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In an aquaculture system, the fish are confined by the farmer and there is no question about who owns them. The question of ownership is less clear as far as dams and other reservoirs are concerned. Many of them may have been built by one agency (e.g., a Water Resources Department) for an irrigation scheme run by another (e.g., an Agriculture Department) on land that is communally owned. This means that the ownership of their fisheries varies from one dam to another. In a survey of 197 conservation dams recorded by the Fisheries Department in Zambia, it was found that 183 were controlled by rural agencies, 12 were privately owned and 2 were associated with farms (Gopalakrishnan, 1989). In Lesotho, most of the dams belong to the chief of the village, but this is not always the case. Magalika Dam is owned by the Water Branch; Sebaboleng and Mejametalana Dams by the Ministry of Agriculture; and Thaba Phatsoa Dam by the Christian Council of Lesotho (Tilquin and Lechela, in preparation).

This means that different people may be involved in different aspects of the operation of dams and the lack of communication between them often retards their fisheries development. This is a major problem that Fishery Departments need to resolve because, with the increasing pressure on water resources, especially in arid areas, there is a need for integrated management. This is especially true for agriculture and fish production, which are complementary in many ways. Conflicts are still possible, especially over the use of pesticides or other agro-chemicals, and the abstraction of water, and there is a need to define the legal status of water bodies and the rights of various users.


Most rivers and natural small water bodies are under the custodianship of the local tribes, and their chiefs, elders or headmen have effectively been involved in their management. There are a number of similarities in traditional management systems, whether they come from the Sahel, southern African or Uganda, Rwanda and Zaïre (Bonzon and Breuil, 1991). Amongst them are the notion of territoriality, giving control over access to the resources and exclusive fishing rights and their relinquishment. Traditional management may also involve specific management measures, including restrictions on some fishing methods, closed seasons and restrictions on fishing in some places to protect breeding areas. Marketing may also be controlled, especially as regards fixing prices, determining who shares the catch, and settling conflicts.

In most countries, the Fisheries Department is nominally in charge of all fisheries management and deals with the control of fishers, licensing, taxes and similar matters. In reality, in a number of countries (such as Uganda, Rwanda, Zaïre and Zambia) it is the chief of the village who decides on management. It is only when an intractable legal conflict occurs that the government is requested to intervene. An example is the case of stolen gillnets on Lakes Cohoha and Rweru, which involved the governments of Rwanda and Burundi. This situation persists because small water bodies are usually scattered around a country and the authorities cannot themselves control them. Efforts to exert control, like collecting taxes, which may involve the police, may be resisted and fishers have been known to disappear rather than submit (cases have been recorded in Uganda and Malawi).

Traditional rules have now often lost their power because of external factors, such as government intervention and the pressures of population growth. These may lead to the migration of new fishers into an area and an increase in the numbers of part-time fishers, both groups being less responsive to traditional systems. Nevertheless, they are still irreplaceable management systems, especially when management by the government is lacking or inefficient.

The effectiveness of many government management plans frequently fall far short of their defined objectives. Poorly defined strategies and development plans generally fail to recognize the complexity of fisheries, whilst the institutions responsible for the sector often lack the human and financial resources to implement them (Bonzon and Breuil, 1991). Because fisheries are complex, inland fishery legislation seldom functions as a rational instrument for managing them. Furthermore, fisheries in many waters are of secondary importance compared to their other uses, like irrigation or water supplies for humans and livestock. Some practices, such as the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides, may be detrimental to fisheries, but fishers may be unprotected by legislation, especially when the question of loss and compensation is concerned.

Most reservoirs in southern Africa are constructed and maintained by the state, which normally places legal constraints on the use of water. The legal measures relating to fisheries can vary greatly from one place to another. In some cases, the government may issue a global licence to all users (e.g., Mazvikadei Dam, Zimbabwe), or to a group of fishers (e.g., Bokaa Dam, Botswana) or require a nominal licence fee (e.g., Matawace Dam, Malawi; Makungwa Dam, Zambia) or else require only permission from a fisheries officer. In some cases, the population is simply prohibited from using the dam (e.g., Makalika Dam, Lesotho).


