As the sun slowly goes down over the hills of Rusizi District, Claudine Mukayiranga and her crew are busy checking their fishing gear in readiness for expedition on Lake Kivu. This is a daily routine the fisher woman goes through as she prepares for a night out on the high waters to catch fish for the following day’s supply to customers. Mukayiranga has been fishing on Lake Kivu for more than two decades.
“I am able to face any challenges and dangers on the lake because I am passionate about fishing. This is what gives me the courage to get my gear and spend hours on the lake looking for fish every day,” she says.
It’s from fishing that the business woman is able to look after her family and also put aside some savings to cater for any emergencies in the future.
The mother of four surprised many when she chose to join fishing that was previously thought to be an activity for men. That was over 20 years ago, after Mukayiranga lost her husband who was a fisherman.
Left with no one to care for the family, she decided to brave the cold nights on the lake as the family’s wellbeing depended solely on fishing. The resident of Nkombo Island was well aware that she had no other choice but following in her deceased husband’s footsteps to earn a living and escape poverty.
The fisher sets the fishing nets at night fall and wakes up at 5.00am to check on catch.
“It is a daunting task…Sometimes I stay awake and worried throughout the night because this vocation is unpredictable,” Mukayiranga narrates as she shares her experience with Business Times.
She ignored the advice of those that tried to dissuade her from becoming a fisherwoman. “Many people, especially women, were surprised by my decision because they never imagined a woman doing this kind of work,” she adds.
“It is difficult, but I had to tap into the opportunities offered by the lake to survive.
All I needed was confidence and courage. Besides, fishing is like any other business and a source of livelihood,” she says.
In addition, it does not require a lot of start-up capital. She also took advantage of the gear left by her late husband and support from her husband’s friend, who taught and guided her during the initial stages. “He was ready to show me the ‘tricks’ of the trade and how best to conduct the business, which gave me more confidence as time went on,” Mukayiranga explained.
Mukayiranga sells most of her catch to residents of Rusizi, while some fish is taken to Bukavu in the DR Congo. She has been able to give her family a decent life, thanks to returns from fishing.
She sells silver fish and other types, earning about Rwf500,000 per month.
Competition is one of the main challenges Mukayiranga faces. She is also worried by the dwindling fish stocks and use of illegal fishing gears by unscrupulous fishermen. Climate change is also having a toll on the sector as the lake recedes, which affects breeding grounds and fish multiplication, leading to low stocks.
More so, pollution of the water by foreign materials, including excessive erosion, and farming on the lake shores are threatening the survival of fish and could deplete the current small stocks.
She called for promotion of fish farming, saying there is need to motivate and encourage investors to embrace aquaculture to ease pressure on the lake and ensure sustainable production of fish in the country. There is also need to introduce more fish species to achieve these goals and support the sector’s growth, she adds.
Mukayiranga called for stringent regulations to deal with unscrupulous fishers who use illegal gears that catch even immature fish.
Mukayiranga has no regrets for risking her life on the lake. She has been able to give her children a decent life and send them to good schools, thanks to fishing.
“I have also managed to construct a permanent house for my family using savings from fishing.”
She started with only one fishing boat, but now owns six boats. “This has increased my capacity to catch more fish and improve sales besides providing employment opportunities to more residents,” she noted.
Mukayiranga advises the fishing community to work responsibly, saying that there is need to understand that without fish their means of livelihood will be threatened.
“That’s why everyone should use recommended fishing methods and gears to safeguard the fish and ensure normal reproduction process in the lake,” she says.
She urges fishing communities to join cooperatives arguing that it is easy to access training and government support in groups. The government should prioritise fish farming to reduce pressure on lakes, she adds.
Mukayiranga’s dream is to establish a fish farming project to increase her income and contribute to efforts geared at making the sector more productive and sustainable.