How to Fish on an Exploding Lake
Straddling the border of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lake Kivu is full of small sardines prized by local fishermen. It's also loaded with dissolved carbon dioxide and methane, which have the potential to explode.
Fishing on an explosive lake sounds dangerous.
I'm in Goma, in the Democractic Republic of Congo, where I spent yesterday with fishermen on Lake Kivu's Himbi Beach. The goal: to hunt petite-sized sambaza, young sardines, and ndugu, which sell for $3 a kilogram on the beaches around here.
Lake Kivu is considered an "exploding lake" because of the high concentration of dissolved carbon dioxide trapped in its waters. An earthquake or volcanic event threatens to release that gas into the atmosphere and suffocate the population, as Cameroon's Lake Nyos did in 1986. There's also a considerable amount of methane gas in the water, which has the potential to ignite in the air if released.
A few years back, the government of Rwanda—which shares the lake with the DR Congo—built the Kibuye barge to extract methane and convert it into electricity, both to power the country and get a handle on the potential shitshow that could take place here. There are now several other similar projects in various stages of development on the lake.
And the people who live here continue to fish, explosive threat be damned.
I set out for the day to join the fishermen on their daily routine to see what they can catch in these fresh waters. Most come back to Himbi beach with the night's catches. The fishermen leave the beach at Lake Kivu at 3 PM and return at 6 AM.
Some of the most common fish to catch here are small creatures, locally known as sambaza and ndugu, which are pulled from the nets by hand.
Fisherman and local women help one another to pick the fish from the nets and put them into piles where they are weighed and sold. Antionetta Didone, who helps select the fish says, " Yes, the volcano may erupt, and the Lake has a gas under it, we know this. But we are from Goma and we will stay in Goma. Nothing is for sure."
Men push off one of the boats used for fishing into the freshwater lake, which is shared by both the DR Congo and neighboring Rwanda. Over two million people live around this body of water.
Many fishermen rent boats and work as teams to catch as many fish as possible.
Each net pulls in an average of three to five kilograms of fish per haul.
A fisherman named Baraka, left, is fortunate enough to own his own boat and net. He earns an average of $30 a month. According to Baraka, "We don't know what will happen to the lake, but we have no choice. Fishing is our existence. We are fisherman and we need to work to provide for our families."
Fish are weighed and sold at the beach to wholesale vendors and individuals.
Women help pull the fish from the nets, purchase them from the fishermen, and re-sell them in the markets. There are no female fishermen here.
This is a resale point on the beach where fish are laid out in piles based on weight and buyers bargain for the price.
Women set up a re-sale point on the beach. They also sell food to the fishermen, who sleep between 8 AM and 3 PM.