Maputo — Mozambican police opened fire on Thursday afternoon on fishermen rioting in the Maputo neighbourhood of Costa do Sol, after fisheries inspectors had confiscated illegal fishing gear.
The police initially claimed that nobody had been injured in the clash - but the independent television station STV showed footage of a man wounded in the leg, apparently by a rubber bullet.
The incident began when the inspectors boarded fishing boats in the Bay of Maputo, and seized illegal nets. These are nets which do not conform to the regulated size of mesh. When the mesh is too small, the nets empty the sea, catching not only adult fish or prawns but also juveniles and larvae.
To the fury of the fishermen, the inspectors also confiscated the outboard motors used by the fishing boats.
Back on land, the fishermen tried to stop the inspectors from leaving Costa do Sol. They threw up barricades, and this led the inspectors to call for police intervention.
Some of the fishermen interviewed by STV said they should be given six months or a year to change their nets. But the problem of illegal fishing gear (particularly the use of mosquito nets) has been mentioned repeatedly, and no fisherman can seriously claim to be unaware of the regulations on nets.
There is a severe danger of overfishing in the Bay of Maputo. In the first half of this year, 237 owners of fishing boats in Maputo city and province were fined a total of slightly more than three million meticais (about 49,000 US dollars) for illegal fishing activities. This was an increase of 69 cases, compared with the same period in 2018.
These fishermen were either unlicensed or were using illegal fishing gear. Jose Cuna of the Maputo Provincial Fisheries Directorate said the fishermen had not yet all paid the fines, but he was sure they would pay up because they knew that "one consequence of not paying is that the courts will seize all that they own".
Fishermen are having a hard time, even if they are properly licensed. Some told STV they could fish for hours and catch nothing - a sure sign that the waters around Maputo have been overfished.