By Shinovene Immanuel
Minister of fisheries Bernhard Esau and his delegation survived a savage attack by illegal fishermen in the Zambezi region.
Esau related his ordeal to The Namibian yesterday on how they escaped panga attacks from fish poachers in Lake Liambezi about 60 kilometres south of Katima Mulilo.
The minister said he and his delegation were on a patrol mission when they spotted suspected fish poachers with nets measuring over three kilometres long. The ministerial group directed the suspect to stop their illegal activity. That directive angered the gang who became aggressive.
“They charged at us with pangas and spears,” he said.
Fortunately, in the minister's delegation were two police officers who intervened and helped to resolve the standoff in a “comradely manner”.
Esau said the matter was left to rest since the aggressive group was from the other side of the river.
The government has been struggling to stop poaching of fish in the far north eastern region of Namibia.
Fisheries spokesperson Charlie Matengu, who was also part of the minister's delegation related how the illegal fishermen engaged in a tug-of-war for their nets which the minister tried to take away. Matengu said the men sternly warned the delegation.
“They told us that we would see what would happen to us after taking the fishing nets,” he said.
Esau said during his budget motivation in the National Assembly on Wednesday that the ministry still faces challenges with illegal, unreported and regulated fishing activities, particularly in the Zambezi region.
This, according to the minister, is made worse by the vastness of the area and the unavailability of patrol boats.
“The illegal fish is dried, packed into bales and exported directly to the Democratic Republic of Congo via Zambia,” Esau said.
The state has now pumped over N$120 million to carry out marine and inland monitoring control investments which will also include surveillance. Part of the money will be used to acquire patrol boats.
“It is necessary to increase the presence of fisheries inspectors in the region in order to widen our surveillance activities,” he said.
Esau told The Namibian that the government has not established how much it is losing but said the stock of fish is being depleted at a fast pace due to poaching.
His budget motivation shows that only an estimated 10% of Zambezi's fish stock recorded in 2010 is now available.
Esau said the government and its Zambian counterparts are in talks to curb illegal fishing in the region.
He said the ministry had received land in the Zambezi region and is now setting up a permanent ministerial building to control illegal fishing in the area.
Several foreign fishermen were arrested after they were found fishing illegally in Lake Liambezi.
Conservationists said they were worried that the fourth longest river in Africa is not being given enough time to recover its fish stock.
Esau said illegal fishing has also affected government projects in the Kavango region and in the Orange River.
The government will also receive funding from several foreign states to pump into its aquaculture projects.
The Chinese government has promised Namibia a N$15 million grant while the Spain will inject N$6 million.
The total budget of fisheries ministry this financial year is over N$350 million.