Because small water bodies may have multiple uses, some of which may conflict with each other, the legal implications of any fishery project should be carefully considered. Some conflicts might arise amongst those using the resource. In the Southern Province of Zambia, for example, most people living around the dams fish with rods and lines, a method that does not require a licence. Some individuals applied to the District Council for gillnetting licences. These were issued, after approval from the Fisheries Department, for a fee of 500 Kwacha1. These fishers do not, as a rule, live in the area of the dam in which they fish, which can lead to problems. For example, in 1992, a Zambian fisherman from Chanje was licensed to fish in Mzewe Dam from January to June, Makungwa Dam from July to November, and in Chingazi Dam. Because he used the gillnets as beach seines, and fished 3–4 times per day, the fish stocks were severely depleted and there were no large tilapias left for the local residents to catch. This led to a conflict which could have been avoided if the Department of Fisheries or the District Council had enforced the use of proper fishing gear (Maes, Ersdal and Mutale, in preparation).

Conflicts may also involve local rulers and the government fisheries authorities. Fishers in lucrative fisheries may be forced to pay dues to local chiefs, even if there is no clear legal justification for doing so, in addition to license fees to the government (e.g., in Lake Albert, Uganda). Further conflicts can arise when the same government department is responsible both for extension and law enforcement. This can create suspicion on the part of the fishers, since they cannot be certain that officials are there to advise or to penalize them. This situation prevails in all the southern African countries, with the exception of Zimbabwe, where extension and law enforcement are carried out by different agencies.

The problem of licence fees or taxes is a complex one and may influence the development of fisheries in small water bodies. Water users are frequently charged for the right to use water, or for the actual amount of water that they use. In such cases the cost of an extra fisheries licence may amount to an additional charge. If this fee is too high it may discourage legal fishers and force many of them to fish illegally, which, if uncontrolled, could have detrimental effects on the stock. On the other hand, if the licence fee is too low, overfishing can be encouraged without providing any financial return to the authorities, which are then without resources to manage the fishery.

The question of appropriate fees for particular activities in a small water body also needs to be considered. Should the different uses of the water, such as irrigation, watering livestock, fisheries or aquaculture have the same value? These issues clearly need to be resolved, but few of the SADC countries appear to have an adequate legislative framework for resolving such issues.

1. Exchange rate (February 1993): 1 $US = 398 kwacha


Although controlling access to a water body is necessary if it is to be managed properly, problems can arise when they are privately-owned or leased to individuals by the state. For example, the Zambian government has stocked over 50 Zambian dams with fish, but they are only available for sport fishing over weekends and rural people have no access to them at other times (Leth-Nissen, personal communication). This may not lead to effective management, and there is a need to give rural people proper access to small water bodies if this objective is to be attained.

When dams are privately-owned the owners are likely to manage it themselves, perhaps by charging entry fees or allowing rod-and-line fishers to operate freely, whilst controlling netting. This is the case in some small dams in Malawi, Lesotho and Zimbabwe. In other cases, the state controls public access and allocates fishing rights, as in most large Zimbabwean reservoirs, or the Bokaa, Gaborone and Shashe Dams in Botswana. Sometimes, of course, there is no known authority responsible for any particular reservoir, which leads to problems, since there no body responsible for control of abuses like “stream bank” cultivation, illegal gillnetting of fish, or use of illegal methods of catching fish.

In certain countries, notably Zimbabwe, a number of lakes, dams and rivers are situated within National Parks or Game and Forest Reserves where fishing is prohibited or strictly controlled. These restrictions are obviously necessary in many cases, but efforts should be made to relax them wherever possible (Anderson, 1989).


The involvement of the village is recognized as a key to the success of fisheries management in most small water bodies. This can be achieved by the forming of small cooperatives or committees which represent all the people concerned. Local involvement is one of the most important means of controlling harvesting and preventing illegal fishing.

The first considerations in the management of fisheries in small water bodies are related to fish biology and productivity, followed by processing and marketing. Social and cultural factors also play an important part, and much more needs to be known about both traditional and evolving patterns of ownership, leadership and organization in the communities that are involved. Every situation is unique, and so leaders of fishing communities will be chosen in various ways and will have to respond to different problems. In Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, the main problem is the activities of poachers and occasional overfishing, but in Botswana the leaders need to attract people to fishing as fishing is not a traditional activity in much of the country.

Too often, the central leadership and decision-making role is occupied by agents of the central government, who cannot operate effectively because of a lack of transport or finance. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that most fishing takes place at night, whilst government officials work only during the day. This lack of leadership will inevitably lead to failure of management policies in the long term. Local leadership is needed to develop support initially, maintain motivation and promote decision-making. This is necessary if conflicts aroused by jealousy, suspicion or competition are to be minimized. Indigenous leadership has therefore a vital role in the adoption as well as the implementation of management programmes: management programmes which will not succeed without internal direction of this kind (Palm, 1989).


