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A.E. Neiland
Centre for the Economics and Management of Aquatic Resources (CEMARE)
University of Portsmouth, Locksway Road, Portsmouth, Hants PO4 8JF, U.K.
B.M.B. Ladu
Department of Biological Sciences, Federal University of Technology
Yola, Adamawa State, Nigeria


In the following paper, the importance of appropriate institutional arrangements for the development of inland fisheries enhancement strategies in Africa is emphasised. Based on the recent findings of the ODA-funded Traditional Management of Artisanal Fisheries (TMAF) Project, the traditional and modern systems of fisheries management in N.E. Nigeria, and their particular institutional arrangements, are described and evaluated. In addition, a number of case studies of traditional fisheries enhancement techniques operated at the village level (e.g. construction of fish shelters in seasonal pools) are outlined. The paper finishes with an identification of the opportunities and constraints for future fisheries enhancement strategies in N.E. Nigeria. An important conclusion is that traditional management systems could form the institutional basis for the future development of fisheries enhancement strategies in N.E. Nigeria for a number of important reasons - the systems are widespread and more effective than the modern versions; property rights are well established and open access problems are minimal; there is indigenous experience of fisheries enhancement; the institutional arrangements are capable of adapting to change; there are opportunities for co-management with the modern fisheries administration; and stakeholders can participate and have an interest in making the systems work. However, the paper also identifies that there are a number of constraints to fisheries enhancement based on traditional systems, most importantly, environmental and institutional changes, which must also be considered in the future.


It has been estimated that most of the world's major inland fisheries are now at their maximum level of exploitation (FAO, 1995). Furthermore, Welcomme and Bartley (1997) have indicated that catches from inland fisheries are in decline due to the deteriorating quality of the aquatic environment and poor management. FAO (1995) has also identified, that in response to this crisis, there has been an increase in the level of fishery interventions, including various enhancements, as defined by the following statement: “Any increase of the yields from capture fisheries will in future be derived from fisheries enhancement activities the effects of direct human intervention in the production processes of aquatic environments”.

Five main types of practical enhancement procedures are practised: introductions; stocking or culture-based fisheries; environmental enhancement; habitat rehabilitation; and fisheries management (FAO, 1995).

However, despite the various possibilities for intervention as a means to increase yields, it should not be overlooked that capture fisheries remain highly vulnerable to overexploitation and degradation. In fact, it can be shown that capture fisheries (both marine and inland) provide some of the best and well-studied examples of the scenarios by which the renewable natural resource base can become degraded (e.g. the Peruvian anchovetta in Pauly and Tsukayama, 1987; and the North Sea herring in Saville and Bailey, 1980). It follows, therefore, that if fishery enhancements are to be successful, then the problems of overexploitation and degradation must be also addressed in parallel from the outset.

There are a number of different ways in which fisheries overexploitation and degradation scenarios can be explained. Furthermore, various workers have advocated the need for a multi-disciplinary analysis of fisheries problems as a means by which explanations based within particular disciplines can be rationalised (Anderson, 1987). At the same time, there are certain themes which have emerged as being crucial to the analysis of fisheries management problems. One of the most important is the institutional arrangements for management, which Gibbs and Bromley (1989) have defined as “rules and conventions which establish peoples' relationships to resources, translating interests into claims, and claims into property rights”.

It should be recognised that the fundamental issue for capture fisheries, as elsewhere, is the allocation of scarce (natural) resources to alternative ends. For example, in the case of wetlands which contain major inland fisheries, as population pressure and other stresses increase, the natural resources become increasingly scarce and, other things being equal, would become increasingly valuable. However, because in many cases institutional arrangements do not exist (or are inadequate) for the allocation of the resources, free and open access to increasingly valuable resources results inevitably in their degradation (Cunningham et al., 1985).

The challenge, therefore, for fisheries management is to find and implement mechanisms (including management and other interventions) defined by specific institutional arrangements, that prevent the degradation occurring in the first place rather than trying to find ways to repair the damage once it has occurred. Such a strategy makes clear economic sense, but it is also ecologically desirable, in line with the precautionary principle, in that there is no guarantee that renewable natural resource degradation is reversible.

