Chapter 5: Fisheries


 5.0 Introduction

Twenty percent of the total area of Malawi is covered by water, comprising Lakes Malawi, Chilwa, Malombe, Chiuta and major rivers such as Shire, South and North Rukuru, Bua, Mwanza and Ruo. Lake Malawi contains a diversified fish resource consisting of between 500 and 1,000 species (DREA, 1994) making it an important living resource in Malawi. Most of the fish species in Lake Malawi are endemic.

Lake Malawi contributes between 40 and 60% of fish landings, while Lake Chilwa contributes between 10 and 30%, Lake Malombe between 2 and 5% and Lake Chiuta only 1 to 3%. Rivers, on their own, contribute between 21 and 26% of the fish landings. Fish accounts for 60-70% of annual animal protein intake by the population. In addition, the fisheries sector in Malawi is an important source of employment and income for a considerable number of people.

Malawi contains some of the world's important wetland ecosystems, which include shoreline plains of lakes and a diversity of dambos and marshes. Wetlands form sheltered habitats for fish spawning and nursery grounds, and are habitats for adult fish. However, high population pressure and overexploitation have negatively affected the biological diversity of wetlands and other water resources.
  5.1 Pressure on fisheries resources

The status of Malawi's capture fisheries has been in a state of flux with some good and bad years. What is apparent is that due to climatic factors, annual catches will continue to fluctuate at or around 60-70,000 metric tonnes with the present level of technology (Fig. 5 1). Commercial fisheries are still some way from being fully developed and pelagic fisheries of Lake Malawi are only exploited closer inshore. The artisanal fisheries, which contribute 70% of the national production, are under pressure due to increased demand for more fish and over-capitalization.

There is a steady growth in demand for fish as the population increases. The per capita fish supply has however declined from 14.7 kg / capita/year in 1970 to less than 7.0 kg/capita/ year in the 1990's (Fig. 5.2). Assuming the mean 1986-88 per capita consumption of 10.5 kg per year and population growth rate of 3.2% is maintained, the national fish requirement is projected at 126,000 tonnes in the year 2000. This estimate would represent an increase of 46,000 tonnes or 58% over the 1988 national production.

Recent assessment indicates that additional fish will have to be drawn from the offshore pelagic stock. Due to the nature of fishing crafts used in Lake Malawi, most of the fishing in the lake is concentrated in the inshore zone, while the offshore pelagic fishery resource which can only be accessed by motorized crafts remains under-utilized. In order to expand the range of operation and thus avoiding over exploitation of the inshore fishery, there is need to increase the number of motorized fishing crafts in the lake.

However, a large number of fishermen are unlikely to have sufficient resources to invest in high-cost fishing equipment to exploit the pelagic fish resource.

To address this problem it is necessary that investment projects are introduced to local people in order for them to acquire the means to effectively meet this new demand.

5.1.1 Increased number of fishermen

There has been a steady increase in the number of fishermen in the lakes of Malawi. The increase has been mainly due to a rise in part-time fishermen who take up fishing to supplement their income requirements. In Lakes Malawi and Malombe the number of part-time fishermen rose by 32% between 1983 and 1999. This has led in some circumstances to the localized decline in some fish species, such as the chambo in Lake Malombe (see Fig. 5.4). As farm holding sizes continue to decline and smallholders' income requirements increase, this trend is likely to continue.
  5.2 State of fish stocks in lake Malawi

5.2.1 Chambo stocks

The FAO/UNDP 1972-1976 and 1989-92 projects, the 1987-1991 Chambo Project and assessments suggest that the potential yield of chambo stocks for the Southern East Arm is about 4,000 tonnes. The traditional fisheries (using beach, seine and gill nets) and commercial fisheries (using trawlers) land approximately equal amounts. The fishery is currently being exploited at a very high fishing pressure. When coupled with the use of inappropriate fishing equipment, there is a danger that the stocks may suffer continuous decline. Future expansion is possible if appropriate regulations are put in place and enforced.

The viability of establishing a commercial fishery in the south west arm and Domira bay is not known, as the status of the chambo stocks in the areas are largely unknown. But a chambo mid-water trawl survey carried out by the Fisheries research unit in 1987 yielded reasonable chambo catches.

