KIBUYE — Fishing is a lucrative activity for many lakeside residents, but fishermen in Kibuye have failed to reap from it. Elias Ngirente has been fishing for the last 21 years but he says he has little to show for it.
Dressed in rags, he washes his hands as he sings a popular melody. By simply examining his palms, it’s obvious that the many years spent fishing has taken a toll on them. The palms are hardened and cracked.
"I have been fishing since I was seven years old," he says. His father who used to live on Kumbabara Island, reportedly died a poor man despite spending over 20 years in the business. Ngirente is one of the very many fishermen in Kibuye who have always toiled for nothing other than daily bread.
"When you heard me singing, I was rejoicing that I had at least gotten what to eat today," he explained, tossing his fishnet into Lake Kivu to try his luck.
"I set my nets at night when others are not fishing, sometimes it works out but other nights it doesn’t," said Musabyimana Ludoviko. About 90% of the fishermen appear visibly poor compared to other residents engaged in other activities like farming.
"The largest amount of money I have ever earned from this business was Frw 9,000, and that was six years ago," Ngirente claims.
Being more of an island surrounded by Lake Kivu, one would expect residents to benefit from fishing activities, but that is not the case.
"The residents don’t care much about the lake however much we try as the authorities to sensitize them," a district official in charge of fishing said, in apparent reference to the low income derived from fishing.
It is believed that since Lake Kivu is a rift valley lake surrounded by hills; soil erosion washes external elements into the water during heavy rainfall and kills the fish in the lake. The surviving ones flee to distant places.
To the fishermen who have no powerful boats to resist strong winds, they end up fishing from the banks with less chances of catching any fish. But even fishermen who have the necessary means go into the middle of the lake have reportedly also failed to earn a reasonable income from fishing.
The methane gas in Lake Kivu is also a big threat to fishing activities. "It’s very hard for any creature to tolerate the methane gas in Lake Kivu," Ngirente noted.
Lack of cooperatives has also hindered professional and efficient fishing. "In the few cooperatives we have, we lack money to buy standard equipment for work. This is because fishing is not a well-paying job yet the nets are expensive," continued Ngirente.
"A net for catching Sambaza [small fish] cost Frw1.5 million, an amount we don’t even earn in a year," he added. "Even for minor fishing nets, you can not get any at less than Frw30,000, which is still too much money for us."
Among the solutions put across to promote fishing, is seeding the lake with fish able to tolerate the methane gas. It is believed that only Sambaza alone can withstand the gas but their nets are the most expensive.
"The government in its decentralization plan used to plant fish in Lake Kivu, but it stopped doing so for many years ago. That’s why even the few that were remaining are almost no more," a district official said.
The district has tried to plant trees at the banks of Lake Kivu and discourage any disastrous activities on islands but it is not enough.
As for the fishermen, they are considering abandoning their jobs due to both natural and artificial hazards.
"Like during the rainy season we hardly catch any fish, yet some of us take the risks of fishing at night," says Ngirante.
He explains that strong winds blow the few fish in different directions.
"Yes, we have the Lake but perhaps it’s only the methane gas that we shall benefit from, unless we get help in time," Ngirente said.