Conflicts can occur when reservoirs are being used for fish production while they were primarily built for some other purpose. These primary function may well take priority over fishing, so one of the purposes of fishery management is to ensure that these functions can be carried out without detriment to the fishery. The establishment of a Water Resources Committee on which all water users and concerned agencies are represented may therefore be needed to resolve these issues. Its membership could include the local Fisheries Officer, the local leadership, such as chiefs or headmen, law enforcement officials (police or, in Zimbabwe, National Parks Officers), Agriculture or Water Department officials, and representatives of the fishers themselves.

Committees of this kind can help in defining clear lines of responsibility in regard to revenues and taxes from fishing, and the allocation of water for crops and livestock. The aim is to reduce conflicts over water usage and ensure a more equitable distribution of the resources provided by the water bodies. This is an objective of the FAO/ALCOM project which has assisted in the establishment of such committees for the Mwenje and Mufurudzi Dams, Zimbabwe. Others are being set up with NGOs and the help of ALCOM in Zimbabwe, and others are soon to be organized in Zambia and Tanzania.


No southern African country has legislation that specifically pertains to small water bodies, although Botswana and Lesotho have sought assistance from the FAO Legal Office in trying to resolve problems of access, ownership, taxes and fishing rights. Such legislation should ensure close consultation between traditional and local authorities to ensure that the people are to be involved and the methods are to be acceptable (Kapetsky, 1991). It should also aim to strengthen coordination and cooperation among the various national institutions, but give a measure of autonomy to fishers to manage their own small water bodies within decentralized institutional structures. The traditional laws should be recognized and integrated within the framework of modern legislation. It should cover all types of gear, but reduce the degree of penalization in order to encourage the cooperation of the fishers, especially in regard to the collection of statistical data and other details necessary for effective management. Lesotho is the only country which will soon have legislation dealing specifically with small water bodies. Legislation in Zimbabwe makes it possible for the authorities that control water bodies to draw up regulations for their management.


In most countries there is a specific government agency (usually a Fisheries Department) which is charged with implementing and enforcing the legislation. In addition, it is required to manage the fisheries, which involves gathering data on things like the relationship between central and local governments, traditional rules, fishing gear, fishery statistics, fish biology and population dynamics, social and economic factors. The diversity of functions makes the task of these Departments a difficult one, and their efficiency has been limited by a number of factors. These factors include a shortage of funds, administrative problems, a lack of technical staff and extension services, and an absence of overall national development plans and long-term production programmes (Lu Xiangke, 1992).

The simplest options, under these circumstances, is to assume that current levels of fish production are adequate and that no immediate action is needed. Otherwise, development activities are needed, and it is essential that the fisheries authorities develop long-term plans in cooperation with other sectors of government. These would include local leadership because, whilst the Fisheries Department is primarily responsible for the administration and management of fisheries, the traditional rulers are already in place. They should be involved because most Fisheries Departments are understaffed and lack facilities, a situation that is not likely to change in the near future. Strengthening the relationships between the Fisheries Department and the traditional rulers will greatly improve the chance that management policies can be successfully implemented.

The management of fisheries in small water bodies could be left in the hands of traditional rulers and local committees, but the Fisheries Department should provide advice and support. Their programmes should be made known to fishers and their local leadership, and the Fishery Departments should increase the involvement of fishers' associations in management and development activities.


Any project that increases contact between people and water in Africa will introduce the problem of waterborne diseases. Most of these can be controlled by proper sanitation and hygiene; suitable and relatively inexpensive methods have been developed in Zimbabwe, where they are widely used (Morgan, 1990). Some diseases, of which schistosomiasis is the most widespread, are very difficult to prevent because fishers inevitably make contact with the water and expose themselves to infection. Control measures include proper sanitation to prevent urination or defaecation in or near the water. Aquatic vegetation can be removed to reduce the habitat for snails, and chemical control can be practised. This carries risks, however, because most commonly used molluscicides are also toxic to fish (Hairston, Wurzinger and Burch, 1975). The notion that molluscivorous fish could control the snails is raised from time to time, and some investigations have been made. Field trials have not clearly demonstrated that these fish are able to do this, and the prospects of using them systematically to reduce the incidence of this disease seem remote at present (Slootweg, Malek and McCullough, 1994).

Malaria is also a problem in much of the region, and is likely to spread with the increase in the number of small reservoirs. This could be an especially serious problem in arid areas which were previously free of mosquitos because they lacked standing water. Mosquitos can be reduced by controlling vegetation and ensuring that there are always fish in the water body. Other waterborne diseases can be eliminated by proper hygiene, handling and cooking of fish.

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