5.2.2 Utaka stocks

The Utaka are exploited by fishermen using both traditional (chilimira) and commercial (trawl) nets. Although the total catch is estimated at 5,000 tonnes per year, this may be an underestimate due to the inadequacy of the Catch Assessment System (CAS) of data collection. The catches fluctuate seasonally as well as annually and exhibit 3-4 year cycles of good catches (Fig. 5.3).

5.2.3 Usipa stocks

Traditional fishermen and MALDECO exploit is fishery which shows a lot of fluctuation and is associated with the amount of food available. An assessment by the FAO and by the UK/SADC project suggests that usipa occurs in-shore rather than off - shore. Statistics on usipa appears to be inaccurate because of the CAS data collection. The Fisheries Department estimates the annual total

catches to be about 6,000 tonnes but other estimates suggest that the catch can be in excess of 50,000 tonnes in good years. The gear used are usipa ring nets, Chilimira nets and purse nets.

5.2.4 Catfish stocks

Catfish (mlamba, kampango, etc) of commercial value are of the genera Clarias Bathyclarias and Bagrus. These comprise approximately 20% of the total catch from Lake Malawi. Catfish catch rates in Lake

Malawi using gill nets have declined from approximately 13kg/100m of net in the 1950's to less than 2 kg/100m of net at present. The trend in the long line fishery is similar. However, trawling catches huge amounts of these stocks.

Except for some biological work on Bagrus meridionalis (kampango) carried out in the 1950s and 1960s by the Fisheries Research Unit, and some age and growth studies, no detailed studies on the ecology and biology of the catfish has been conducted. The taxonomy of the catfish is yet to be sorted out. Preliminary assessments of the data from the southern end of Lake Malawi suggested a Mean Sustainable Yield (MSY) per recruit of about 340g at a fishing mortality rate of about 1.0.

5.2.5 Ntchila (Labeo mesops) stocks

These fish migrate in groups into rivers to spawn. The ntchila were abundant in the lake and formed the basis of an important fishery in the 1 950s and l 960s. Currently the gill net catch of these species has declined to less than 1% of their former levels. Seine nets were also used. Factors that have caused the decline of this species can only be speculated upon, but some authors have suggested over-fishing and degradation of spawning habitats. In addition to these factors, it has been suggested that pesticide pollution in the rivers used for spawning and the lake itself may have played a role in the decline of the ntchila population.

5.2.6 Demersal stocks

Demersal means "bottom" stocks, which comprises the chisawasawa and other cichlids These stocks are almost exclusively fished by commercial demersal trawlers. On the basis of recommendation from surveys conducted by the 1973-1976 FAO/UNDP project a commercial demersal fishery was established.

Recent studies have shown that loss of species has occurred in shallow areas, although the catches have not in general declined While all shallow areas less than 50 m deep may now be considered to be fully exploited, there seems to be some scope for expansion in the South East Arm in waters deeper than 50 metres. The deeper waters of the South West Arm also appear to offer another area of expansion. Other possible areas are Domira Bay (Nkhota kota) and Karonga.

5.2.7 Pelagic stocks

Pelagic means "open water" and these areas  harbour ndunduma, ncheni and other economically important fish species. The UK/ SADC project concluded that these stocks are available in large quantities, but are scattered throughout the lake. Therefore, there is an immediate need for the development of technology to economically and sustainably exploit the resource.
  5.3 State of fish stocks in Lake Malombe

The total landings of the Malombe fishery are presently estimated at 8000 tonnes per year. The fishery consists of kambuzi (which is a collective name describing a group of small closely related fishes called Haplochromines), chambo, mlamba and ntchila.

5.3.1 Chambo stocks

In Lake Malombe, there is evidence that chambo catches have collapsed from approximately 6,000 tonnes in 1987 to 500 tonnes in 1996 (Fig. 5.4). The total fishing effort in this fishery has, in recent years, dropped to low levels apparently as a result of poor catch rates. However, since 1994 a community based fisheries management programme was instituted in 1994 to arrest and reverse the downward trend (Scholz, 1996).

