A fierce stampede for fish has ensued among Zimbabweans and Zambians in Lake Kariba, raising the spectre of a diplomatic storm between the two neighbours.
Water and Climate Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri revealed recently that Zambia had deployed nearly a thousand fishing boats which were encroaching into Zimbabwean territory in violation of the protocol regulating the use of the Kariba Dam by the neighbouring countries
The lake lies between the two former British colonies although Zimbabwe is entitled to a bigger share of the aquatic resource. Kariba is a source of a variety of nutritious fish species with fishing there being employing thousands.
"According to Article 6 of the protocol, fishing effort (number of boats fishing) is to be shared according to the area of the lake which each state holds," Muchinguri-Kashiri told parliament recently.
"Zimbabwe, which holds 55% of the lake, is entitled to 55% of the total fishing effort (particularly of the kapenta fishery which is a shared stock).
"Currently, Zimbabwe has 460 kapenta fishing boats on the lake and Zambia has 962 boats officially declared. This means the current ratio is 32:68 in Zambia's favour which is against the protocol agreement."
Despite the apparent greed by the Zambians, it has emerged, however, that the two countries were, in fact, both violating the protocol on the number of fishing boats plying the dam waters.
According to Muchinguri-Kashiri, a total of 500 boats are required on the lake to have a sustainable fishery.
"With the agreed ration," she said, "Zimbabwe is to have 275 rigs and Zambia should have 225. The current total is pegged at 1422, meaning there is overcapacity on the lake."
She added: "... Both countries are supposed to ensure that fishing effort is regulated and pegged at a sustainable level by committing to and abiding by the dictates of the protocol to ensure that the fishery recovers and maximum returns are realised.
"This will result in improved food security status of both nations, particularly for Zimbabwe which gets 90% of its fish protein from Lake Kariba, over 50% of this being from Kapenta fishing."
Kapeta fish, popularly known as Matemba, are a delicacy in Zimbabwe and keep many families going during hard times.
The agreement regulating the use of the resource is named the Protocol on Economic and Technical Corporation between the Government of the Republic of Zambia and the Government of the Republic of Zimbabwe concerning management and development of fisheries on Lake Kariba and the Trans-boundary Waters of the Zambezi River.
This protocol was jointly established by the governments of the two countries in 1999 setting the agenda for what each country does in the management of fisheries within its jurisdiction.
The management objective of the protocol is to ensure that the yield from its fisheries is ecologically sustainable and economically viable within an equitable framework.