Fishing has long been recognised as a key sector in the Lake Chad Basin. According to a study of the Office de la Recherche Scientifique Technique d’Outre –Mer (ORSTOM) renamed the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD) in the 70s, scientists estimated that fish catches could stand at 180,000 tonnes of fresh fish per year without any risk of stock depletion in normal hydrological periods.
With production levels of hundreds of millions of tonnes per year, fishing is practiced in the Lake Chad basin by thousands of artisanal fishermen and many households. They use traditional boats and fishing gear on the lake, rivers and floodplains.
The fishers catch a wide variety of fish, an estimated 176 species, according to a study conducted by ORSTOM in the 60s. A significant portion of the catch is either dried or smoked. These are then fed into a well-organized marketing network that extends to the urban markets of southern Nigeria such as Lagos, Ibadan, Onitsha, Enugu, where smoked and dried are in high demand. It is currently estimated that the fishery industry annually generates more than $ 24 million USD or about 12 billion FCFA. Indeed, this activity provides employment, income and food for more than 10 million people.
Fishing in the Lake Chad basin is tied to hydrological regimes and water distribution. These parameters depend on the climate, but also on human activities such as irrigation, dyke construction, deforestation, etc. which currently expose the sector to huge challenges.
The sector currently receives financial support from the African Development Shore through the Lake Chad Basin Sustainable Development Program (PRODEBALT), and from the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC).
Current situation of the sector
Legal, regulatory and political framework of the fisheries sector.
In the four (4) countries (Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria, Chad) bordering the lake, the State is the legal owner of natural resources. Governments and their administrations are supposed to manage these resources through appropriate national policies. They often use a conventional framework consisting of laws and regulations. National fisheries policies always place emphasis on the economic importance of this sector and on sustainable management. However, in these countries, implementation of fisheries policies has often been limited due to financial difficulties and obstacles faced in translating national policy statements into management systems adapted to local realities.
Fisheries exploitation and management systems
According to a study conducted by C. Bene et al in 2003, there are three fisheries management systems in the Lake Chad Basin namely:
- The traditional system: which include the government or traditional authorities (district heads, village chiefs, leaders of fishermen) which control activities through regulations.
- The modern system: which include the administration or the central government which regulate fisheries through their officials.
- The mixed system: these include the traditional and government authorities who are involved in fisheries management.
Still according to this study:
- The traditional system is applied 70% in Cameroon, 38% in Chad and 33% in Nigeria
- The mixed system is applied 30% in Cameroon, 45% in Chad and 56% in Nigeria ;
- The modern system is applied 0% in Cameroon, 17% in Chad and 11% in Nigeria.
NB: It is important to note that at the time of this study, the water level in the north basin of the lake was very low. So fishing activities were at an ebb. This explains the absence of data on Niger.
A noteworthy fact highlighted by this study is that fisheries management in Lake Chad relies mainly on the traditional and mixed systems. This is not without consequences for the communities living on the exploitation of fishery resources. Thus the benefits generated from fishing go to an elite minority comprising local leaders, their extended families as well as other elders and their associates. Hence despite the fact that fishing yields significant wealth, at least 40% of the rural population in the basin is impoverished and the poorest households face chronic food shortages.
The overall objective of the development of the fisheries and aquaculture sector in the Lake Chad Basin is to sustainably reduce poverty among the populations living off this activity. More specifically, the aim is to ensure sustainable exploitation of fisheries resources while taking into account climate change.
- Organisation of two ordinary statutory meetings (15, 16 and 17 June 2011 and on 13 and 14 July 2012) of fisheries and aquaculture experts from LCBC member countries;
- Organization of a regional workshop on the impacts of climate change on fishing communities in the Lake Chad Basin (15, 16 and 17 November 2011) in collaboration with the FAO Fisheries Department;
- Popularizing of Chorkor ovens, fish-drying racks and isothermal containers.
- This entailed the distribution of 35 ovens, 75 drying racks and 75 isothermal containers for demonstrative purposes in the Republic of Chad;
- Design of model plans for the construction of 15 landing quays, at a rate of 3 per country (Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria, Central African Republic and Chad) participating in the Program and 20 monitoring antennae at a rate of 4 per country.
Development constraints and challenges to the sector
Fishing in the Lake Chad basin is beset by several constraints, the major ones being:
Environmental changes: The dramatic reduction in Lake Chad’s surface area observed in recent decades has resulted in a disruption of agricultural surface areas and a decrease in fish production. In fact, the lake’s surface area has gone from 25 000 to 2 500 km2 within 45 years and from a depth of 6 m on average to less than 3m at present. At the current recession rate of the water level, the lake could disappear within twenty years, according to some climate forecasts of NASA.
Exogenous factors: fishing and the Lake Chad Basin as a whole are under threat from other anthropogenic factors such as population growth, deforestation, poverty and increasing food needs as well as large-scale oil production in the near future;
Fisheries policy and coordination: the Lake Chad Basin Commission is responsible for the fisheries policy and coordinating the region’s development. Unfortunately it lacks the resources (human, material and financial) needed to address all the challenges. Fortunately, there is increased awareness among various users of the basin's natural resources and in particular among the member countries’ authorities.
In this light, various summits of Heads of State and Governments of LCBC member countries have endorsed several policy documents including among others, the Vision 2025 in 2003, the Strategic Action Programme (SAP) the basin’s Water Charter and the Investment Plan (IP) in 2012, the self-financing strategy (drafting in progress), the organization of the donors’ round table scheduled for 2013, the institutional reform of the LCBC whose evaluation report is under preparation, the World Forum on Sustainable Development held in October 2010 in Ndjamena in Chad on "safeguarding Lake Chad", advocacy in favour of Lake Chad organized in conjunction with the World Water Forum in Marseille in France in March 2012, and that of Brazil on the sidelines of the Rio +20 Earth Summit in June 2012, etc ...
With regards to policy and the legislative and regulatory framework for natural resources management in the basin in general and fisheries in particular, initiatives have been taken at the level of each member country. Yet much remains to be done to ensure harmonious management.
Currently, the LCBC drawing on its own resources and support from financial partners has launched several projects including among others:
- Construction and equipping of 15 landing quays equipped with ice maker and 20 monitoring antennae;
- Distribution of Chorkor ovens, drying racks and isothermal containers to fishermen for demonstration purposes to reduce post-catch losses;
- Establishment of an ongoing fisheries statistics monitoring system in collaboration with the NEPAD - FAO fisheries program based on a partnership agreement to be signed;
- Training of fishermen groups on the fishing co-management mechanism, fish processing and conservation;
- Development of the Lake Chad fisheries management plan using an ecosystem approach in accordance with the recommendation of the Conference of African Ministers of Fisheries and Aquaculture (CMAP/A) held in September 2010 in Banjul, The Gambia in collaboration with the NEPAD - FAO fisheries program based on a partnership agreement to be signed;
- Implementation of micro-projects on extraction of fish oil, harvesting and marketing of spirulina, etc.;
- Participation of the LCBC in the process of reforming African fisheries and aquaculture policy coordinated by the African Union through its Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources (IBAR);
There is cause for hope if all these initiatives translate from rhetoric to practical action
To view the English version of the report of the Regional workshop on the impacts of climate change on fishing communities in the Lake Chad, visit the following site: