Dying Fish Industry Breathes Again: Malawi Is Taking Big Strides to Restore Its Dying Fishing Industry to Its Past Glory as a Foreign from Lake Exchange Earner. Catches Malawi, the Fifth Largest Lake in the World, Have Been Dropping Dramatically over the Last 20 Years. Lameck Masina Reports

Article excerpt

Until 1991, Malawi had been registering zero exports of fish largely because of unsustainable fishing methods that depleted fish stocks in world's fifth largest lake, Lake Malawi. Bordered by Malawi, Tanzania and Mozambique, Lake Malawi covers a total area of 22,490sq km. It contains an estimated 1,000 fish species, which had been central to the livelihood of many Malawians. Statistics indicate that in 1987, the total commercial catch of fish from the lake was 88,586 tons of which 101 tons were exported; in 1991 the total commercial catch had been reduced to 63,000 tons of which only three tons were exported. By 1992 the total catch was 59,500 tons and there were no exports.

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According to the government's economic report, about 1.6m out of the population of 12m people are dependent on the fishing industry. Fish provides over 70% of national dietary animal protein intake and 40% of Malawi's total protein supply. But an increase in the population and a decline in the catch reduced annual per capita fish consumption from 14kg in the 1970s to 4.2kg in 2005. About 230,000 people are employed directly or indirectly in the fishing industry. These jobs include fish processing, marketing of services and products, boat building and engine repair. But now the survival of these jobs is being threatened by dwindling fish stocks.

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Currently Maldeco Fisheries Limited, the only industrial fishing company operating in Malawi, says it registers an annual fish production of over 600 tons--well below the annual 2,000-ton production it used to harvest a decade ago.

Research has also indicated that over the past 14 years, production of chambo in Lake Malawi had gone down by 85%. The figures confirm the drastic decline of fish harvests from the lake.

The Department of Fisheries attributes the dwindling fish stocks mainly to unsustainable fishing practices and non-compliance with fishing regulations. The department also said the rising population in fishing villages along the lake shore has hastened the switch to more inefficient fishing methods that has led to the fishing of previously unexploited fish species.

A recent study by the Malawi National Wildlife organisation on Chembe, a fishing community along Lake Malawi, indicated that between 1910 and 1992, Chembe's population grew from 555 to 4,671 effectively increasing the nutritional demands of the community. The growth brought a corresponding rise in the number of fishermen attempting to make money from the fish resources.

Malawi's high population growth has also negatively contributed to the shrinking fish industry. Malawi has trebled its population from only four million at the time of independence in 1964 to an estimated 12m today. The population is currently growing at an annual rate of 3.4%, making it difficult to meet demand for food.

Agriculturalists also say the population boom has increased land cultivation in the lake's catchment areas and this has contributed to the pollution of the lake through the use of fertilisers and other chemicals and the disruption of natural ecosystems through the clearing of catchment areas.

Reversing the trend

The depletion of fish stocks has however presented Malawi with a critical challenge to reverse the trend. The government has embarked on several initiatives aimed to re-establish Lake Malawi as a sustainable source.

The government has placed a ban on the use of high-yield fishing nets in Lake Malawi between October and December every year when fish spawn. Communities living along the shores have been given the responsibility to monitor the initiative. Besides this, government has also put in place a Fish Restoration Strategic Plan to restock the lake with its most popular species chambo (Oreochromis karongae) which is on the brink of extinction. In the programme, chambo species are bred outside the lake and then re-introduced. …