Analysis: Threats to fish production loom over Lake Hawassa as fishermen hope for a timely solution

Lake Hawassa fisher community

By Etenesh Abera  @EteneshAb 

Addis Abeba, June 7, 2021- Lake Hawassa is one of the jewels of the capital of the newly formed Sidama Regional State and former South Nation Nationalities Peoples Region, Hawassa city. The lake is famous for being a recreational venue with the beautiful resorts and hotels surrounding it. Addis Standard visited Hawassa and discussed the issue with Sidama region’s natural resource bureau and other stakeholders.  

Lake Hawassa is one of the many freshwater shallow lakes found in the central Ethiopian Rift Valley with the richest diversity of flora and fauna compared to other Ethiopian Rift valley lakes. Among the fishes which are abundantly found in the lake are Nile tilapia catfish, a native African species and bar bus.

According to fish suppliers along the lake shore, the fish production is decreasing from time to time. Dawit Aberham, the chairman for Lake Hawassa fishermen’s union, attributes the decrease in fish production to nets which are imported without proper research and illegal fishermen organized as small enterprises. According to Dawit, these fishermen catch fish around prohibited areas such as the grasslands where the fishes mainly reproduce. The chairman added that the irrigation nearby the lake and water pumping trucks are also among challenges for the fish production, resulting in small fishes and eggs being thrown out to the dryland.

Similarly, the polluted water from the Hawassa industrial park and the Hawassa Referral Hospital impacts the fish production in the lake to some extent. “’We have already notified the stakeholders about the issue. Untreated water should not seep into the lake because it will devastate the biodiversity of the lake”, Dawit told Addis Standard. According to Dawit, the factories claim that the water they release into the lake is treated where there is no means of verifying it. Additionally, the lake is polluted by sewage “The flooding and sewage from the city contaminates the lake. But currently the city administration is planning to treat the flooding and the sewage before it joins the lake.’’

Yonas Teshete, the secretary of Lake Hawassa fishermen union, corroborated the chairman’s statement. He said the overfishing on the lake continues to significantly decrease the diversity of the fish found in the lake. “More than ten small enterprises are working on the lake from the Oromia region side of the lake and from SNNPR. All of them are fishing on the lake shore depleting the lake’s resources.”  For Yonas who was born and raised nearby the lake, the decrease in fish production is visible. “Currently fishermen are prone to losing their means of income. The union is also in danger.’’ He added that the illegal nets which are imported from Egypt are mainly causing a decrease in fish production. According to him, the nets catch very small fish that are not mature enough for market. Addis Standard was able to observe while the fishermen threw the small fishes back to the lake from the so-called ‘Egyptian’ nets. The fish is immediately picked up by the bird species with the scientific name Marabou Stork, commonly known as Aba Koda. 

In an interview with Addis Standard Tekle Zonba, the director of Sidama region’s  animal resource and fish development agency acknowledged the issues raised by the fishermen in the lake Hawassa. “The pandemic slowed down overproduction temporarily for the last couple of months increasing the fish resource.’’ Tekle noted that the challenges still persist. According to the director, different stakeholders are doing research on how to increase the fish production on the lake including Hawassa University. For the question asked by Addis Standard about the nets which were said to be imported from Egypt, the director responded by explaining that a task force is being set up to control it. “They call it a Monofilament net. It doesn’t spare the very small fish which are not ready for food consumption.” he said, further explaining that the task force comprises regional police, attorney general, personnels from the region’s animal resource and fish development bureau as well as fishermen unions to mitigate the problems. He promised that the import of the net will be prohibited soon. 

With regard to pollution of the lake, the director said that the liquid byproducts from the industrial park are treated and do not cause harm. ‘’One of the serious challenges for the lake and its fish production is the flooding and sewage from the city which brings solid and liquid waste into the lake.” Tekele said the task force is working on both technical and administrative issues to solve the overall problems of the lake. He also noted the illegal fishermen who he said are harming the biodiversity of the lake. “A committee is set up to oversee the illegal fishing activities and put a stop to it.” 

Credit: Alazar Kiruble

Team Addis Standard would like to give recognition to Alazar Kirubel and his friends who have been collecting plastic bottles from the lake shore every week for the last two months. “I don’t have any motivation other than wanting to see Lake Hawassa be a healthy place for its inhabitants and the residents of the city.” AS

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