5.3.2 Kambuzi stocks

FAO (1993) estimated the MSY of kambuzi fishery to be about 8000 tonnes per annum, implying maximum exploitation of the -fishery. Prior to 1981, kambuzi catches constituted only 4% of the total fishery catch of the lake while the present catches represent about 90% of the total fish landings in the lake.

Kambuzi are exploited using seine nets (nkacha) that have small sized meshes and the increase in the kambuzi fishery, has had an impact on big fish species. Due to the small-mesh sizes of the nkacha nets, other species which are bigger than kambuzi species i.e. chambo, ntchila and mlamba are landed in the nets together with the kambuzi.

5.3.3 Mlamba stocks

Mlamba constitutes a small but appreciable proportion of the Malombe landings. These are mainly caught in the kambuzi seine nets. Although there is no evidence to suggest the decline of mlamba in L. Malombe, the presence of many juvenile fish on the racks appears to suggest that the kambuzi seine nets may be having a negative impact on this fishery.

5.3.4 Ntchila stocks

The stocks of ntchila are very much reduced at present. However, observations of gillnet catch rates seem to indicate that the abundance of the fish has been slowly increasing on the eastern side of the lake in recent years, from about 0.2 kg/net in 1976 to approximately 5 kg/net in 1992. Although the lake area itself is not protected from fishing, Liwonde National Park protects the eastern catchment of the lake. It is believed that the national park has provided protection to spawning rivers and to lakeshore vegetation conditions which favour survival of fertilised eggs, larvae and juveniles of this fish. These conditions do not exist on the western side of the lake where there has been a lot of land degradation. However, the catch rates still remain very low.
  5.4 State of fish stocks in Lake Chilwa

It is estimated that Lake Chilwa produces some 12,000 tonnes of fish annually, all from artisanal fishermen. The bulk of the catch is matemba (Barbus paludinosus), the rest being a mixture of catfish (Clarias spp), Oreochromis shiranus and other species. Lake Chilwa undergoes considerable seasonal and annual changes in water levels and salinity and sometimes the lake dries out completely. The fish communities are resilient and can withstand intense exploitation using seine and gill nets. They can repopulate the lake rapidly within three years to former levels following total desiccation of the lake. Introduction of pair trawling in Lake Chilwa was unsuccessful due to the high cost of fishing. Formulation of a management plan for Lake Chilwa and its catchment has been outlined (Njaya et al, 1996).
  5.5 State of fish stocks in Lake Chiuta

Annual landings for Lake Chiuta are estimated at 3,000 tonnes all produced by traditional fishermen. The catches are dominated by O. shiranus (makumba), Clarias spp (mlamba) and Barbus paludinosus (matemba). The information available at present on the fisheries of the lake is not adequate for establishing a sound basis for the management of the fisheries.
  5.6 State of fish stocks in rivers

5.6.1 General

There are important fisheries in major rivers of the country, like North and South Rukulu, Bua, and Linthipe rivers. However, most of the significant catches come from fish like cyprinids and catfish migrating from Lake Malawi during spawning periods, which coincides with flooding periods of the rivers. These fish catches are recorded as part of the Lake Malawi catches.

5.6.2 Shire River stocks

The Shire river is the only outlet for Lake Malawi and it is one of the most important site for obligatory river breeding fishes from the lake. The fish fauna in the middle and upper shire are represented in Lakes Malawi and Malombe. The Lower Shire and associated marshes have a Lower Zambezi fish fauna, separated physically and ecologically from the Lake Malawi fauna by a series of cataracts, rapids and falls between Matope and Chikwawa

The Lower Shire valley falls into three ecosystems categories: the flood plain and swamp, the lagoon and the riverine areas. The flood plain and swamps include the extensive Elephant marsh in the north and Ndindi marsh in the south, covering an area of approximately 650 km2. On average the Lower Shire valley presently produces 4 to 10 thousand metric tonnes of fish per annum and this contributes between 10 and 15% of the total national landings. The system is complex, highly productive and efficiently utilized by fishermen. Of the 61 species found in the Lower Shire Valley, only 3 species (C. gariepinus, O. mossambicus and C. ngamensis) are of economic importance. The fishery is small scale and subsistence in nature. It is pursued almost exclusively using dugout canoes from numerous permanent and temporary traditional fishing villages. The fishing gear used are gill nets (most common), fish traps, cast nets, seine nets, encircling fish fences and long lines.

