We were met with a scene from the Marie Celeste. The tents were there and we saw the guys’ personal belongings strewn around; we saw fisheries and boat gear everywhere; upturned pirogues and a small metal boat in the swollen waters of the lagoon below us. And on almost every surface were fish; some big but the majority juveniles. They were being sundried on mats, across canvas tents, even on the bottoms of upturned boats. Ian took a good look round to get a feel for the different species; nothing really surprised him except the sizes – there were so few larger fish, and some looked as if they might have been caught with below-regulation mesh size nets.
With all the fish and old wooden boats; two things were missing, the modern aluminium boat and the captain to drive it. We waited round for about twenty minutes but with no mobile masts or radio sets, we had no way of getting in contact with them. We deduced that our delays at the hotel first thing and the lengthy meeting at the park compound had meant the captain had decided to go off without us, or else there was some emergency that had taken them away. There was nothing much else to be done. I took a wander out to the edge of the lagoon and watched some ducks waddling to the water’s edge. I say edge, but like many of the lakes here, the water flowed up over the vegetation so it was difficult to say exactly where the border between land and lake occurred. I watched a flock of storks fly over the lagoon and peered off into the glassy lake just in case a speedboat was heading towards us. It wasn’t.
We returned a little down to the national park centre compound; and to make use of the time we had I the day, Ian asked if he had any data on stock and catch, a so called Frame Survey. We were driven round the compound to a row of offices and were given a tour. Considering the remote location with only generators for sustainable electricity, there was a lot going on here; large ledgers containing sample fish sizes – length and width – just as I remembered from my days at the Fisheries Department in the British Virgin Islands. There were a couple of laptops from which Ian was able to glean lots of data – none of it analyzed to any extent but carefully collected, and we saw some laboratory equipment where testing of fish was going on , and several specimen species and posters showed at least a reasonable level of knowledge of the local fish stocks was being cleared. At least we got some useful information even if we did not meet the villagers that day.
It seemed like one of our precious days in the field was going to miss a major element – the community meeting with the villagers on the river. We wandered a little way along the lakeshore and found a hard gravelly area with one or two boats moored up – the clearing of the weeds showed that this was a fish landing site – where catches from the flats were brought by boat to be transhipped to lorries that carried catch to market in Lusaka or further afield.