but it is also unsustainable because the rate of extraction of fish is not controlled. “Almost no country has succeeded in sustaining this sort of fishing but it should certainly be the right of Batswana and not Zambians and Congolese to benefit from the fisheries and the greatest commercial benefit is in the trading far more than it is in the fishing, “ wrote Professor Grynberg.
Subsequently the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism announced that it will impose a year long fishing suspension at Lake Ngami in order to better control and regulate the industry.
The Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism Tshekedi Khama echoed Professor Grynberg’s words in an interview with this publication saying his ministry decided to impose the ban as a way of protecting the interests of Batswana and putting more stringent regulatory measures in place.
Like earlier stated by Professor Grynberg when calling Lake Ngami the lawless Wild West, Khama said it was now clear that the situation at Lake Ngami was getting out of hand and needed government intervention.
According to the Minister, government had thought by issuing about 300 fishing licenses to locals, it was opening up the sector to benefit locals, only to realize that foreign nationals had now taken control of the lake and were looting fish in large volumes and exporting it to neighbouring countries. “Only a few Batswana were benefitting from the large quantities that were now exported outside the country,” he said.
Over 1000 settlers had according to the Minister set camp on the banks of Lake Ngami and the area (In Professor Grynberg‘s words, looked like a refugee camp with scores of crowded tents. This according to Khama not only reflected the over-harvesting that was possibly taking place but was slowly becoming an environmental and a health hazards to the local villagers. “Government had to act swiftly to protect Batswana and to prevent possible fish species extinction.” he said.
Lake Ngami according to Tshekedi is protected under the Ramsar convention treaty. Though he says his ministry has not yet received any complaints from this Convention on Wetlands of International Importance he says the pressure is imminent. The Ramsar Convention's broad aims are to halt the worldwide loss of wetlands and to conserve, through wise use and management, those that remain. This requires international cooperation, policy making, capacity building and technology transfer.
Has government been managing and giving environmental issues at Lake Ngami the necessary attention? Minister Khama’s honest answer is No. He says upon realising this, all stakeholders including residents of the surrounding villages met and agreed that fishing has to be controlled and regulated better, hence the fishing suspension.
When responding to a question from MP for Ngami Thato Kwerepe during the past parliament sitting , enquiring on whether the Minister does not consider it appropriate to draft a policy to regulate fishing in Lake Ngami to avert the damage caused to the environment and aquatic life in the lake, Khama said his Ministry was concerned with the situation at Lake Ngami and has put in place mechanisms to regulate fishing to avert the damage.
According to Khama to date, the lake has an approved Management Plan and his ministry is in the process of finalizing the revised fish protection regulations.