May 2000


Zambia is a very large and landlocked country that hosts a remarkable variety of fisheries, exploiting resources mainly provided by several lakes - Tanganyika, Mweru-wa-Ntipa, Mweru Luapula, Bangweulu, and Kariba, the Lukanga swamps, and the upper Zambezi and Kafue rivers. A variety of smaller swamps, flood plains, and streams and some 2 000 fish ponds and 370 water impoundments also contribute to the fishery resource inventory of the country.

Lake Tanganyika. Mid-1990s catches from the Zambia sector were reported to be in the range of 12 000 - 13 000 mt. Mpulungu, on the southernmost tip of the lake, is the major fish processing and market staging centre for the Zambian sector, which hosts some 4 000 artisanal fishers, operating 1 500 planked canoes from 107 local landing sites (1995 Frame Survey). Some 200 beach and boat seines, 30 lift nets, and 3 000 gillnets have also been enumerated.  Twenty-three industrial units are currently active, operating from bases in Mpulungu and, in a few cases, Nsumbu.

Lake Mweru-wa-Ntipa lies to the west of the southern tip of Lake Tanganyika. Available data indicate that upwards of 3 500 fishers and 1 700 boats operate from dispersed sites on the lake and its fringing swamps, with numbers and locations varying according to circumstances of water level (depending on rainfall) and harvest. Recent production figures are lacking in FAO records.

Lake Mweru Luapula is situated to the west of Lake Mweru-wa-Ntipa, straddling the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It has historically been an important commercial fishing area because of the strong markets for fish in the nearby Copperbelt and Shaba Province (DRC) mining districts. The most recent available information indicates that between 6 000 to 8 000 fishers are active in Zambian waters, operating between 4 000 to 6 000 smallcraft.  Reliable production figures for recent years are not available in FAO records.

Bangweulu Lakes/Swamps. Landing sites are widely dispersed. Annual production the entire complex in recent years is estimated at around 9 000 – 10 000 mt.   Recent statistics on fisher and fishing craft numbers are not available in FAO files.  In the mid-1980s the Zambian Department of Fisheries estimated the number of fishers at around 7 700, and of canoes at around 4 700.

Lake Kariba is a large reservoir of some 5 360 km2 created by the Kariba Dam (closed 1958) on the Zambezi River between Zambia and Zimbabwe. Annual catches now average around 10 000 mt for the Zambian sector, where over 2 000 small-scale fishers are reported to be operating with a fleet of some 1 700 canoes.  Records for the early 1990s also indicate that about 185 kapenta rigs are licensed to operate in Zambian waters. Principal landing sites/market bulking centres include Sinazongwe towards the western end of the reservoir, and Siavonga, near the eastern outlet.

The Zambezi River drainage contains extensive areas of floodplain and swamp areas as well as normal channel runs. Damming on various major tributaries, in addition to the Kariba Dam on the main stem river, have created several reservoir fisheries of various sizes.  Major tributary waters flowing through Zambian territory include the Barotse Floodplain/Upper Zambezi, Kafue (Lukanga Swamp, Kafue Flats), and Luangwa.  Major reservoirs on the Kafue River are Itezhitezhi, upstream of the Kafue Flats, and Kafue Gorge, downstream of the flats. On the basis of available information, the fisheries of the Zambezi drainage, excluding Lake Kariba, provide catches of about 20 000 mt per annum, harvested by about 10 000 local fishers using mainly gillnets and a fleet of some 6 000 canoes.


Overall strategy

The Government of Zambia has recently undertaken a major review of policies and objectives in connection with the Agriculture Investment Programme.  New policies identified under the Fisheries Development Sub-Programme emphasise sectoral growth consistent with rational management practices. Major policy elements highlight:

  • use of available labour to eliminate rural poverty and increase gainful employment;

  • exploitation of the resource base in a sustainable manner;

  • promotion of conservation of aquatic resources according to sound ecological principles;

  • greater participation of the private sector, traditional institutions, and NGOs in management activities, including creation of an appropriate legal framework; and

  • improved technical capabilities and conditions of service for DOF staff in order to increase operational efficiency.