In the following paper, the institutional context of the inland fisheries of N.E. Nigeria is examined, with a view to identifying the potential for future management interventions, specifically fishery enhancement strategies. The inland fisheries of N.E. Nigeria, including the Upper River Benue, Lake Chad and the Nguru-Gashua Wetlands, have been chosen as a focus for two reasons. Firstly, the fisheries are among the largest and most important in Africa. Secondly, the region includes an interesting mixture of fisheries management systems, based on various institutional arrangements. In particular, the widespread operation in N.E. Nigeria of community-based traditional management systems for local fisheries may offer an appropriate institutional framework for the development and operation of fisheries interventions in the future.

Initially, the paper provides a brief outline of recent research carried out in Nigeria on inland fisheries. Next, the importance of the fisheries in N.E. Nigeria is identified, along with recent patterns of development and production. To follow on, the characteristics of the local management systems and their particular institutional arrangements are described. The performance of the management systems in achieving management objectives is also assessed, and a number of case studies of fisheries management and enhancement strategies are provided. Finally, the potential opportunities and constraints for fisheries enhancement in N.E. Nigeria are reviewed, with particular reference to institutional arrangements.


In recent years, there has been growing concern that the fisheries of N.E. Nigeria have been increasingly overexploited (e.g. Sagua, 1989; Neiland et al., 1990; NEAZDP, 1991), leading to a reduction in socio-economic benefits for local communities and the regional economy in general. A combination of factors were thought to be responsible. Firstly, environmental change caused by Sahel droughts and dam construction has resulted in lower fish production. Secondly, an intensification of fishing effort has been brought about by increased commercialisation, the introduction of modern gears and a breakdown of management in places. The latter sequence of events is consistent with development patterns seen in traditional fisheries described by Scudder and Conelly (1985). However, overall, a major constraint to the accurate assessment of the status of the fisheries, has always been a lack of detailed information.

In response to the need for a better understanding of inland fisheries and to investigate the possibilities for designing a more effective approach to fisheries management, the UK Overseas Development Administration (ODA) sponsored a 4-year (1993–1996) project, the Traditional Management of Artisanal Fisheries (TMAF) Project (No. R.5471). The project was undertaken by the University of Portsmouth (UK), in collaboration with the University of Maiduguri (Nigeria) and the Federal University of Technology Yola (Nigeria). A particular focus of the project was to investigate whether traditional management systems, which were perceived to be successful and well adapted to local conditions, could be used as a basis for a community-based approach to fisheries management in the future.

The research approach which was developed and used by the TMAF project to study the local fisheries management systems is described in detail in Neiland (1997). In brief, two major research themes, the Investigation of Fisheries Management Systems (IFMS) and the Fisheries Information Monitoring System (FIMS) were employed to provide a complementary analysis of the characteristics and performance of the local fisheries management systems (a typology of systems was developed including three types: modern, traditional and a mixture of modern/traditional). In turn, the outcome of this work was used as a basis for evaluating the potential for community-based management approaches using the types of criteria established by workers such as Ostrom (1992).

Over the course of four years (1993–1996), the project attained a large coverage, working in three major fishing regions and 66 villages, and carrying out over 3000 interviews of members of the fishing communities and the fisheries administrations. The resulting database of multi-disciplinary information provides a good underpinning for the analysis and better understanding of the operation of the fisheries in that region of Africa.


3.1 Importance of the fisheries

The arid zone of Sub-Saharan Africa (9°N to 13°N) contains some of the most productive inland fisheries in the whole of the continent, mainly in the form of large areas of seasonally inundated tropical wetlands (FAO, 1995). Fisheries such as those of the Sudd (River Nile floodplain) in the Sudan, the central delta of the River Niger in Mali, and the Lake Chad Basin are thought to produce several hundred thousand tonnes of fish each year (Durand, 1983). The north-eastern part of Nigeria, which is located centrally within this zone, contains three major fisheries - the Upper River Benue, Lake Chad and the Nguru-Gashua Wetlands (Fig. 1).

