The Sunday Mail
MIXED signals from the annual Kariba Invitation Tiger Fishing Tournament (KITFT) make it difficult to understand the course being taken by the premier recreational competition.
Just last year, KITFT seemed to have gone on a massive recovery path. The number of teams that participated last year stood at 79, up from the 56 that took part in 2017.
Equally, the angling event was oversubscribed with regards to fans and sponsors.
The development was largely attributed to improved water levels, additional houseboats and the coming in of a new political dispensation. However, the just ended 58th edition of the tournament, which took place at the traditional Charara Campsite venue in Kariba, saw figures tumbling once again.
When compared to 2018, there was a 10-team drop this year.
Likewise, there was little support from the local community members.
To make matters worse, sponsorship was subdued.
At its peak, KITFT would attract over 250 participating teams and countless backers, among them Zambezi, Ram Petroleum and Tacoola.
It is hoped that the competition will grow, especially considering that it is one of the best sports tourism events on the continent.
Unfortunately, the past five editions have been doing the opposite.
Even the sought after tiger fish seem to be dwindling in size.
At 6,17kg, Daniel Donohue of team Hyeana Sunrisers had the biggest catch for 2019. A few others averaged 5kg. The average fish weight was 1,89kg, down from last year’s 1,95kg.
Last year, Andre Barnard’s 9,995kg catch was the biggest of the tournament.
Prior to this, Pat Driscoll had caught a tiger fish weighing 12,035kg; while before him, Ian Wheeler had caught a 10,42kg tiger fish.
Some fishermen opine the drop of fish weight is a direct result of Lake Kariba’s drying up.
However, a section of conservationists think otherwise. They argue that Lake Kariba’s tiger fish are under threat due to the annual tournament.
They are suggesting that the tournament’s organisers should abandon the traditional format of the tournament and fully adopt the catch and release concept, which they feel will help preserve the species.
“Catch and release would be ideal for this competition. They catch and kill hundreds or thousands of tiger fish annually. How then do you expect the species to grow or breed well?” queried one ecologist.
But KITFT director Rod Bennett effusively defended the tournament.
“We would like to see more teams participating in catch and release. However, having said that, we live in a democracy and we think the main tournament should be 50/50 with catch and release,” said Bennett.
“This year we ran a catch and release competition within the main tournament and it proved to be quite successful. Although the average weight of fish was slightly down compared to last year, the numbers of fish caught were up by about three times.”
Nonetheless, Bennett acknowledges that the tournament is currently not in its best form.
He largely blames the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) for the predicament.
In fact, there was drama on the first day of the tournament as some KITFT organisers temporarily pulled down ZimParks banners at the venue. This was in protest to ZimParks’ daily charges of US$20 or the interbank rate equivalent per participant, which they consider exorbitant.
ZimParks are custodians of the tiger fish.
“It is becoming cost prohibitive for many. We need to make it affordable to all, including the foreigners. At the moment, the ZimParks fee structure makes it unaffordable for regional teams to participate,” he said.
It appears the impasse is far from over.
ZimParks spokesperson Tinashe Farawo maintains that their fees are cost-effective.
“There is nothing amiss about those charges. Maybe they need to check prevailing market rates in the region before complaining. Our charges were carefully arrived at. A lot of costs are involved in managing the lake,” said Farawo.
Bennett also spoke about unfavourable weather conditions.
“This year, the weather conditions were not favourable, with daily temperatures averaging 42 degrees, which made it much harder to fish.”
Meanwhile, for the fifth year running, no angler has managed to catch a tiger fish weighing 10kg or more to land the grand prize of a brand new truck.
During the past 29 years of the tournament, only seven anglers have achieved the feat.
“This event is largely a trophy tournament. However, companies have offered a vehicle for the biggest tiger fish over 10kg as an incentive to the anglers and for marketing purposes. We are grateful to our sponsors for keeping the event alive,” said Bennett.