Principal legislation and management measures

The Fisheries Act, No. 21 of 1974 serves as the principal legal instrument governing development and control of the national fisheries sector.  The Act empowers the Minister (and, through the Minister, the Director of DOF) to employ the following basic management measures:

  • authorisation or prohibition of specific fishing methods, including prohibition of use of any poison, poisonous plants, injurious substances, explosives or electrical fishing devices and prohibition or restriction of any other method of fishing that would prove unduly destructive;

  • designation of prescribed areas (for recreational, subsistence, and research fishing) or commercial fishing areas (areas in which fishing is undertaken as a regular or occasional occupation for the supply of fish to any market or industry);

  • registration of fishers and fishing craft in commercial fishing areas;

  • prohibition of non-native fish introduction to any water, or import of any live fish without authorisation; and

  • appointment of Fishing Development Committees to co-ordinate and improve commercial fishing.

Country-wide measures that actually have been taken under authority of the Fisheries Act include:

  • establishment of 9 commercial fishing areas, viz.: Bangweulu; Kafue; Kariba; Lake Tanganyika; Lukanga Swamp; Lusiwashi; Mweru-Luapula, Mweru Wantipa, and Upper Zambezi;

  • prescription of types of licenses required for fishing and registration of fishers;

  • prohibition of seine/draw nets and regulation of mesh sizes;

  • fishing by means of kutumpula (driving fish into a stationary gill nets or monofilament nets);

  • declaration of closed areas (in selected commercial fishery areas) and seasons (normally from 1 December to 28 February); and

  • prohibition on the use of any pesticides as a means of curing, preserving, processing or storing fish.

Summary of main fisheries regulations

The basic content of fisheries regulations has been reviewed above.  Relevant acts and statutory instruments are listed below, with the caveat that new legislation is pending:

  • Fisheries Act, No. 21 of 1974. Basic legislation.

  • Commercial Fishing Areas (Declaration) Order (Statutory Instrument No. 107 of 1976). Declares commercial fishing areas.

  • The Fisheries Regulations of 1986. Provides for licensing and control of fishing operations in commercial fishing areas.

  • Fisheries (Registration of Fishing Boats) Order  (Statutory Instrument No. 24 of 1986). Provides for registration and marking of fishing boats.

  • Fisheries (Fishing License Fees) Regulations (Statutory Instrument No. 25 of 1986). Specifies fees for special fishing licenses (prescribed area) and commercial fishing licenses (commerical area).

  • Fisheries (Prescribed Areas) (Declaration) Order (Statutory Instrument No. 26 of 1986). Declares as a prescribed area (recreational, subsistence and research fishing) each area of water which has been declared a commercial fishing area.

Management status of major fisheries

Information available in FAO records relating to specific management measures for the major fishing areas is summarised below.

Lake Tanganyika. Principal target species are the two small pelagic ‘kapenta’, Limnothrissa miodon and Stolothrissa tanganicae, together with their major predator, Lates stappersii. Concerns have been raised over the detrimental effects of beach seining, widely used in the artisanal fishery.  Beach seines are particularly damaging to juvenile L. miodon, which frequent inshore areas, as well as to the cichlid fish community, which uses shallow waters with sandy substrates as nesting and rearing grounds. An alarming increase in the level of industrial fishing has also occurred in recent years, owing to transfer of units from former bases in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Twenty-three industrial units are now operating in the Zambian sector (up from 3 in the early 1980s), and signs of localised overexpoitation of L. stappersii have been documented.

Technical measures applied for the management of the Zambian sector fisheries include prohibition of monofilament net of a mesh size less than 120mm and a general net mesh size restriction of not less than 10mm. Seine/draw nets and gillnets are allowed. A restricted fishing zone exists along the shoreline of Nsumbu National Park. The effectiveness of management measures has been severely constrained owing to DOF budgetary limitations. Regulations are difficult to enforce in the face of insufficient staffing and lack of transportation.

