Delta fish dispute

Increased tourism may help Botswana weather the storm brought on by the global financial crisis, but plans to increase the number of tourists going to the Okavango Delta will be met with fierce resistance from local people who live and work along the river’s banks.

In Samochima, a village close to the northeastern border of Botswana, fishermen say the burgeoning tourism industry—which brings many visitors straight to the Okavango—needs far better regulation.

“There should not be people coming here as if the floodgates are open; they must regulate who comes here and how they behave while they are here,” Soasiko Njwaki, the chairperson of the local fishermen’s association, said recently at a public meeting attended by chiefs in the area. The association has a membership of 400 fishermen and was founded last year when increased tourism began to have a negative effect on the people’s livelihoods.

Njwaki said that tourists who went to the area paid “a lot of money” to tour operators and therefore felt that they “can do what they want”.

“We, as people living here, are conscious of the ecology and environment, but the tourists come here with boats and mess with our environment,” he said.

The motorboats used by the industry disturb the fishing communities on the river.

“We are here with our dugout boats [canoes made from the trunk of a tree] and they come with motorboats, which cause waves in the river.”

There are also concerns that tourists who use houseboats do not have proper waste disposal and therefore deposit human waste into the river, polluting the water downstream.

According to Njwaki, discussions with the department of water affairs have come to naught. He said initiatives by government to encourage more visitors to the area—such as popular fishing competitions—ruin the pickings for local fishermen.

‘They throw back the small fish that they catch during the competition and then when we catch them, they still have hooks in them, which are poisonous because they were in the fish’s flesh for so long.”

The fishermen’s association has had some small victories, such as outlawing the use of mosquito nets to catch small fish.
Some women use locally produced baskets that enable them to catch small fish, but these are allowed because they use the fish only to feed their families.

Local fisherman earn on average 1750 pula (about R2000) a month from their activities and, with funding from the United Nations Development Programme, they have acquired refrigerators to keep the fish fresh until weekly market days, when people from the area and from Namibia go to buy fish, such as bream.

About 18% of households consume half of the fish they get from the river; the rest is sold at the market.

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