Zimbabwe, Zambia

Kariba & Middle Zambezi

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Catch and release – the future?

Catch and release – the future?

Catch and release – the future?

As a first-time competitor in KITFT, I can say that I am hooked. Now that the memories of the terrible  heat, lost fish and lack of sleep have faded, all that remains are the good memories - the excitement of the first day’s start, the hopes of the big one, the good natured rivalry at the weigh bay, the sunsets over the lake, the camaraderie amongst the competitors, and the cold beers. I know I’ll be back.

But what about the stars of the show and the raison d’être for KITFT - the tigerfish themselves? There has been a lot of discussion of the undisputed fact that tonnes of fish are removed from the lake over a very short period of time. Also the nature of the competition encourages the capture of the biggest and best fish. 

It must be noted that a fair portion of the fish caught are donated to missions and charities as a welcome source of protein, and National Parks do valuable research from the catch. The tournament only takes place in the eastern basin of Kariba.

However, careful study of the records does indicate that from an all time low in 1994, the total weight of the catch has shown a general upward trend. Interestingly, the average weight per angler seems to be on the slight downward trend. Does this mean that we are removing more fish each year and the average fish caught is getting smaller?

Well I am no scientist, and although the catches still appear to be fairly healthy year-on-year, the question really is whether a non catch and release competition is sustainable in the long term.

KITFT is supported and conducted under the auspices of the National Parks Authority of Zimbabwe. And to be fair to the organizers, they are very cognizant of these issues, such that it was announced that the competition will eventually be evolved into a catch and release event.

Indeed, the Test of the Best competition, where the top 10 teams from KITFT compete, is already a catch and release competition. However to implement catch and release for the main KITFT would be difficult. For the competitors, the new additions of aerators and live wells to each boat and the extra fuel for regular trips to the mobile weigh station would be costly. The necessity of mobile marshalls would be costly for the organizers.

All these costs would be passed back down to the competitors. Would this drive the average fishing enthusiast away from KITFT? Would this be the start of KITFT becoming a competition that only has well funded, corporate sponsored, semi-professional teams?

There needs to be much research into the best methods of keeping tigerfish alive and successfully returning them to the lake. These techniques will also have to be taught to the competitors.

The jury is still out on how to make KITFT greener. But the good news is that from the organizers down, there is a growing acceptance and strong realization that some changes have to be made to bring the competition in line with internationally accepted norms.

As a short term solution, my humble suggestion would be to ban all baiting of any kind, both during practice and competition, and raise the minimum eligible size fish to 1.5 kg. This would vastly reduce the total number of fish caught and return the emphasis to the successful weighing of fewer quality fish, as opposed to the top teams pushing for maximum quantity.  It would be a useful stepping stone to the introduction of catch and release and mobile weigh bays.

Read more articles from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 09, June 2012)

Read more about the region in our destination guide:
Kariba & Middle Zambezi