Read time: 4 mins

A University of Fort Hare doctoral graduate’s thesis is leading the way for government’s newly gazetted National Freshwater (Inland) Wild Capture Fisheries’ Policy which focuses on how fisheries can benefit communities through sustainable harvesting.

Munetsi Zvavahera believes this will go a long way to help impoverished communities at least benefit from freshwater fishing. “However, a lot needs to be done and researched on the practicalities and sustainability issues. Further, communities may require education on the benefits of protecting their aquatic systems and also harvesting sustainably,” he said.

His study is titled “Aspects of the ecology of the estuarine round-herring Gilchristella aestuaria (Pisces: Clupeidae) and its small-scale fishery potential,” and supervised by Associate Prof Niall Vine of the Faculty of Science and Agriculture.

The main objectives of his doctoral study was to investigate the characteristics of estuarine roundherring populations found in different areas; to determine the relationships between estuarine roundherring and other fish species; assess the nutrient composition of different populations of estuarine roundherring; and to find out if quantities of estuarine roundherring are large enough to allow sustainable harvesting. 

Zvavahera graduated with a BSc Honours degree from Midlands State University in Zimbabwe in 2004. After graduating he then worked as a high school teacher for several schools in Zimbabwe and South Africa before deciding to enrol for an MSc in Zoology in 2014 at Walter Sisulu University in South Africa.

He joined the University of Fort Hare in 2017.   “I persevered during the period of uncertainty and refused to drop out of my studies. In September 2018, I received funding from ACEP Puhlisa with the help of faculty members of UFH Faculty of Science and Agriculture my fisheries journey began,” Zvavahera said.

“Balancing studying and being a husband and a father to three sons was never easy."

 Academically, he faced a series of challenges along the way, however, the challenges taught him to be resilient.

Asked why he chose the University of Fort Hare for his doctoral studies, he said the university was a rural university that supported the nature of his study that seeks to improve food security and livelihoods for the rural poor communities.

In addition to this, Zvavareha his research had shown he would be supervised and mentored by dedicated individuals as the department was well established.

 Zvavareha said small fish species are widely used for food security and nutrient security across the world however, the utilisation of such small fish species is missing for South African coastal and inland fisheries.

“Considering that South Africa has  more than 5400 impoundments across the country, many impoundments not used for fisheries present a missed opportunity to eradicate poverty, hunger and improve livelihoods for the

poor,” he said.

Moving with the current research paradigm that focuses research on benefitting the communities or people, Zvavareha said, the research looked at how one of the abundant fish species could become a beacon of hope in improving rural livelihoods.

The biology of estuarine roundherring was well researched, however, the possibility of harvesting introduced populations in freshwater systems has not been fully explored.  Similar species, however, across the world play a central role in the eradication of nutrient deficiency diseases and creating employment for many.  

 “Given the nutritive value of estuarine roundherring, he saw potential in small-scale fisheries utilisation since his research mainly focused on small impoundments that are smaller than 10 hectares in size. The potential of export can be explored if the research can be done on larger impoundments,” he said adding that Estuarine roundherring is of ecological importance in the estuarine environments hence the species has attracted research interest for researchers.

Other small fish species are used in parts of the world that include the Lake Tanganyika sprat, Dagaa and Mukene, Omene and Usipa and Chisense. “The species estuarine roundherring has a short generation time which entails high biomass generation over a short period. The species has a high establishment rate which enables it to establish itself when introduced to novel environments. Population grows rapidly and which means the need for regular stocking or restocking and stock enhancement is reduced, which makes it an ideal species for rural fisheries where communities may lack expertise, resources for enhancement and restocking,” said Zvavahera.  

Unlike many fisheries species, estuarine roundherring is a low tropic species which means it can grow with less need for stock feeds, making it a cheaper species to deal with. Harvesting of estuarine roundherring requires low technologies such as seine nets, making it affordable for poor communities who may not be able to maintain high-tech equipment such as motorised boats. Processing of the fish is fairly cheap requiring less energy and mainly affordable methods such as sun drying, salting or smoking which impoverished communities can at least afford.