East Congolese Fishermen Denounce Lack of Safety on Lake Tanganyika



Fishermen on Lake Tanganyika © Charlotte Huyghe
East Congolese Fishermen Denounce Lack of Safety on Lake Tanganyika
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Siska Van Parys

Fishermen on Lake Tanganyika in DR Congo experience a lack of safety and demand a more honest enforcement of current regulations regarding overfishing and illegal material. This is the conclusion of an international research team based on more than 1,000 interviews with fishermen and other stakeholders of the Lake Tanganyika fisheries. They also indicated a decline in the number and size of their catches, possibly an indication of overfishing.

Lake Tanganyika is one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world. It is divided between the four neighboring countries, in different proportions: DR Congo (45%), Tanzania (41%), Burundi and Zambia (together 14%). Fishing on the lake provides livelihoods for tens of thousands of fishermen and is the main source of protein for more than one million people. Fish stocks in the lake are under strong pressure, mainly due to overexploitation and pollution. To ensure that they do not become depleted, good management is indispensable.

If you want to adapt the regulations to the needs of the people who depend on the fishery, you need to know their point of view. Biologists from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS), Leuven University, Hasselt University, Nord University (Norway) and the Congolese Centre for Research and Hydrobiology (CRH) conducted more than 1,000 interviews with fishermen, fishmongers, government officials and other stakeholders in the fishery of Lake Tanganyika in eastern DR Congo, one of the poorest regions in the world. Fishermen called for more protection, better access to safety equipment and better enforcement of current regulations. Scientists also found indications of overfishing.

Dangerous conditions

Interviews with fishermen revealed that their main concern is a lack of safety. "Fishermen report dangerous conditions, such as high waves and strong winds. They are also regularly attacked by gangs active on the lake, or extorted by soldiers or security officers", says biologist Els De Keyzer (KU Leuven), who conducted the research. Fishermen urgently demand more safety equipment such as life jackets, and that strict action is taken against gangs and corruption.

Indications of overfishing?

Remarkably, fishermen, fishmongers and officials alike indicate that the catches of the three main species of fish are declining and that the fish on the market are becoming smaller and smaller. These could be indications of overfishing. "We notice a strange contradiction here, where participants in the interviews indicate that fish are less available, but do not attribute this to overfishing or overpopulation", according to biologist Maarten Van Steenberge (RBINS), who coordinated the research. As a result, fishermen and others are not open to changes in regulations, as they do not consider them necessary.

Stricter enforcement

A stricter fishery policy has little chance of success if the local population is not in favour of it. In eastern Congo, regulation of fishing is limited to banning certain materials and closing the fishery for a few days a month. "We do notice that there is a demand from fishermen to apply the existing rules more strictly, for instance to fight unfair competition from fishermen using illegal materials," says Pascal Masilya Mulungula, researcher at the CRH. 

The researchers hope that the results of the study will be a starting point for policy makers, so that the interests of the local population are considered when adapting the regulations to the current situation.


The study has been published in the Journal of Great Lakes Research.


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