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Fisheries Survey Returns To Lake Malawi After 15-year Absence

Fifteen years after the last survey, a team of fisheries scientists and limnologists has completed a fisheries survey on Lake Malawi.

The survey was undertaken to establish fish species, biomass and biodiversity in the lake.

This kind of research is supposed to take place after every two years. However, 15 years have passed since the last survey due to lack of resources.

The research findings, which are to be disseminated soon, will be used as a benchmark for monitoring changes in biophysical conditions and fish species populations on Lake Malawi in future.

The data was collected from Mangochi all the way to Karonga district.

Friday Njaya, Director of Fisheries in the Ministry of Agriculture, has welcomed what he termed as the exploratory survey.

Experts and technicians at work during the survey on Lake Malawi - Daniel Jamu PhD

“Yes, they are currently doing data entry, then analysis, then finally results. This data is key because it provides us with information on how we can allocate commercial fishers on our lake. I am happy because this time around they have been consistent in their data collection from Mangochi to Karonga district,” said Njaya.

The research was being done jointly by the Fisheries Research Unit and experts from the Restoring Fisheries for Sustainable Livelihoods in Lake Malawi (REFRESH), a USAID- funded project which builds on communities' successes under USAID and Pact's FISH project.

“Each site is trawled for 30 minutes and we record total catch (in kg), catch weight by species, number of species caught and their sizes. This information is used to estimate total fish biomass in (tons), fish biomass by species and size distribution,” said Daniel Jamu, one of the lead researchers, in an interview with AEJ Online on Monday.

Jamu explained that the data is used to estimate total fish on the lake biomass, species distribution and diversity and distribution of fish by area.

One other factor that was also sampled was water quality parameters at each site to explain fish biomass and distribution as well as pollution.

*“Yes, they are currently doing data entry, then analysis then finally results will be expected to be out. This data is key because it provide us information on how we can allocate commercial fishers on our lake. I am happy because this time around they have been consistent in their data collection from Mangochi to Karonga district,” a happily pleased Njaya with the development explained.**

This data is used for planning, Jamu added.

The equipment and gear used during the survey - Daniel Jamu PhD

"How much fish and value do we have? Why do we have more or less fish in particular areas and what management measures do we need to put in place to manage the fishery resources," he advised when asked about the data usage.

The research team comprised fisheries scientists and limnologists, scientists from REFRESH Project and crew of skippers and boat engineers.

The researchers are pleased with Chambo species catches in the south east arm of the lake and high fish biomass in Nkhata Bay district.

Jamu applauded the excellent collaboration they received from fishing communities in the areas they visited.

Other areas that REFRESH is focusing on include livelihoods, empowerment and resilient building and capacity development among key players in the fisheries sector.

One key area under capacity development is the role of area development committees in fisheries conservation with an ecosystem-based approach in the management process.

Some of the fish samples captured during the trawl survey - Photos courtesy of Daniel Jamu PhD

The REFRESH project aims to conserve the freshwater biodiversity of Lake Malawi by restoring the natural fisheries productivity in the lakeshore districts.

Lake Malawi is the country's most important fresh water fishing ground and one of the world's renowned. It is home to hundreds of cichlids species of fish endemic to the warm heart of Africa alone and the most-prized species, being the Chambo fish.

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About the Author
Charles Mkoka
Charles Mkoka is Secretary General of Association of Environmental Journalists in Malawi. He is also Lead Partner for Ecosystems Partners and Communication, a privately owned firm he set in 2015



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