How illegal fishing is hurting the industry output


Women sundry fish on the shores of lake Kivu in Rusizi. Timothy Kisambira.

Local fish production is expected to reach 30,000 in short term and almost half of this is expected to come from the traditional capture fishing.

However, this could be derailed by illegal practices used by various fishing communities, especially on Lake Kivu.

According to Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB), illegal fishing gears and methods like use of poison to kill fish is threatening the reproduction of fish and biodiversity in general.

John Kubwimana, a member of KOBOPERATI, a fishing cooperative, told Business Times that illegal fishing gears and methods have increased since last year, hurting fish production. He blamed the problem on the fact that the local water security team commonly known as Sekenya is only comprised of non-fishermen who he accuses of corruption.

“I think Sekenya security teams are full of corrupt elements because previously when we were part of the enforcement, the issue of illegal fishing nets was very minimal. However, this has since increased to 2,000 illegal fishing nets as par our own assessment,” he said.

“Fishermen who use illegal gears also boast about it, saying they get protection from Sekenya.”

Kubwimana noted that in 2016, when the fishing cooperative used to be in charge of securing the lake, they could capture between 200 and 600 kilogrammes per person every fishing expedition. “This would bring in about Rwf200, 000 but today one can only catch just 10 kilogrammes,” he added.

Yvonne Murekatete, a committee member of the Turwanye Inzara Cooperative, said illegal fishing, ironically, went up when the district local governments introduced “special guarding teams” last year.

She said the security teams that are equipped with motorised boats “are the ones supporting illegal fishing the bribery has made it possible for those with illegal fishing gears to thrive, but this is happening at the expense of the sector.”

The development has hit hard the fishing community’s income that they are failing to pay community based health insurance, “yet we used to be the first to subscribe.”

“Some cooperatives are finding it hard to pay taxes, which affects revenue collection by government. We appeal to the concerned authorities to urgently intervene in this matter…fishing cooperatives should also be part of Sekenya if we are to eradicate this challenge,” Kubwimana said.

He added that the illegal fishers pay water security teams “as low as Rwf10,000 to illegally operate.”

Fishermen on lake Kivu in Rubavu District. Timothy Kisambira.

Loss of business

Kubwimana said 55 fishing teams out of 78 teams have closed operations due to dwindling fish catches that have led to big losses. A fishing team is made up of about 11 fisher men.

“Our cooperative had 30 teams, but now only 10 teams are left,” he said, adding that it required over Rwf2.5 million to start one fishing team.

In Nyamasheke, the fishing teams could capture between 120 and 200 tonnes of silver fish per month, but has drastically reduced to around 400,000 kilogrammes, according to Kubwimana.

Murekatete said her team used to process (sundry) two tonnes of silver fish locally known as isambaza per day during the months of February to April, but this has reduced to 200 kilogrammes.

Tax evasion

According to Kubwimana, illegal fishing is a national threat in terms of endangering the lake biodiversity and fish production as well as causing loss of revenue since they don’t pay any taxes.

He said that they pay taxes while illegal fishermen don’t.

“We pay Rwf20,000 VAT, as well as Rwf3,000 for insurance every month besides the Rwf7,000 monthly subscription to the fishers’ association, but illegal fishermen never pay any of this.”

Urgent meeting for this week

Speaking to Business Times, Josué Michel Ntaganira, the Nyamasheke District vice-mayor in charge of finance and economic development, said a meeting will be held soon to deliberate on how to eradicate illegal fishing.

“When the water security teams (Sekenya) were established, fishers were supposed to be part of it… That could be the reason why cases of bribery and illegal fishing are going up. However, we want to strengthen the enforcement teams and include fishing cooperatives because they know more about the sector,” he said.

Ntaganira said they recently destroyed over 100 illegal fishing nets, adding that the number keeps increasing. Therefore, there is need for stronger collaboration with the communities around Lake Kivu, Sekenya, fishers and local leaders.

He is optimistic that with more collaboration of all the key stakeholders they will be able to streamline reporting methods and be able to set up strong supervisory teams to enforce guidelines and restore order on the lake.

RAB issues new guidelines to fight the vice

Wilson Rutaganira, the aquaculture and fisheries programme coordinator at Rwanda Agriculture Board, told Business Times that strict measures will be taken to fight illegal fishing on Lake Kivu.”

“These reported illegal fishers use fishing nets laced with poison and other types of illegal gears that have a negative impact on fish production.

This means they kill or stop reproductive cycle of fish,” he explained.

He added that they will with support of security agencies, including the marine police and army devise new guidelines for districts.

“We are reviewing the law regarding the fishing sector to make it more deterrent, he added. The previous penal code is not punitive enough, he added.

RAB says Lake Kivu has capacity of producing 85,000 tonnes of fish annually with the right investment and support.

Rwanda has capacity of producing 200,000 tonnes, according to the fisheries and fish farming master plan that was approved by cabinet in 2012.

The fishing sector received Rwf800 million budgetary allocations for the 2017/18 fiscal year. However, a feasibility study carried out in 2015 shows that government needs to invest at least Rwf1.5 billion annually for five years so as to increase fish production to 130,000 tonnes.