Catches fluctuate seasonally in relation to the flooding pattern which seems to be influenced in part by the operations of the Liwonde barrage. Water Hyacinth is now a major problem in the area and is adversely affecting the fishery.
  5.7 Response indicators

5.7.1 Aquaculture

As a result of an increase in population, and decline in total landings of fish from capture fisheries, the government is promoting aquaculture to supplement fish production, in order to increase availability of fish protein to populations in upland areas.

Currently three species of fish are used for aquaculture in Malawi, namely Tilapia rendalli, Oreochromis shiranus and Clarias gariepinus. While the catfish has performed satisfactorily under aquaculture conditions, Tilapias (T. rendalli and O. shiranus) have not. Therefore, there is need for more research to improve their performance. Screening of other indigenous fish species as candidates for aquaculture is being carried out at the National Aquaculture Centre at Domasi. A number of technologies has been developed and disseminated on various aspects of pond management. As a result, there has been an increase in the adoption of the aquaculture technologies, number of farmers and total production (Fig. 5.5). This has largely been the result of development projects that have supported research in aquaculture.

There is currently no technology for large-scale commercial aquaculture in Malawi and it is recommended that initiatives are taken to attract investment.

5.7.2 Management strategies

Various restrictions and controls have been put in place to regulate the fishing industry including:

Co-management approach

The new Fisheries Act (1997) has put a lot of emphasis on community participation and involvement in the management of fisheries resources. This approach has worked successfully in Lake Malombe using 30 Beach village Committees (Box 5.1).

Resource access restrictions

The strategies of resource access restrictions in Malawi are based on enforcement and compliance of fisheries regulations regarding closed season and areas, gear sizes, minimum takable sizes of fish and licensing. The current community based management strategies have made the enforcement of closed season and areas more effective than before, rendering the restriction measures a successful management tool for fish resources.

(a) Closed season and areas. Closed seasons are periods of the year during which access to the lake for fishing is not allowed because fish are breeding. Closed areas are those where fishing is not allowed e.g. national parks and fragile ecosystems.

(b) Restrictions on gear type. Restriction of gear type is aimed at minimizing biological damage due to untargeted harvesting of fish. 

(c) Species size restriction. These are aimed at reducing the harvesting of juveniles and fish that are smaller than the minimum sizes. 

(d) Licensing. Licensing is perhaps the most widely used form of limiting entry and effort in a fishery. It seeks to control the amount of effort by directly regulating those who can and cannot fish. The licensing of gear (boats or nets) has proved to be a reasonably effective mechanism in accessible fisheries. As decentralizing control of fisheries to district level increases the accessibility of local people to fisheries, then gear licenses should still have a role to play. The effectiveness of such a technique can be improved by linking credit and other benefits to license holders. 

Environmental management projects

As a response to the concerns raised in the NEAP (DREA, 1994), Environmental management projects under ESP are implemented in a number of places.

These include projects such as the Nankumba Peninsula which is aimed at controlling the disappearance of the "mbuna" in the Peninsula, the threat of water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) to water resources and fish and the Lake Chilwa Management Project and Lakeshore Coastal Zone management.

Environmental management projects

As a response to the concerns raised in the NEAP (DREA, 1994), Environmental management projects under ESP are implemented in a number of places.

These include projects such as the Nankumba Peninsula which is aimed at controlling the disappearance of the "mbuna" in the Peninsula, the threat of water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) to water resources and fish and the Lake Chilwa Management Project and Lakeshore Coastal Zone management.

5.7.3 Environmental education and awareness

The Government of Malawi has prepared a National Environmental Education and Communication Strategy whose main objective is to raise awareness of the environment, environmental issues and methods of sustainable management of the environment. The plan includes awareness on major factors that threaten fisheries biodiversity.

Chapter References:

 Contents | Foreword  | Acknowlegdements | Editorial Process 
Contributors | Preface | Acronyms  | Overview
Chapters: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | Appendix I
Lists: Maps | Figures | Tables | Boxes | References