The Lower Zambezi is a spectacular fishing destination and every year sees more and more visitors coming to the valley to try their hand a catching a tigerfish for the first time, beat their record from last year, or chase that elusive monster that ran off half a spool of line before spitting that lure right back at the boat.
While sport fishing is a great way to get out into wild places like the Zambezi, increasing pressure on fishing areas, more traffic and boat traffic and the effects of increasing development on the river banks, are threatening the very resources that fishermen come to the valley to enjoy. At Wildtracks we believe that as a general principle, fishing guides and recreational anglers should aim to minimize their impact on the environment. This entails fishing in an ethical and responsible fashion and ensuring we create minimal disturbance and avoid interfering with the natural behaviour of animals around them. Fishing, is by nature a consumptive activity that is at odds with this principal of minimal disturbance. In order to get around this dilemma, catch-and-release fishing has become more popular as a means of enjoying fishing as a sport, without removing fish from the population. Catch-and-release is considered to be an environmentally friendly option and is promoted as a conservation measure for protected areas around the world.
We practice catch-and-release fishing on our boats and encourage all our guests to fish on a strictly catch-and-release basis. There is more however to catch-and-release than just throwing a fish back into the water. The key assumption of catch-and-release is that a released fish will survive after being released. This is based on the observation that released fish usually swim away, apparently unharmed. Research has found however, that fish mortality mostly occurs some time after release, as injuries or distress caused by catch and release only become apparent some time later. It is important to understand that there will always be some mortality associated with catch and release fishing. A recent review across many species found average mortality to be around 16 percent, but this figure varies and can be much higher for certain species. Keeping this mortality to a minimum depends largely on factors that the angler can control – the tackle used, the length of time that the fish is played, minimising the amount of time that the fish spends out of the water and how the fish is handled during the release. Despite the issue of post-release mortality, catch-and-release, if practiced properly, can minimize the negative impacts of recreational angling and should be encouraged.
It was with this in mind that the Lower Zambezi Catch & Release Initiative (LZCRI) came into being. As responsible anglers we have an obligation to protect the fish resources of the Zambezi. If we want to continue to enjoy fishing on the Zambezi, we need to ensure that we not only mitigate the negative impacts of our activities, but actually make a positive impact. In addition to reducing the number of fish removed from the population, catch-and-release can also be a valuable tool for conservation management and research in terms of the large amount of information about angler behaviour, and the effects of recreational fishing on fish and fish populations that can be gathered if these releases are recorded.
The vision of the LZCRI is based upon three central tenets as a model for responsible fishing:
Respect - This is a respect for every single fish we catch and the environment in which we catch them. We need to consider the welfare of every single fish caught.
Record - Keeping catch records should be part and parcel of responsible angling. Not only can keeping records be personally rewarding, and the information collected can be used for monitoring and conservation planning.
Release – Catch-and-release can be an effective tool to minimise the impact of recreational angling. To ensure the survival of released fish, it is important that anglers are aware of and follow the latest best-practice in catch-and-release
So far the LZCRI has been well received in the valley. As most of the lodges in the GMA and the national park already practice catch-and-release, they are keen to be involved in the initiative. Sven Vrdoljak, who is running the LZCRI from Wildtracks, has given lectures on catch-and-release at this year’s guides training and has also visited several lodges to talk to guides and distribute logbooks for fishing guides to record their catches on a daily basis. It has been very encouraging that the guides are keen to learn about the principles behind catch and release, as well as share their own experience and expertise. By sharing information in this way, we can improve the already high standards of guiding in the area. Lodge managers have been very supportive of the programme and have been more than willing to take on the task of keeping catch records. As the programme develops we hope to continue to expand our support base, with an aim to getting all of the lodges and anglers recording and submitting catch records.
The LZCRI will be publishing more guidelines and information sheets on catch-and-release, incorporating international standards with local knowledge from Lower Zambezi guides. The growing library of information will be a useful reference for lodges, guides and visitors to ensure that everyone who fishes in the Zambezi valley is equipped to do so in a responsible and environmentally friendly way. We are s also exploring other ways to facilitate the collection of fishing data and catch records, including the development of a customised Cybertracker routine to record catches on handheld devices (see the Cybertracker website for more information on their software). As the project progresses, there will be regular updates on the LZCRI page on the Wildtracks website. This is where all the LZCRI guidelines and other information and resources will be available for download. The LZCRI is a collaborative project and will only work with the participation and support from operators the sport fishing community who enjoy the premier fishing that the Lower Zambezi still has to offer.
The initial development of the LZCRI has been funded by a grant from the Rufford Small Grants Foundation, but will need further funding as it develops. If you would like to find out more about the LZCRI, get involved or offer support, please contact Sven Vrdoljak using the LZCRI contact form, or phone +26097 486 1752 for further information. The LZCRI would like to thank all the lodges and managers who have committed to join the initiative so far and hope to see lots of good catch records coming in as the fishing season progresses.