Malawi fishing industry gets shot in the arm

Malawi has launched a fishing project that will benefit more than 300 000 people who depend on fishing for their livelihood.

The project, known as Lake Malawi Artisanal Fisheries Development Project, aims to improve household income in the lakeshore districts of Likoma, Nkhatabay, Nkhotakota, Salima and Mangochi.

Uladi Mussa, the Minister of Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs, says the African Development Fund (ADF) has injected $10,56-million, of which $9,42-million is a loan and $1,14-million a grant, in the project.

The project, which was launched on January 24, is expected to improve fish stocks as well as catches from Lake Malawi.

The first component of the project will include construction of working tables, portable water, drying racks and fish storage facilities, Mussa says.

The second component, he says, will provide credit to the beneficiaries to enable them to buy nets, boats, motor-boat engines, lamps, marketing facilities and ice boxes to provide quantity and quality catches from the lake.

The declining fish stocks has raised alarm that Lake Malawi, with an estimated 750 to 1 000 species and declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) in 1984, could be affected. Some of the fish species are endemic to Lake Malawi.

A statement by the African Development Bank Group said both the fund and the loan will finance the development of fish production and marketing.
The project will help strengthen individual and institutional capacities of fishers, fish processors and marketers and the Fisheries Department of Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs.

“The project will improve food security in Malawi through the development of Artisanal fisheries,” it said. “It will also help improve the standards of living of the 7 640 households by providing them with employment and income opportunities.”

“Moreover, increased production and improved marketing of high-quality fish will help reduce importation of fish. Furthermore, as increasing siltation level of Lake Malawi is negatively affecting fish stocks and lake habitat and threatening the sustainability of the lake resources, the project will contribute to remedy environmental stress by pushing fishing activities further offshore,” the statement added.

The project will last for five years, said the Principal Secretary of Environmental Affairs and Natural Resources Ministry, George Mkondiwa.

“Fish stocks have been dwindling as a result of fishing in shallow waters by local fishermen. These are the breeding grounds where fishes lay their eggs. The project will assist fishermen to procure boats, fishing nets and encourage them to fish in deeper waters to allow fishes to breed in shallow waters,” Mkondiwa said.

Economists expect the project to increase the fishing industry’s contribution to gross domestic product (GDP) by 50%.

Fishing contributes about 4% towards Malawi’s GDP, with more than 300 000 people depending directly on it as a source of food and livelihood, according to a 2002 state of the environment report to the Malawi Parliament.

The dwindling fish catches in Lake Malawi have been a cause of concern to fishermen. During a recent visit to lakeshore district of Mangochi, Frank Fatchi, a fisherman, lamented over the lack of policing to protect fish species from over-exploitation.

“There is need to know the breeding season of the species and provide ample time for them to reproduce,” he said.

Several factors have led to the depletion of fish stocks in Malawi, according to the fisheries department. They include over-fishing due to demands and economic hardships that force the poor to resort to selling fish for a living.

The kind of nets used for fishing has also contributed to stocks running low. Fishermen sometimes use illegal equipment such as small meshed and beach seine nets to catch underage fish.

Malawi’s fishermen have ignored the closed-breeding season set aside annually in the last quarter of the year to allow fishes to breed and reproduce, says the fisheries department.

Moses Banda, an official at the Fisheries Department, said in a recent interview: “During the time fish catch reached its peak in the lake, the total catches amounted to 13 000 tons in 1988 per annum. However, following the decline, fish stocks have gone down to as low as 4 000 tons per annum.”—IPS

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