The context and characteristics of the three fisheries are summarised in Table 1. Based on a recent assessment (Neiland et al.,1997), total annual production from the three fisheries is 61,000 t or 60% of total inland fisheries production for Nigeria. The fisheries are operated, almost exclusively by thousands of small-scale fishers, using unsophisticated gears (e.g. gill nets and basket traps), exploiting multi-species fish resources (dominated by clariid catfish and tilapiine cichlids), within a complex of river, lake, floodplain and swampland environments.

The fisheries are important at both national and regional levels for four major reasons. Firstly, the fisheries provide a significant part of national inland fisheries production (up to 61%). Secondly, the fisheries provide employment for about 20,000 rural households, and the second largest source of total income (24–28%) for the same households. Thirdly, fish is an important protein food for fisher households (20% catch is consumed on average) and is also supplied to the large urban markets of Nigeria, including Lagos, Kano and Ibadan. Fourthly, processed fish (mainly dried clariid catfish) is a highly valuable trade item (over US$10 million in 1995/96), with thousands of people employed in the marketing chain (processors, transporters, merchants).

3.2 National policy

Fisheries policy in Nigeria has been developed and included as a sub-component of the Agriculture Sector in various National Development Plans in the 1970s and the 1980s. The policy objectives, covering both marine and inland waters, have included:

  1. increasing domestic fish supplies;
  2. earning foreign exchange through fish exports especially shrimps;
  3. developing fishery-based industries;
  4. maximum use of the country's fisheries resources through rational management and conservation measures;
  5. encouraging local manufacturing;
  6. providing employment to Nigerians by mechanising the sector, and
  7. increasing per capita income of indigenous fishermen. (3rd National Development Plan, 1975, p.125 and 4th National Development Plan, 1980 p.121, reported in Ekpo and Etim, 1989).

Figure 1. Map of Nigeria showing the three study regions (Upper River Benue Lake Chad Lake Chad and the Naguru-Gashua Wetiands).

Figure 1.

Table 1. Profile of the Study Regions.

  Upper River BenueLake ChadNguru-Gashua Wetlands
1.1.Longitude12.0 – 13.0°E13.8 – 14.4°E12.4 – 13.1°E
1.2.Latitude9.2– 9.6°N12.4 – 13.4°N12.5 – 13.0°N
2.1.Mean daily temperature (°C)   
2.2.Total rainfall (cm)60–8040–6040–60
3.1.Zone typeGuinea SavannaSahel/Sudan-SavannaSudan Savanna
3.2.Major aquatic featuresRiver Benue River Yobe
3.3.Total dimension1500 kmLake Chad 
3.4.Study region area1,548 km26–10,000 km22,232 km2
3.5.Potential annual flood inundation area1,548 km24,283 km22,232 km2
4,283 km2
4.1.Total population72,54039,40069,067
4.2.Population density46931
4.3.No. households8,06025,4509,867
4.4.Major ethnic groupsFulbe, Bwatiye, Mbula, HausaKanuri, Hausa, FulaniBade, Hausa, Fulani
5.1.GDP (US$ million)/country24,39024,39024,390
5.2.Per capita GNP (US$)/country   
5.3. Major rural income sources (% Total)370370370
Farming (54%)Farming (65%)Farming (67%)
Fishing (28%)Fishing (24%)Fishing (24%)
Others (18%)Others (12%)Others (9%)
6.1.Annual production (tonnes)9,57055,0006,500
6.2.No. fish genera303030
6.3.Major commercial generaClarias/TilapiaClarias/TilapiaClarias/Tilapia
6.4.Major gearGn/T/HoGn/T/HoGn/T/Ho
6.6.No. fishers (male adults)11,6528,11213,148
6.8.No. fishing households5,6609,8506,026
6.9.Total value of traded fish/yearLowHighLow

Notes: 2. Ref: Adams and Hollis, 1988; 3. Ref: Neiland et al., 1994; 4. Ref: Neiland et al., 1994; 5.1/5.2. Ref: Lake Chad Basin Commission, 1992; 5.3. Ref: Neiland et al., 1994; 6. Ref: Neiland et al., 1994; 6.4. Main gears: Gn (gill net); T (traps); Ho (hooks).

