Amisse Assane has been a fisherman in Cabo Delgado, northern Mozambique, for 25 years, but the rich waters that used to give him an income are now closed off by the security forces because of the armed insurgency in the region.
“It was once possible to make 10,000 meticais [€146.00] a day, but not any more,” says Assne in Kimuâni, one of the local languages.
Assane, 47, is the father of five children he has supported through fishing since 1997, and lives in a house he built in Pemba.
Young people, their shirts faded by the salt water and sun, gather on the beach in Pemba, the provincial capital, to pull the fishing nets from the sea, one of the steps in the process of artisanal fishing.
“Things have changed and we only make, at most, 3,000 meticais [€44.00],” to be divided among the group, who set out to work from Pemba in the early hours.
But their routine is described ruefully, because income is declining.
Since the escalation of armed attacks in 2019, fishermen have found themselves barred by the defence and security forces from the islands of Matemo and Vamizi, and from the Olumbi and Mucojo areas, he reports.
“We used to fish there because we used to catch a lot of fish in those areas,” he mentioned.
But the rebel groups who have been plaguing Cabo Delgado for the last four-and-a-half years have been navigating in the same areas, sometimes decimating the population, sometimes mixing with them.
One way or another, they have been targeted by the troops who want to clear the areas, which implies limitations in access.
João Bento, 36, another one of the fishermen, says he had never experienced such a difficult time, with rebel attacks and the Covid-19 restrictions, which tore the group apart and paralysed activities.
Bento’s youngest daughter became ill with acute anaemia from malnutrition, it being from fishing that he also earns money to buy food.
The heavy security measures on the islands, imposed to avoid contact with rebels, and the banning of gatherings everywhere because of Covid-19, have left him empty-handed.
“My daughter was diagnosed with a problem, anaemia, because she was not eating well. All because I didn’t go fishing and we were only eating dried cassava ‘xima’ [porridge] every day, with leaves, without any other ingredients,” he tells Lusa.
He looks at the sea with tears in his eyes, because the situation forced him into 5,000 meticais (€73.00) debt to save the life of his little Suzana, just five years old at the time.
With trousers rolled up, they enter the sea up to their knees – a boat has arrived and there are nets with fish to bring ashore.
Fishing in Pemba is one alternative, but it is far from meeting expectations, says Alberto Nkabassada, 59, the oldest of the group.
He has been fishing since 1982 and today has a son with a degree, thanks to his labours.
“At the time it was a job, but today I consider it an odd job – a ‘biscate’,” he tells Lusa, unsure of what will become of him. Life is difficult and he has not mastered any other profession but fishing.
The whole group asks for peace in Cabo Delgado, so that they can go back to fishing on the islands of Matemo, Vamizi, Olumbi and near Mucojo – “where the good fishing is”.
“We are asking the government to continue to reinforce security. We want to return to the areas that were once such a success for us,” concludes Nkabassada, dubbed ‘maestro’ by his colleagues.
Cabo Delgado province, in northern Mozambique, is rich in natural gas, but has been terrorized since 2017 by armed rebels, with some attacks claimed by the Islamic State extremist group.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), about 784,000 persons have been internally displaced by the conflict, which has killed about 4,000, according to the ACLED conflict registry project.
Since July 2021, an offensive by government troops, with the support of Rwandan and later Southern African Development Community (SADC) troops, has recovered a number of areas from rebel control, but their flight has led to new attacks in districts through which they have passed or taken up temporary refuge.