‘Shrimps fishing almost claimed my life’

17Apr 2016
Bilham Kimati
Guardian On Sunday
‘Shrimps fishing almost claimed my life’

NASIB Ding’oko (34) has twelve years’ experience as a vendor of fried prawns flavored with spices in Dar es Salaam. He prefers being mobile to reach out to more customers rather than being at a stall.

Rufiji river camp

At the age of 15, he became a bread earner for the family following his father’s tragic death when he was pulled into the water and mowed by a crocodile when he was pulling his canoe for another fishing mission in Rufiji River near the famous Benjamin Mkapa Bridge at Ikwiriri, in Coast region.

He is the first born and only son in a family of five. He dropped from school when in standard five and joined a carpentry workshop at Ikwiriri, not far from the family home.

“While in school, I really wanted to go to secondary school to learn English because my desire was to become a seaman so I could travel around the world,” Nasib explains.

However, things did not turn out as he had planned. So, after he dropped out of school he decided to embark on fishing to support the family. He teamed up with a former classmate of his who was familiar with prawns fishing in Nyamisati area, in Rufiji district.

Nyamisati is the confluence of the Rufiji River as it empties into the Indian Ocean. It is characterized by a delta of magnificent scenery.
According to a marine scientist with the Department of Aquaculture and Fisheries of the University of Dar es Salaam, Dr Onesmo Mbwilo, the dense mangrove forests in the area provide the best breeding ground for prawns.

“A combination of fresh and sea water provides a favourable condition for the production of prawns. Despite the huge potential, hardly 30 per cent of the resources is utilized. The country needs serious investment in fishing industry,” Mbwilo explains.

“For three months I worked as a diver striving to fish out prawns from the tangled roots of the mangroves in sticky clay soil underwater or from narrow marine caverns,” Nasib says.

However, one day he almost lost his life under water – and decided to call it quits.“One day I was trapped in sticky mud in the delta and stayed for a long time under water. Luckily, my friend appeared and pulled me out in the nick of time - and that was the end of my prawns fishing escapade,” he says.

But he recalls the time he spent at Nyamisati with nostalgia because he was earning good money. Had he had better fishing gear he would still be diving for prawns in the delta.

“The business is lucrative but several young men have died for various reasons, some being bitten by snakes and others being attacked by hippos which are numerous in the area. If given proper fishing gear production groups could earn a good living and thus contribute to the national economy,” he says, adding:

“The Rufiji River delta is rich in fishery. There are different types of fish, but fishermen prefer prawns because the price is good. A kilogramme fetches between Sh 5,000 and Sh 7,000. The only problem is lack of modern fishing gear, which prevents many fishermen from engaging in sustainable exploitation of marine resources,” says Nasib.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report (2013) jointly prepared with the Ministry of Livestock Development and Fisheries echoes Nasib’s observation. It indicates that Tanzania has the potential to produce 11,000 tonnes of prawns to generate over Sh3 trillion annually.

The report further shows that at the world market, prawns sell at between $16 and $18 a kilo, an equivalent of Sh36 million per tone.

A former Director of Forestry and Beekeeping Division in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, Dr Felician Kilahama, supports the government initiative to identify areas of production.
However, Kilahama warns against wanton destruction of mangrove forests in the Rufiji delta, a trend likely to destroy the breeding ground for prawns.

“Extensive investment in prawns production requires bold measures to rescue the delta from disappearance. Ongoing land clearance for rice farming is perilous and might shutter all the dreams in massive fishing investment,” Kilahama warned.

WWF, in its report in 2006, confirmed that the coastline of Tanzania harbours some of the richest nutrient habitats and nurseries where juveniles of finfish, particularly milk fish (Chanos chanos), rabbitfish (Mugil spp.), prawns, mud crabs, and oysters are abundant.

The Director of Aquaculture Development Division in the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock Development and Fisheries, Dr Charles Mahika, underscores the need for serious investment in aquaculture, an arrangement which guarantees sustainable production under defined environmental protection measures.

He also admits the existing abundance of marine resources, but laments that the potential is not properly utilized to a commercial level.

“The National Aquaculture Development Strategy highlights implementable plans to guide the community on engaging in commercial farming of fish and other aquatic organisms in fresh and marine water environments.

“The government continues to strengthen cooperation with different stakeholders to translate into action the marine investment plans to help the people acquire the necessary skills and thus benefit from the unlocked potential,” Mahika observes.

He says aquaculture is increasingly becoming an important contributor to the world’s livelihoods, employment, food, and nutritional security.

“Therefore, actual coordination efforts are necessary including effective application of Public-Private Partnership (PPP) initiative under effective coordination. Expansion of sustainable fisheries in the deep sea and inland water bodies is possible,” he observes.

Tanzania Private Sector Foundation (TPSF) says it is ready to join hands with the government to unlock various economic potentials that have remained unutilized for many years, including fisheries.

Commenting on the advantages of fish domestication, Mahika says it helps control or manipulate their production and reproduction; exerts artificial selection and hybridization together with elimination of predators or diseases for anticipated results.

During his election campaign trail, President John Magufuli spoke repeatedly about the commitment of the government under his leadership to make serious investment in fisheries for the people to benefit from marine resources, including deep sea fishing.

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