A set of policy measures to support the fisheries development policy included institutional development policy, direct development policy, credit policy, research policy, infrastructure policy, input provision policy and allocation policy (Ekpo and Etim, 1989).

3.3 Development experiences, 1960–96

It is difficult to provide a formal assessment of fisheries development in Nigeria for a number of reasons. Firstly, policy development has not progressed far beyond the definition of a series of very general national objectives (above) by Federal Government. The implementation of policy has been the responsibility of State Government (in each of 36 States making up the Federation of Nigeria), and in general, fisheries have been given a low priority by most State Governments resulting in much inaction. Secondly, as far as it is possible to tell, there are few ex-post evaluations of the implementation of fisheries policy for the inland fisheries of Nigeria. Despite these limitations, a number of important observations can be made, as follows.

Key objective

The major agencies involved with fisheries development in northern Nigeria (Federal Department of Fisheries, State Departments of Fisheries, Agricultural Development Programmes) have promoted a policy of increased fisheries production. This has been achieved to some extent. However, many fisheries have experienced a classical “boom and bust” scenario. For example, in the Lake Chad fishery, production increased from 15,000t (1960) up to 220,000 t (1974), and has now dropped to 52,000 t (1997). The initial increase in production can be attributed to an increase in fishing intensity. The Sahel drought of the 1970s and 1980s reduced the size of the lake and concentrated stocks, making them easier to catch. The drought also eventually reduced the fish carrying capacity of the region and in combination with continued intensive fishing has lead to a fall in fisheries production.


Increased fisheries production in N.E. Nigeria has been achieved largely as a result of the intensification of fishing effort associated with the provision of modern gears (e.g. nylon gill nets), and also the development of modern road infrastructure in Nigeria in the 1970s, which encouraged the commercial fish trade. To the best of our knowledge, inland fisheries enhancement has not been undertaken on a large scale in Nigeria by the agencies of the modern government, although some Agricultural Development Programmes (ADPs) are now undertaking pilot-scale stockings of seasonal pools. More importantly, although modern government represents the de jure fisheries managers, it is the leaders of traditional, community-based government who are the de facto managers. There is also some evidence that the de facto managers also undertake some forms of fishery enhancement, as will be explained below.

Other development patterns

Other changes seen in the fisheries in recent times, e.g. in-migration and greater employment, and increased commercial trade, have not been achieved by direct fishery policy actions, but rather have been driven by factors such as increased population, a lack of alternative employment opportunities, environmental change, as well as spin-offs from other policy actions, e.g. agriculture policy and infrastructure developments.

Current status

Information on the inland fisheries of N.E. Nigeria is very limited. Based on the findings of the TMAF project (Neiland, 1997), it is evident that the fisheries are subject to intense exploitation and have been reduced in size in recent years due to a combination of the high exploitation rate and the impact of environmental change. Sahel drought and dam construction have reduced the annual flood in each system and limited the capacity of the fish stocks to regenerate. There is evidence in support of the assertion that the fisheries are overexploited, both biologically and economically. For example, senior fishers have reported an increase in effort and a decline in catch levels over the last 30 years, catches are dominated by small-sized fish and there has been a decline in stock diversity. Income levels are generally low, with only few gears producing a financial and an economic profit (probably equivalent to a small level of resource rent). In contrast, there is also some evidence that certain fisheries are not severely overexploited (or have reached the point of collapse). For example, at Lake Chad the unit production is 150kg/ha/yr, based on 1995–96 data, which compares well with the mean estimate of 50 kg/ha/yr for African floodplains (after Welcomme, 1985). In addition, income from certain gears (e.g. cast-nets) in all the fisheries is high.

Limiting overexploitation

The reasons why at least some of the fisheries have not reached a stage of severe overexploitation are three-fold. Firstly, the fish stock has experienced a change in composition, and is now dominated by small-sized, resilient and highly productive fish types including clariid catfish and tilapiine cichlids. Secondly, within the vast floodplain environments, particularly at Lake Chad, the local fishers do not yet have the technical capability to overfish (e.g. mechanisation is minimal). Thirdly, traditional community-based management systems are still active in many areas and limit overexploitation of the resource. Fourthly, the nature of the livelihood strategies of the rural households as part of the local farming systems, means that fishers will exit the fishery, when it becomes an unprofitable occupation, in favour of more profitable ones such as farming. This “fail-safe” mechanism probably protects the fisheries from severe overexploitation.