Zambia participates with the other lacustrine States (Burundi, DRC, and Tanzania) in the CIFA Lake Tanganyika Sub-Committee.  The Sub-Committee in its Eighth Session (May 1999) adopted a regional Framework Fisheries Management Plan (FFMP) for the lake, which was drafted on the basis of review and discussion with all national fisheries authorities and a series of consultations with local resource user groups. Consistent with Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries principles, the FFMP calls for use of the precautionary approach, promotion of local stakeholder group involvement in decision-making and securing compliance, greater control of access and fishing rights at local community levels, and economic diversification to reduce pressure on fisheries resources and accommodate interactions between fisheries and non-fisheries sectors.

Lake Mweru-wa-Ntipa has been subjected to heavy fishing pressure in recent decades. Target species include tilapia or bream (Oreochromis macrochir), various catfish, and the small pelagic clupeid Poecilothrissa moeruensis known as ‘chisense.’ Decreasing CPUE has been accompanied by increased use of smaller mesh sizes, beach seines, and the kutumpula method of scaring fish into stationary net walls, despite regulations to the contrary.  Seine and draw nets are legally prohibited, except for chisense seine nets.  Gillnets of less than 51mm and monofilament nets of less than 120 mm are also not allowed.  Mweru-wa-Ntipa is subject to the 1 December – 28 February closed season. Management performance is poor. Regulations cannot be consistently enforced and they are widely ignored.

Lake Mweru Luapula. A large swamp/floodplain in the south, formed by the inflowing Luapula River, combines with the lake to form the basis of a fishery complex involving many species, gear types, and local operators. Main taxa of demersal fishing interest include species of ‘tilipia’ cichlids (Oreochromis, Serranchromis, Tylonochromis), Clarias, Synodontis, Barbus, and Mormyridae. Chisense fishing has expanded rapidly since the early 1980s, to the extent that it is thought to constitute the most important element of the entire complex.The general evolution of events has been one of rapid growth in effort, lack of effective control measures, the progressive decline of favoured species, and the maintenance of production levels through resort to less valuable species and the development of the small pelagic fishery. Management measures include the licensing requirements and technical restrictions and prohibitions that apply throughout all commercial fishing areas.

Measures specific to the Mweru/Luapula complex include the December through February closed season, declaration of permanently closed areas around the mouths of the Luapula and Kalunwishi Rivers (both considered major breeding areas), prohibition of gillnet mesh sizes of less than 51 mm and monofilament net mesh size of less than 120mm, and prohibition of seine or draw nets, except for chisense fishing.  The fisheries have deteriorated to an alarming degree over the last decade due to several factors.  The local DOF office lacks sufficient funds and staff to conduct adequate patrols, and at the same time there has been a substantial increase in the population of fishers, many of whom have settled in permanent camps either close to or actually within the closed areas.  Use of active fishing (kutumpula) and other illegal techniques and gear is rampant, and considerable opposition and outright hostility towards regulatory measures and DOF staff exists within local settlements.  In addition, the fisheries on the DRC side have for some years been out of control and overexploited, owing to civil strife in that country.  This has exercerbated overfishing pressures within the Zambian sector.

Bangweulu Lakes/Swamps. Some 25 species of fish are of commercial interest. Chisense fishing has developed into a major activity in recent years, in conjunction with the depletion of the more valuable fish stocks. Management tools include a prohibition of seines and draw nets, and net mesh size regulation (gillnets not less than 51mm, monofilament nets not less than 120 mm).  Despite their prohibition, beach seines are reported to be in widespread use. Infrastructure is weak throughout this extensive fishery area and local DOF staff, subject to the usual budgetary and operating constraints, are not in a position to effectively monitor or enforce regulation compliance.

Lake Kariba has witnessed a substantial growth of fishing activity over the last two decades, particularly with regard to the kapenta (Limnothrissa miodon) fishery, after the species was introduced in 1968. Other commericially important target species include tigerfish (Hydrocynus vittatus), mormyrids, and tilapias.  The small-scale fishery is largely unmechanised and based primarily on the use of gillnets deployed from dugout canoes along inshore areas.  The commercial ‘semi-industrial’ kapenta fishery involves motorised pontoon rigs equipped with lamps and ring nets. Kariba is prone to the same management problems common to the other major commercial fishing areas.  DOF staff, hampered by budget shortages and weak operational capability, have not been able effectively to monitor and enforce regulation compliance. The fisheries of the reservoir are subject to the general set management tools authorised under the Fisheries Act (commercial fishing area licensing requirements, technical restrictions and prohibitions). Technical regulatory measures specific to the Zambian fisheries of Lake Kariba include prohibitions on: a) seine and draw nets of any mesh size; b) gillnets of less than 76mm mesh size; c) monofilament nets of less than 120mm mesh size;  and d) kapenta nets of less than 8mm mesh size.

