HARARE, June 5 (TerraViva) Botswana has begun negotiating with its neighbours to harmonise an annual fish ban to ensure people have equal access to this prized source of protein from the rivers that the country shares with its neighbours.
Tracy Molefi, deputy director in charge of international waters in Botswana’s Ministry of Minerals and General Water Resources, said the Southern African country has started by seeking to align policies with its neighbour, Namibia over fishing in the Zambezi River.
“On the Botswana side, we have legislation that reduces the grace period for fishing. At that time, people don’t fish. But if you go across to Namibia, they don’t have that,” Molefi told IPS at the ongoing regional water conference for Southern Africa’s river basin organisations (RBOs) in the Zimbabwean capital Harare.
A number of countries in the region impose annual fish bans for inland water bodies during the rainy season when most species breed, to facilitate the healthy reproduction of fish stocks.
The national legislation on the different shores of some shared bodies of water, such as Lake Kariba and Lake Tanganyika (which lies between Tanzania, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia) are so different, that no such fishing bans are in place.
But this is not the case in the Zambezi river: in each of the eight countries it flows through, different legislation is enforced.
“This is one issue we are trying to work on through the Zambezi Watercourse Commission (ZAMCOM) and the OKACOM (covering the Okavango River), because the same problems exist for both countries.”
Botswana shares four major rivers with its neighbours, with parts of the Okavango, Zambezi, Orange-Senqu and the Limpopo river basins extending across its borders. The country is also host to two river basin organisation secretariats, that of the Permanent Okavango River Basin Water Commission (based in Maun, in the Okavango Delta) and the Zambezi Watercourse Commission (based in the capital, Gaborone).
But Molefi fears people could lose confidence in the work of river basin organisations if legislation and policies are not harmonised.
“It is our responsibility as RBOs to avoid conflict, uncertainty and mistrust because the people might just stop trusting the Commissions.
“They may begin to say, ‘You are giving fish to the Namibians throughout the year, but on this side of the border, you are not.’ They may start thinking that the Commission is favouring the Namibians.”