4.1 Classification, distribution and characterisation

Based on the early work of the TMAF Project (Neiland et al., 1994a), three types of fisheries management system were identified and subsequently studied on a village case-study basis: Traditional, Mixed and Modern. A preliminary definition of the three types is presented in Table 2.

The distribution of the different types of fisheries management system in each of the three fisheries based on TMAF survey results is also shown in Table 2. It is clear that the “traditional” type of management system is most common in the Upper River Benue and the Nguru-Gashua Wetlands, whereas at Lake Chad, the mixed and traditional types were of almost equal importance.

Table 2. Classification of Fisheries Management in N.E. Nigeria.

Type of Management SystemDescriptionNo. villages operating each Management Type (% total)
Upper River BenueLake ChadNguru-Gashua WetlandsTotal
Type I: TraditionalFisheries managed by Traditional Government administration through Village Heads and District Heads.14 (74%)3 (37%)14 (56%)31 (58%)
Type II: MixedTraditional and Modern Government administrations participate together in management of fisheries, either intentionally or inadvertently.  4 (21%)5 (62%)  8 (32%)17 (32%)
Type III: ModernFisheries managed by Government administration of the modern Nigerian state, through Federal, State and Local Government Officers.  1 (5%)1 (12%)  3 (12%)  5 (10%)
TOTAL-19 (100%)8 (100%)25 (100%)53 (100%)

An attempt was also made to characterise the different management systems. The framework developed by Durand (1993) consisting of four main elements of management systems (Objectives of management; Methods of management; Decision-making authorities; Level of application) was used for this. Within the management systems, the decision-making authorities were assumed to correspond to the institutions involved in management.

Before reviewing the results of the characterisation (Table 3), two initial observations should be made. Firstly, the village-based studies of the management systems revealed that there was considerable variation within each management system type, and also important interactions and overlaps between systems. The complexity of local level institutional arrangements has highlighted the limitations of our research framework, which had set out to draw generalisations about the management systems. Secondly, the importance of recognising the difference between how institutions operate in theory (de jure) and what actually happens in practice (de facto) has been emphasised in the approach used. The challenge is to explain any divergence between the two states, a key point made by Schlager and Ostrom (1992) in their studies of common property resources.

Table 3. Characterisation of modern and traditional systems (de jure, de facto) of fisheries management in N.E. Nigeria.

 Modern systemsTraditional systems
 de jurede factode jurede facto
Objectives* increased production
* conservation of stocks
* increased welfare of fishers (implicit)
* increased production
* conservation of stocks
* generation of revenue for government
* defense/control of fishing rights for community
* generation of income/food for community
* conservation of fish stocks
* defense/control of rights for community
* food/income generation for community
* conservation
* generation of revenue for private owners
Methods* input provision
* gear/catch regulations
* control of effort by licensing
* credit, allocation and infrastructure development
* sponsored fishing
* good fishing campaign
* licence sales
* control of access
* gear/catch regulations
* fishing time
* control of access
* gear/catch regulations
* fishing time
* sale of permission of fish
* sponsored fishing
Decision-making authorities* Federal Government
* State Government
* State Fisheries Dept.
* Federal Government
* State Government
* State Fisheries Dept
* Local Government
* Traditional Government
* Community leaders
* Traditional Government
* community leaders
* Local Government
* Private owners
Level of application* State Fisheries Dept to fishing communities* State Fisheries Department
* Local Government
* Community leaders to fishers* All authorities to fishers
* Local Government to community leaders
* community leaders with private owners
Performance assessment (are management objectives being achieved?)* Very poor
* Three objectives of the system are not being achieved
* Poor
* Only revenue generation is being achieved
* Good - fair
* All objectives being met at a low level
* Good - fair
* All objectives met. but generation of income for private owners becoming dominant