A new approach to management based on strong community involvement (co-management or community-based management) was initiated in the early 1990s through the SADC project (Management of the Lake Kariba Inshore Fisheries Zambia) in consultation with local and traditional authorities, fishers, DOF and representatives of non-governmental organizations. Basic elements of the scheme include: a) relocation, regrouping and organisation of dispersed fisher camps into a few designated places; b) formation of Village Management Committees (VMCs); c) division of the shoreline and adjacent waters into zones; and d) establishment of Zonal Committees chaired by traditional Chiefs. Functions of VMCs are primarily directed at implementing an integrated community-based approach to manage aquatic resources in the lake, enforcing fisheries regulations and collecting license fees. Zonal Committees supervise, assist and coordinate the work of VMCs.  Zonal Committees are in turn supervised by a Fishery Management Board for the fishery area. This approach reportedly is to be expanded into other fishery areas, under provisions to be framed into the new draft fisheries bill now being considered.

The Zambezi River drainage encompasses four declared commercial fishing areas – viz.: Kafue, Lukanga Swamp, Lusiwasi, and Upper Zambezi.  Catches in the swamp and floodplain areas are comprised mainly of tilapia and Alestes spp.  The main rivers also provide significant catches of tigerfish.  All of the standard set of management measures laid out under authority of the Fisheries Act apply (commercial fishing area licensing requirements, technical restrictions and prohibitions). Production from the Kafue Flats area has been adversely affected by dam construction, which has altered the natural flooding regime, and by persistently heavy fishing pressure.  In recent years the situation has deteriorated further by the spread of water hyacinth along the Kafue.

Aquaculture management

No specific regulations are currently in place for the management of aquaculture, although provisions for their establishment are made under the current Fisheries Act.  Existing legislation also places prohibitions on introduction of non-native species and import of fish without authorisation.  The new Fisheries Bill (Draft) under consideration establishes a regime for the control and management of fish farming.

Investment in fisheries

The total number of artisanal and traditional fishing smallcraft active in Zambia can be estimated at around 21 000, and of industrial units (purse seiners and kapenta rigs) at about 200. Based on indicative average capital investment values for the early 1990s (the latest period for which information is available) of US$650 for traditional and artisanal canoes (typically equipped with gillnets or boat seine nets or used as light boats) and US$20 000 for industrial purse seiners and kapenta rigs, it can very roughly reckoned that private investment in the Zambian fisheries harvest sector amounted at that time to some US$ 17.7 million. Information on other dimensions of investment in the Zambian fisheries sector, whether private or public, such as landing site support facilities and other infrastructure, processing and market buildings and plant, Government administrative and research offices, etc., has not been compiled.

 Projection of supply and demand

Zambia presently (1997 figures) hosts a population of 9.4 million inhabitants, and has an average annual growth rate of 2.7%. Present annual per caput supply of fish within Zambia is estimated at 7.3 kg. At its current rate of growth the national population will nearly double (to 18.3 million inhabitants) over the next 25 years. Assuming no marked increase in supply from capture fisheries production, aquaculture, or imports, this will obviously result in a halving of present per caput fish supplies.

Organisational structure of National Fisheries Authority

The national fisheries institutional framework is reportedly undergoing substantial revision, including possible changes that will amalgamate individual departments within the Ministry of Food and Agriculture and other arrangements proposed in recently drafted legislation. At present the Department of Fisheries under the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries is headed by a Director, supported by two Assistant Directors for Fisheries and Aquaculture respectively. Departmental sub-divisions include Fisheries Research, Aquaculture Research, Fisheries Management, Aquaculture Extension and Development, and a Training Branch. The basic structure of administration is diagrammed below.




Director of Fisheries












Assistant Director for Fisheries





Assistant Director for Aquaculture



















Extension, Development and Training