• FLORIS STEENKAMP
A WELL-KNOWN mullet fisherman at Walvis Bay died last Friday, a day after his large haul of fish was looted by members of the public, who also destroyed his fishing equipment.
The 77-year-old Walter Stemmet, a seasoned fisherman who worked on the sea for over six decades, died of heart complications.
Stemmet's family told The Namibian that he had a history of heart disease and was scheduled for heart surgery soon.
“It was God's decision to take him away, the circumstances are not in our hands,” his daughter Liezel Stemmet-Andrew said.
She added that the family would not be entertaining speculation that the events of last week Thursday might have caused his death.
Stemmet and his crew helplessly watched as a large crowd swooped in on their mullet catch onshore north of Walvis Bay last week Thursday.
People started scooping the fish up into buckets, bags and the boots of their cars. The mob also destroyed fishing nets and other expensive fishing gear.
One of the operators who also lost fish to the looters, said they suffered a heavy loss, estimated to be close to a million dollars, which included fishing nets and other equipment.
An individual working for one of the operators said he hoped the incident would spur the police on to take action to protect the small-scale fishermen operating along the beach.
Mullet is a small-sized fish mostly found at the Walvis Bay lagoon's port area, along the fish factory jetties and shallow waters on the shores north of Walvis Bay.
The fish is also prevalent in rocky areas along the coast, but the small-scale licensed fishermen are the only ones allowed to harvest this species in nets from small boats.
The use of nets from the beach is prohibited by fisheries laws, but licenced small-scale fishers can use nets to also target pilchards, if present, as was the case last week.
Usually during warm weather, as the coastal areas have experienced over the past week, water temperatures rise, and oxygen levels drop. This forces the fish to move into shallow waters, which makes them easy to catch.
With the warm weather last week, it is believed people mistook the catching operations of the licenced mullet operators for a run and a free-for-all to grab.
The crowds went into a frenzy and targeted the four operators who were catching fish by net from the beach in areas north of the naval base up to an area close to the bird island. Their nets were cut and torn open, and literally, thousands of people carted their catches away. Some also stole whatever equipment they could lay their hands on.
Police spokesperson in the Erongo region, inspector Ileni Shapumba urged the fishermen to report the matter to the police without delay.
“As law enforcers, we view such an incident in a serious light. Victims need to come forward and lay criminal charges, for the police to investigate the matter and bring those who looted to book, and most importantly, to work towards preventing any similar incidents in the future,” Shapumba told The Namibian.