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Locals Risk Arrests and Drowning To Poach Fish Worth $30 A Day

Bubi-Lupane dam is now a death trap for fish poachers who use makeshift boats and mosquito nets. Image by Mongabay

BY CALVIN MANIKA | @The_CBNews | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | MAR 18, 2022

In Matabeleland North’s Lupane and Bubi districts, the desire to earn a living through fish poaching outweighs risks of drowning and prosecution as many struggle to find legal means of survival.

LUPANE (The Citizen Bulletin) — Onward Sibanda (41) walks an estimated two kilometres distance almost daily from Mpofu village to Lupane shopping centre, and nearby residential suburbs where he sells fresh fish to local residents.

A bucket of fish earns him between US$25 and US$30 depending on the size of the fish.

“We have no fixed prices as some customers negotiate for lesser prices and most of the time we compromise,” Sibanda, an illegal fisher, says.

Other villagers in Mpofu and Madojwa village and surrounding areas have also embraced fishing for a living.

One has to be licensed and given a permit to operate fish legally.

Environment Agency officers also have the powers to seize equipment and vehicles belonging to fish poachers.

But the majority of villagers are into illegal fishing using makeshift boats and mosquito nets to capture huge amounts of fish.

Sibanda’s wife drowned when a boat they were using capsized while crossing the Bubi-Lupane Dam on their way to Madojwa village.

Despite the sad memories, Sibanda says the need to take care of his family outweighs the risks.

“At the end of the day, we have to survive hence most people are forced to engage in illegal fish poaching,” he says.

Nonsikelelo Moyo adds: “I don't even know the processes one has to undertake to obtain the permits. We play cat and mouse with authorities and the little we get keeps us going as a family though I admit the canoes we use are a risk.”

Bubi-Lupane Dam was constructed between 2009 and 2021 and has a holding capacity of 40 million cubic meters.

Late last year, President Emmerson Mnangagwa commissioned a new water treatment plant at Bubi-Lupane Dam.

The plant has a capacity of about 9600 cubic meters per day. The President also launched a 200 hectare irrigation scheme.

Bubi-Lupane irrigation scheme is a community project under the Agricultural Rural Development Authority (ARDA) where 180 hectares are being utilised for wheat production and other cereals.

Bubi-Lupane Irrigation Scheme

But the dam which meanders along the Mpofu and Madojwa villages is now a death trap for fish poachers.

Tawanda Mazango, Lupane Youth Development Trust programs coordinator says the development of the dam has brought its fair share of problems mostly associated with drowning of illegal fish poachers.

“As Lupane Youth for Development Trust, we recommend that all activities at the dam be strictly regulated by relevant departments of parks and Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA). Young ones must at all times be accompanied by elderly persons.”
Tawanda Mazango

Lupane Dam provides water to the nearby growth point, residential suburbs and the Lupane State University (LSU) for its agricultural activities.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), fish, like all other aquatic fauna are managed under legislation governing wildlife and other natural resources.

In Zimbabwe, the Parks and Wildlife Act is the principal legislation and management law governing the development, control and management of fisheries.

Possession of fish caught in contravention of the Act is an offence punishable by a fine, the amount of which is stipulated in the relevant statutes.

But it is emerging that the natives of Lupane have not been privileged to acquire permits to fish legally and sustain their livelihoods.

The fish poachers use mosquito nets or homemade canoes and sometimes try to poach water for sale to housing contractors.

Mazango says the situation has been worsened by the creation of the Lupane-Bubi irrigation scheme meaning they have been marooned in-between.

“We have noted that whenever the dam spills young people flock to the dam wall spillway side for swimming. That dam has also limited the size of the grazing lands of the villagers.”

“It has created a wall barring their livestock to cross and graze the rich pastures in the forestry commission areas,” says Mazango

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Last week a 13 year old minor, a pupil at Tshayamathole Primary school drowned while in the company of his teacher and several friends of his age.

In a police memo seen by The Citizen Bulletin, the teacher was fishing using a bunch of old mosquito-net from a shallow looking body of water.

Mazango however, acknowledges that the construction of the dam has widened economic activities for Lupane youth.

“These include fishing, garden and small livestock rearing projects. So far, fishing is the major economic activity provided by the dam to nearby communities,” Mazango says.

“Resources permitting, there are other opportunities for youths to develop water related recreation activities on and surrounding the dam. Moreover, the dam has managed to solve perennial water shortages the town has been experiencing during the past years.”

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