Fish Conservation

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Fish Conservation Project — Lake Malawi (3:51)


RIPPLE Africa’s Fish Conservation Project — Lake Malawi

  • There has been a huge increase in the number of fishermen on Lake Malawi
    There has been a huge increase in the number of fishermen on Lake Malawi
  • Because fish stocks are so depleted, many fishermen now use very long nets
    Because fish stocks are so depleted, many fishermen now use very long nets
  • The mesh size of the nets has reduced and many small fish are caught before they have a chance to breed
    The mesh size of the nets has reduced and many small fish are caught before they have a chance to breed

RIPPLE Africa runs a fish conservation project in Malawi, Africa. RIPPLE Africa’s fish conservation project has the following aims:

Over the past number of decades, there has been a massive growth of unregulated fishing in Lake Malawi which has now led to acute shortages of fish stocks. In 2012, RIPPLE Africa decided to do something about it and met with the District Fisheries Department, the District Council, and three Traditional Authorities to discuss the problem of unregulated fishing and the dwindling fish population in Lake Malawi. All parties were eager to take action and, over the course of the year, worked together and involved local community members to write local bylaws which would protect a 40km stretch of lakeshore along Lake Malawi in Nkhata Bay District in the Northern Region of Malawi.

  • Fish are the main source of protein for many Malawians
    Fish are the main source of protein for many Malawians
  • Most of the large fish have disappeared along the lakeshore, and fishermen are now catching usipa, small fish which are found further out in deeper water
    Most of the large fish have disappeared along the lakeshore, and fishermen are now catching usipa, small fish which are found further out in deeper water

The bylaws, which were passed on 18 December 2012, enforce a four-month closed season beginning in November to allow fish time to breed, as well as restrictions on the length of fishing nets and the minimum size of mesh which means that only larger adult fish can be targeted. Additionally, the bylaws clamp down on unregulated migratory fishermen by introducing a local permit system. All fishermen will require a government permit as well as a local permit to be able to fish in the future, and permits are only given to local fishermen living in the area on a full-time basis. To support, advocate, and regulate these fish conservation bylaws, RIPPLE Africa has set up local Fish Conservation Committees which comprise a mixture of both fishermen and non-fishermen. The Committees, along with the Fisheries Department, manage the local permit system, and help monitor and regulate illegal activity happening in each Committee’s designated area. Half of the money from the local permit fees goes towards funding the Fish Conservation Committees which ensures the Committees themselves are self-sustaining financially.

Why This is Important

Lake Malawi is home to more species of fish than any other body of freshwater in the world. In addition to being of huge interest to the planet on an ecological and environmental basis, Lake Malawi’s fish population provides a major source of protein to the Malawian people, and over 300,000 people in the country rely on catching or trading fish as part or all of their primary income. However, the lake is in crisis. Overfishing, as well as changes over time in the length of fishing nets and a reduction in the size of net mesh, mean that young fish are caught before they have time to develop and breed.

  • Drying fish in the sun
    Drying fish in the sun
  • Drying fish over a fire
    Drying fish over a fire
  • People often catch tiny fish with mosquito nets during the breeding season
    People often catch tiny fish with mosquito nets during the breeding season

Dwindling fish stocks can have disastrous implications for fishermen, families, and the ecology of Lake Malawi. While the government has Fisheries Departments in place in each of the Districts bordering the lakeshore to educate, regulate and advocate for better fishing practices, these Departments are drastically underfunded and are rarely able to fulfil these goals. RIPPLE Africa’s fish conservation project is important because it tackles this national problem through local networks, empowers local communities and officials to take control of the situation in their own areas, and is a sustainable approach both environmentally and financially. The project is also popular and well-supported by local people – including local fishermen – because it is a form of protectionism shielding local fishermen and business from larger exploitative migratory fishing practices.

What it Costs

It is hoped that this project will eventually become self financing through the local permit fees which will fund the Fish Conservation Committees and Umbrella Committees for each area. However, there will be an ongoing need for a Fish Conservation team within RIPPLE Africa to monitor and extend the programme. There is already a lot of interest from other areas of the lakeshore, and RIPPLE Africa is keen to develop this project with ongoing community awareness programmes at local community level, and by radio, newspaper and television.

Links to Documents