Flooding Lake Tanganyika drowns fish catch, markets

24Jan 2022
Salome Kitomari
The Guardian
Flooding Lake Tanganyika drowns fish catch, markets

LAKESIDE fishermen and fishmongers are in dire straits following weeks of flooding on Lake Tanganyika as those who go fishing come back with paltry catch and the markets had to be shifted elsewhere.

Shore fish markets of Kibirizi and Nyobonzi are among areas affected by the changing lake ecosystem in the wake of global climate change, posing challenges to fish stakeholders in Kigoma Region.

Fishmongers say they do not get any money as their market area is flooded and fishermen do not get fish anymore, while shore fish markets are being swallowed pushing fish mongers far from built markets to makeshift spots more than a hundred meters away.

 Fresh fish traders in the former Kibirizi fish market say they are down financially and in spirit all of a sudden after flooding water covered all viable commercial spots.

Mlasi Juma (47) said the fishmongers had to abandon the built market, meanwhile as the steady supply of fish stumbled with the flooding. “We were selling a lot, but after the water hit us we left the building and moved to the other side, where there is no business,” she stated, noting that residents in the Kibirizi area have been severely affected as houses were flooded and a number of families were forced out.

Fish markets were relocated to Mitimingi, Kabondo, Pilimahonda and some other areas, while those affected stutter as they can’t figure out what else they can do to earn an income. "It’s very difficult to find another business do at this point,” said the mother of three.

 “In the past you could buy fish at 40,000/- and be sure of a 5,000/- profit or more per day, but now I do not get any money as our area is flooded and fishermen do not get fish anymore,” she explained, underlining how the situation is dire for the fishing trade community.

Unlike earlier, boats cannot reach the relocated fish markets, while fishermen get poor catch levels, such that purchasing fish at 10,000 / - and selling beings up a 2,000/- at the end of the day, she elaborated.

Mlasi started the business in 2000, reminiscing that in those days the business was good but now living conditions are difficult. “I used to buy fish for 100,000/- and getting between 15,000/ - and 20,000/ - a day as profit. But now things are different and lives are becoming increasingly difficult.”

Dinna Jackson, a fishmonger as well, said currently the trading environment is depressed, throwing stakeholders into confusion as fish is all they have done all their adult lives. And the situation has come up just as schools are reopening, hindering a number of traders and fishermen to send back children to school.

 Zabibu Hamis, another trader, said that after the floodwaters receded, fish ponds collapsed and fish returned to the lake meanwhile as traders were relocating from the shore.

 "Capital went down, you don't bring in money, you just give in and end up eating up what remains of the capital. Some went to farming cassava and so on; there are children who have failed to go to school but you can't send him without shoes and school uniforms," she narrated.

She says they got into food vending and cloth embroidery but those are slow moving occupations, unlike the more vibrant fish business.

Kibirizi fish market traders’ chairman, Machumu Yenda, said the biggest challenge is finding reliable fish sources, as rough weather is inhospitable to fishing.  Fish products we see now are very small from the shore of Kagunga to Kibirizi, and fishermen have to go much farther into the lake for a good catch, he said.

A good part of Kigoma residents depend on Lake Tanganyika and that the situation is getting harder, the local government official noted, appealing for government help to find better tools for fishermen to ease their current plight.

In the past the market was able to receive three tonnes of supplies per day but ends getting half a tonne a day, which reduces the output of individuals, the regions and has an impact on the wider economy, he said.

Suzanna Ezekiel, who hires fishing gear to fishermen and takes up fish for cleaning before disposing the fish on the market, said that expectations of being somewhere in the fish to market value chain were crumbling. During the rainy season as the cold weather comes in or it eases out there is no place to fish as the area is flooded.

A fisherman, George Kalea said that due to the increase in the depth the fishermen have to obtain better equipment but they have no resources to get such fishing gear.

Prisca Mziray, a researcher at the Tanzania Fisheries Research Institute (TAFIRI), said that propitious wind speed to create waves that modify temperature currents in the lake was lacking with the rise in temperature, pushing fish to lower levels of the lake.

“The surface of the water is warm, the middle is cooler and the lower is colder,” she said, noting that wind sets off currents that mix the various water layers and fish can climb to upper reaches.

The increase in activities such as agriculture near the lake shore raises the rate of has led to impairing fish breeding grounds for fish, reducing fish stocks, while untreated industrial water harms breeding capacity as well.

Ritha Mlingi, the regional fisheries officer, said that the state of fisheries is unsatisfactory as fishery products have decreased, the value of the catch decreasing significantly. Some fish species have declined and some disappearing altogether, she stated/

The current level of fish is as yet undetermined, she stated, referring to the need for research in the issue but also affirming that climate change has contributed to the decline of fish. They are among the more vulnerable species in the face of change, she declared.

Enhanced energy use in fishing activity was another challenge, corresponding rising numbers of those making a living from the lake. This leads to difficulties in supervising regulatory requirements that one catches fish starting one kilometer from the shores.

“Whoever is caught fishing below that is engaging in illegal fishing,” she said, remarking that the regional authorities had relocated women entrepreneurs selling fish products in local markets. Those in water-covered drying areas had to build new areas, she stated.

Dr Selemani Jafo, the Minister of State in the Vice President's Office (Union and Environment), said that  climate change has led to an increase in water levels in Lake Tanganyika by two meters, which is dangerous for economic activities in the area.

 “We’re currently conducting research while encouraging people to plant trees around the lake,” he said, showing the difficulties authorities face in controlling the ecosystem around Lake Tanganyika—the second largest African great lake and second deepest freshwater lake in the world.

This story is produced under WAN-IFRA, Women in News (WIN) Social Impact Reporting Initiative (SIRI).