Nelly Bassily | October 3, 2011
Fishermen who make a living on the shores of Lake Albert are relieved and happy. The recent ten-month ban on fishing is bearing fruit – or more accurately, fish. Agenonga Ukerdogo is president of the Lake Albert fishermen’s co-operative. He says, “Now we capture 300 to 350 kilos of fish, whereas before, we would not get more than 150 kilos, mainly small fish.”
Lake Albert lies on the border between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda. The lake contains about forty species of fish. It is one of best stocked lakes in DR Congo. Fishing is the second most important source of livelihood for residents, after raising livestock. But in March 2010, Eastern Province authorities introduced a ten-month fishing ban to let fish stocks recover. In addition, there is an ongoing ban on using small mesh nets which capture undersized fish.
Fishermen from lakeside villages such as Tchomia and Kesnyi did not welcome the decision to close the fishery for such a long period. At first, many did not respect it. The provincial Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock and the District Commissioner visited the villages to explain the merits of the ban. The Agriculture Inspectorate for Ituri District notes that since the ban was lifted in January 2011, “We observe the reappearance of species which had disappeared.”
During the closed season, fishermen from neighbouring Uganda supplied the markets in Bunia, a town about 80 kilometres from Lake Albert. On the Ugandan side of the lake, the fishery had remained healthy, thanks to strict regulation. Traditionally, a three-month break in fishing is observed in Ugandan waters, which allows fish to reproduce. During the closure, some Congolese fishermen fished there illegally. Others bought fish in Uganda and resold them in DR Congo.
The good news is that the large fish which had disappeared from Congolese nets and markets have now returned. This pleases everyone, particularly consumers. Prices have dropped. Since the ban was lifted, the market in Bunia has been flooded with fish. Customers now flock to the largest fish shop in Bunia, near the central market. Malosi Mbaraza buys fish in this neighbourhood for his small restaurant. He is pleased he can again serve the fish that his customers request. And fishermen are happy they can supply those fish for the customers’ plates.