A Belated Calling

D. R. Congo
‘Before I started fishing I was a teacher, but I had to give it up for political and financial reasons. The dictatorship then was terrible, and state officials had such low incomes that I couldn’t provide for my family. Several times, I went to see my cousin in Kinshasa and he helped me out. He’s a fisherman, and one day I asked him to take me fishing with him. That’s how it all started, 21 years ago, out of necessity… But then it became a real passion, and now, when my obligations keep me away from the water several days, I feel a kind of emptiness inside.

My personal life and my professional activities are entwined, they’re one, they give meaning to each other. Some people may think that fishermen are uneducated, or illiterate, at least around here. But that is not true. Many have studied, many read and think a lot. But for many of us, the only choice was fishing or starving.

I read and listen to the news during my free time; I also like community life. I often attend meetings with members of various associations. I am now well known in the field, by our authorities and the NGOs working with fishers.

I work on the River Congo, by the Malebo Pool, and it’s usually two of us. We fish close to the riverbank; we catch fish on the surface using a seine net and a small boat. We cast the net out from the shore and pull it back. This is a traditional technique that doesn’t pollute the water and results in a relatively small catch.

The thing I find most stimulating about fishing is the fish itself: seeing it move brings me joy and comfort. I resent the fishers who catch small fish or jeopardize the ecosystem by cutting the grass along the river where fish spawn. As a fisherman, my relation to the river and its inhabitants is complex, especially because I am concerned about sustainable and responsible fishing. I am a predator as well as a protector.

I am part of several organizations. I founded the Slow Food Pool Malebo Convivium, of which I am now vice-president. I am also the president of the Fishermen’s Associations Union, which brings together some 15 associations working around Kinshasa. Among other things, the union aims at fighting illegal fishing, managing conflicts and protecting the environment and biodiversity of the area. I am the President of the Commercial Cooperative of Kingabwa that we have just created; although it still needs some tweaking, we have started selling our catch through it.

Artisanal fishing is the natural way for most fishers in Democratic Republic of Congo, and often the only option anyway. Fishers do have an important part to play in preserving waters and species: They can decide not to use chemicals, avoid cutting the vegetation in reproduction areas near the riverbanks, use nets adapted to the regulations of their fishery, etc. But they cannot act alone. For the next generations, and to ensure the future of the profession, fishing laws in our country have to be firmly implemented and then respected by fishers. The government and fishing communities have to work hand in hand for a more sustainable management of marine resources.’

I was lucky enough to go to Turin, Italy, as a Terra Madre delegate in 2006 and 2008. My children have enough food and they go to school – two of them even attend the University of Kinshasa. I owe all this to fishing. I am proud of my work and very grateful.

Jean-Robert Lomata
[email protected]

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