FRANCIS LUNGU, Mpulungu
FISHING has been a main source of livelihood for thousands of natives around Lake Tanganyika in Mpulungu district of Northern Province for many years.
At the peak of fish production about two decades ago, Lake Tanganyika used to produce 20, 000 metric tonnes (mt) of fish per annum.
Alas! Due to wrong fishing methods and usage of unauthorised fishing kit such as explosives and mosquito nets, by the fish mongers around the lake on the Zambian side, the stocks have been dwindling, now at 11, 000 metric tonnes per year.
Of all Lake Tanganyika’s water expanse of 18, 900 cubic liters, covering a stretch of 673kilomters shared among the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with the largest chunk of 45 percent, Tanzania 41 percent and Burundi with eight percent while Zambia only accounts for six percent share of the lake.
Despite having the smallest share of the lake, Zambians fish the most compared to the other countries it shares the waters with, according to Mpulungu Fisheries and Livestock coordinator Lloyd Haambiya.
Dr Haambiya attributes the high fishing activities on the Zambia side to a number of factors that include economic and political stability as compared to the war-torn DRC for instance, which has the largest water expense of the lake.
In an interview, he said the Lake Tanganyika Biodiversity Project is in full gear to ensure protection of the water body to its original natural form and also promote diversification from fishing into other sources of livelihood.
The Lake Tanganyika Biodiversity P r o j e c t i s encouraging the 130, 000 people in Mpulungu to venture into other economic ventures such as cultivation of different foods, including cash crops.
The lake swanks of over 350 species of fish of which most are endemic, but the Fisheries Department is encouraging people to venture into aquaculture-fish farming.
“We encourage people to go into Tanganyika bream for those wanting to venture into fish farming. We want to promote species that are endemic,” Dr Haambiya said.
Among the most popular species of fish in the lake are the Lates Stappersii, locally known as Buka Buka, and Kapenta (Limnothrissa miodon), which is an important source of fish-protein in Zambia.
Other fish species of particular note in Lake Tanganyika include the giant Nile Perch (Lates angustifrons), Goliath Tiger (Hydrocynus goliath), the English Fish or Lake Tanganyika yellow-belly (Boulengerochromis microlepis) which are important angling species and the rare Bichir (Polypterus congicus), as well as a great variety of endemic Cichlids.
According to Dr Haambiya, all these species have been on the decline but there is hope that under the Lake Tanganyika Biodiversity Project, the fish stocks will start increasing soon.
Apart from the restocking programme the Fisher ies Department has initiated, Dr Haambiya said the authorities have also introduced Tanglers Fishing Sport which is at its peak around April of every year.
The sport targets mainly the tiger fish because of its fast swimming antics.
“Sport fishing is very popular here and catches include the Goliath Tiger fish and Nile Perch. Of course they come for other fish species. The beauty of sports fishing is that it does not deplete the fish stock. They fish and release back the fish into the water,” he says.
Zambia has the southern part of Lake Tanganyika, whose snowline runs 215-225Km from Chipwa on the Tanzanian border on the north-east to Chibanga on the north-western boundaries with DRC.
The Zambian side of the lake is the deepest at 1, 470meters, although the average depth of the lake is 500meters.
Mpulungu district also brags of housing Zambia’s only inland port of Mpulungu harbour at the tip of Lake Tanganyika.
The harbour has the capacity to handle 150, 000 metric tonnes of cargo per annum.
The harbour, run by Mpulungu Harbour Corporation Limited hopes to triple its cargo handling volume because of the Government investment commitment of US$100million.
Government through the Indus t r i a l Deve lopment Corporation (IDC) recently announced the US$100million investment commitment into Mpulungu Harbour to modernise its infrastructure and increase export capacity.
“In terms of investment, we are happy as it will greatly change the face of the port. Mpulungu is a harbour for trade not only for Central but also East Africa. We are a strategic filter port. If we mobilise our resources, there is a big economy around the lake,” Mpulungu Harbour Corporation Limited director Davies Kaluba says.
The investment, according to Mr Kaluba, would see the expansion of the current 20meters length and five meters high shade to 200meters in length while maintaining the same height to handle the estimated cargo of between 400, 000 and 500, 000mt every year.
A new world-class passenger terminal is expected to be built at the harbour and the three existing quays (loading bays or docking sides) will be expanded, too, according to Mr Kaluba.
He said apart from cement exports, the harbour has also been handling white sugar exports into the Great Lakes region, about 700km away. With the new investment, the port will see a diversification approach to the harbour business.
Additionally, he said the investment would go into procuring both new passenger and cargo vessels, a development that would attract business into tourism-related ventures such as hotels and lodges, restaurants, holiday resorts and even financial facilities around the harbour.
Lake Tanganyika is the second oldest freshwater lake in the world, the second largest by volume, and the second deepest, in all cases after Lake Baikal in Siberia, Russia. It is the world’s longest freshwater lake.
This vast inland sea was first made known to the European world in the mid-1800s by the English explorers Richard Burton and John Speke.
They pursued it as the source of the Nile, arriving at its shores in February of 1858, only to discover that the Ruzizi River in the north, which they thought to be the Nile, flowed into and not out of the lake.
Their incredible journey is documented in the movie ‘Mountains of the Moon’.
With the just-ended Northern Province Investment Expo recording around US$5billion pledges in investment outdoing the initial target of US$2billion, mainly in the tourism sector, Lake Tanganyika is poised to have its face changed as camping sites and holiday resorts spring up.
FRANCIS LUNGU, Mpulungu