Community fisheries reserves

Fishing plays an important role in the daily livelihood of rural people and makes an important contribution to almost 20% of the estimated 2 million people in the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA).

Freshwater fish in the north, especially in the north-eastern parts of Namibia along the Kavango, Kwando, Zambezi, and Chobe Rivers, is an important source of protein for daily subsistence of many communities. But poorly governed open access fisheries have resulted in a decline in high-value fish species (breams), which is caused by using illegal fishing methods and exacerbated by climate change, coupled with an enormous increase in the demand for fish because of expanding human populations along the rivers in Namibia and neighbouring countries.

Natural ecosystems have limited productivity irrespective of human demand. In the long term, it is expected that the fish species currently most important for commercial and subsistence use will be under severe stress, with a risk of disappearing from the ecosystem. Women and children are especially affected, and together with the rural poor, they are considered the most vulnerable groups.

In response to this, the CBNRM program has been expanded to include freshwater fish to allow local communities to manage their fish resources sustainably, giving riverine communities rights over fish resources in line with the CBNRM policy and the Inland Fisheries Resources Act No. 1 of 2003.

Namibia Nature Foundation (NNF), in collaboration with the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR), works with local communities to establish Fisheries Reserves (FRs), also called fish protected areas. These sanctuaries are identified by local communities for which use restrictions are put in place. Fisheries Reserves could be established within conservancy boundaries or outside. In Namibia, these areas are co-managed and legally recognized by the government. In order to create full ownership, the community decides on the restrictions themselves. Depending on their vision and their objections, the rules can be stricter or milder, as long as they are in line with the law. The rules are enforced by community fish guards who are equipped to patrol these areas. Offenders are prosecuted by the traditional authorities and MFMR. Fish monitors are in charge of monitoring local fish catches adjacent to the FRs, and their data is used to evaluate the effectiveness of the Fisheries Reserves in improving local fish stocks.

Currently, there are 10 fisheries reserves gazetted in Namibia’s Zambezi region, which are fully integrated into the management of six communal conservancies: Sikunga, Impalila, Mayuni, Balyerwa, Nakabolelwa, and Lusese, and all initially show very encouraging recovery trends. The fish population has not only increased in the reserves but also bigger in size and with a higher diversity of fish species. The recovering fish stocks spill over into the wider river system, and the positive impact is already felt in the catches. Hence, it is not only the fishermen that benefit from this intervention. The private sector may benefit through increased fish availability for sport fishing, which may practice catch-and-release fishing in the sanctuaries, as well as the eco-tourism sector that relies on intact ecosystems. The main beneficiaries, after all, are the communities, who should have access to fish as an affordable source of protein at their doorstep.

NNF has steadily and systematically built up a knowledge base and expertise in managing inland fisheries. This began along the Namibian portion of the Kavango and upper Zambezi Rivers and in the last 8 years has steadily been scaled up to the KAZA level.

Findings show that 20–30 years ago, people in some riverine communities ate fish almost daily. Now it has decreased to probably once per week due to limited availability and high prices – fish has become an inaccessible resource. Fish, especially small-sized fish, is an undervalued source of protein and have health benefits as a source of micronutrients such as Vitamin A, B, and D and minerals (calcium, zinc, phosphorus, and iron), which is very important for those who are most likely to be affected by the so-called hidden hunger (malnutrition), which is often caused by a lack of micronutrients. In this line, awareness-raising about the social, nutritional, and cultural importance of fish and fish consumption is also being addressed.

A number of projects were and are being implemented under the Community Fisheries program:




Community Conservation Fisheries in KAZA

2013 – 2018


Sustainable fisheries along the Kwando

2018 – 2021

WWF / Morby Charitable Foundation

Transboundary restoration on the Zambezi

 2019 – 2022

Peace Parks Foundation/ Common Foundation 

Kavango the Aqueduct of Life: Supporting People Securing our Common Waters

2019 – 2021

Resilient Waters/USAID

Joseph Mbambangandu Demo Site

2019 – 2020


Strengthening Community Fisheries in KAZA

2020 – 2023

EU Mauritius & the Seychelles

Fisheries conservation in the upper Okavango River basin

2021 – 2022


Implementing an integrated approach to Natural Resource Management in the Middle Cubango-Okavango Basin to mitigate land degradation

2021 – 2022


Namibia's community fisheries reserves are shown in purple on the map. Hover to see the name, or click on the list below to see more information about each one.