In the last 20 years, the amount of fish caught in Lake Tanganyika has dropped by half… Even worse, the decline is becoming more and more pronounced with time. 

The main reason for this disaster is that fish are harvested before they are even able to reproduce. Such behaviour undermines the sustainability of Lake Tanganyika's fish stocks. In fact, it is estimated that about 100 million kilograms of fish are lost per year. This equals to more than one billion fish stocks lost per year.


A charter to ensure long-term management of Lake Tanganyika's resources


On the 16th December 2021, in order to overcome this phenomenon, the governments of Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia jointly adopted the "Regional Charter of the Member States of the Lake Tanganyika Authority on sustainable fisheries management measures for Lake Tanganyika and its watershed". This charter will be effective in 2022, promoting both the conservation and sustainable use of the resources of the lake. By ensuring the rigorous implementation of the terms of the charter, the states will reinforce their mutual objectives of countering illegal fishing and the mass capture of young fish.


The articles of the charter

There are mainly two types of fishing in Lake Tanganyika, the most important being offshore fishing. It consists in catching a predator (the "perch" Lates stappersii -Mgebuka, Mukeke) and two "sardines” used as its food (Stolothrissa tanganicae -Ndagala and Limnothrissa miodon -Lumpu). This type of fishery accounts for nearly 80% of the total catch in Lake Tanganyika, landing on the beaches. The second type of fishing is the inshore one, which is practised within the first kilometre from the shore, especially along the beaches. Shoreline fishermen use a wide variety of gear, many of which are unlicensed, as they indiscriminately catch all fish, including small ones.

The charter is a legal document made up of 28 technical articles, which clarify and update the rules for fishing in Lake Tanganyika. Rather than replacing existing laws, they are intended to complement them. The charter is the result of a study conducted by experts and researchers from the four riparian countries during 2021. The initiative is part of the LATAFIMA (Lake Tanganyika Fisheries Management) project of the ECOFISH programme, which is funded and promoted by the European Union. This project is implemented by the Lake Tanganyika Authority (LTA) in partnership with the FAO. Thanks to this cooperation, knowledge about Lake Tanganyika has been updated and the consequences of illegal fishing quantified.

These articles emphasise on the current fishing regulations, such as permitted net sizes, hook sizes, fishing zones, etc. In addition, the charter redefines the penalties for violations, particularly for repeat offenders. It also clarifies the legal size of catches: for example, Lates stappersii is 26 cm from snout to tail, Stolothrissa tanganicae is 10 cm and Limnothrissa miodon is 11 cm. In addition, it specifies that a catch is considered totally illegal if 20% of the catch is below the legal size limit, and the entire catch is seized by fisheries officers.


Efforts to raise awareness about the charter

La charte a pour vocation d’être diffusée auprès des populations, pour qu’aucun pêcheur ne puisse prétendre ne pas connaître les règlements. Une campagne de sensibilisation, organisée par le projet LATAFIMA et encadrée par l’ALT, permettra en mai 2022 de disséminer le contenu de la charte dans les villages de pêche autour du lac.

We invite interested and concerned readers to consult the 13-page charter, which is available on the LTA website. The charter has been approved and endorsed by governments in French and English, and translated by LTA and FAO into local languages. Written to be accessible to all, the charter can even be understood by non-specialists.

To conclude, we will quote this important measure, article 12 of the charter: "to provide the fish a biological resting period and a chance to reproduce, all fishing in Lake Tanganyika will be prohibited, each year, from 15th of May to 15th of August".