KISSAMA PARK, Angola, Dec 26, 2010 (AFP) -Post-war Angola may not stand out as a top African tourist destination but adventure anglers fishing for the giant tarpon look set to put the country back on the visitors map.
The powerful game fish, which can weigh more than 100 kilogrammes (220 pounds), is mainly found in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, a prized catch among avid sport fishermen.
The area around the mouth of the Kwanza river, which spills into the Atlantic, has been bracing for a flurry of activity since the fishing season got underway in November.
Adventurers and fishing enthusiasts travel from as far as Namibia and South Africa to Angola, in search of the ultimate catch — a major boost for a lethargic tourism industry crippled by almost three decades of civil war.
“People come here for only one thing. To catch the tarpon. That is every fisherman’s dream, it is a catch of a lifetime,” said Many Milner, the manager of Kwanza River Lodge, south of Luanda.
Although the fishing season only lasts for about five months, Milner says the influx has created a peak season for the fledging tourism industry.
“Fishing requires patience and there is no guarantee that you are going to catch anything on your first or second day. So visitors stay for a minimum of two to four weeks,” said Milner.
The silver tarpon is a non-commercial, catch-and-release fish, famous for its enormous size and the ability to wrestle with anglers. It is sometimes found in river mouths and bays and offshore.
In Africa, the Atlantic tarpon is found along the coast from Angola to Senegal, with occasional sightings as far north as Portugal, the Azores archipelago and the coast of southern France, according to Line Casters, a fisherman’s journal.
“With adequate support, the sport fishing industry here could grow to be one of the most talked about on the continent,” said Milner.
The lack of infrastructure, however, is a problem. Though the war ended in 2002, the damage — physical and social — has left Angola with a daunting reconstruction effort and deep poverty remains widespread.
“Right now roads are bad, getting into the country is not easy. Some of my guests drove from the airport for eight hours to get to the lodge. A drive that could easily be done in an hour and a half,” she added.
The emerging industry is already facing a threat, says Roland Goetz, director of Kissama National Park which was re-opened in 2000, after animals were wiped out by poachers during wartime.
Goetz, who is also a ranger, says daily fishing by local communities who live on the shores of the ocean threatens to endanger the rich marine ecosystem of the area, which is one of the focuses of park conservation efforts.
“These people fish everyday and there are no regulations guiding their business. They fish everything. Turtles are now being caught and sold on the market,” said Goetz.
According to Goetz some turtles migrate from as far as Australia to breed on the seashore of the park.
“There has been reports of turtle eggs and shark fins being hacked off and sold on the black market,” he said.
“If this practice continues our rich marine life is going to be destroyed,” added Goetz.
A Bradt holiday guide on Angola — a British series specialised in unusual destinations — describes the country as a “mini-Africa”, whose topography runs from the expansive Namib desert in the south to mangroves around major rivers and a long Atlantic coastline stretching 1,200 kilometres (745 miles).
The guide says Angola is also a haven for rare bird viewing, with more than 900 species in the country, including the francolin and the red crested tauraco.
But despite its abundant oil resources, the guide says Angola remains virtually uncharted territory, with poor infrastructure and prohibitively high prices the biggest challenges.