Modern systems

The modern systems of fisheries management in N.E. Nigeria have been based on Western “top-down” approaches to fisheries management, and are relatively young, having been established in the process of the development of the modern Nigeria state (since 1960). Fisheries are classed as state property (res publica), in that ownership and management is held by the nation state. The de jure arrangements include a wide range of objectives (often conflicting), with a production-led orientation which it is implicitly assumed will lead to welfare benefits for fishers. Methods include effort and catch regulations in an attempt to maximise yield (MSY approach). The decision-making authorities are the Federal and State Governments, which interface with fisher communities through the field officers of the State Department of Fisheries.

The de facto arrangements for the modern system have diverged from the de jure arrangements. This is illustrated by the case study of Wuro Bokki on the Upper River Benue (Table 4, Type 2). Most importantly, although a “good fishing” campaign has been enacted to address fish stock conservation, the objectives and actions of the officials of the State Fisheries Department have, in recent years, been redirected towards revenue generation for the State Government, through licence fees. The widespread inaction of the modern fisheries administration on almost all fronts has been attributed primarily to a lack of funding and other support from National Government (Madakan and Ladu, 1996). More often than not, the fisheries administration of modern government collaborate at a local level with the more prominent traditional administration in certain activities, e.g. settling disputes.

Traditional systems

The traditional systems of fisheries management in N.E. Nigeria have originated within the communities concerned, and conform with the definition of “traditional” provided by Berkes and Farvar (1989), i.e. practices which have historical continuity among a group of people. Under the traditional system (de jure with reference to traditional laws), the fisheries can also be classed as common property resources (res communes) in that use-rights for the resource are controlled by an identifiable group (e.g. local community who may exclude others) and are not managed (de facto) by government of the modern state. As explained in Neiland et al. (1997), the objectives of the traditional systems in N.E. Nigeria are not easy to ascertain. However, three objectives have been identified, including the control of fishing rights and reduction of conflict, generation of food/income for the community, and conservation of fish stocks. The main method of management is the control of access, and the decision-making authorities are the leaders of the community and traditional government, although all users can have an input into the process (“bottom-up” approach), under certain circumstances.

The de facto arrangements for traditional systems also show some divergence from the de jure ones (the example of a traditional system is shown for Dagona village, Nguru-Gashua Wetlands, Table 4, Type 1.). As well as the de jure objectives, there is also an increasing trend for community leaders to attempt to generate cash revenue through the traditional system. This approach is not necessarily at odds with the community orientation of the de jure arrangements. However, there is also a trend for local elites to attempt to privatise the fisheries resources and monopolise the cash revenue, with associated changes in management methods, decision making and levels of application.

Table 4. Case studies of fisheries management and enhancement strategies in N.E. Nigeria.

Type of Management or EnhancementLocationInstitutional arrangements & fishing activitiesOutcomes
1. Fisheries Management: Traditional systemDagona village - Nguru-Gashua WetlandsThe district head or Lawan has jurisdiction over local fisheries in the River Hadejia and floodplain; fisheries are managed for the benefit of the community. Regulations are implemented by village master fisher or Sarkin ruwa, including gear and access restrictions. Fishers (mostly migrants) must pay a fee to fish; proceeds are redistributed within the community. Poachers will be fined and have catch confiscated. Some floodplain pools are owned privately by local families; fishers must pay a fee and also give proportion of their catch to the Lawan.* Management objective is achieved;
* Dagona is prosperous;
* No conflicts over fishing;
* Owners of private pools are amongst wealthiest members of the community.
2. Fisheries Management: Modern systemWuro Bokki village - Upper River BenueFishing in the nearby River Benue is monitored by officers of the Adamawa State Fisheries Department (ASFD) who have a post in the village. Management objectives are to conserve fisheries resources and sustain fisher livelihoods. Methods include mesh-size limitations as part of a “good fishing” campaign. Fishers must obtain a licence to fish and pay a fee to the State Government. Fishers found not to be complying will have their gears and catch confiscated by the fisheries officers. Traditional management systems have broken down as the village has enlarged and become more commercially active as an entre-port for nearby Cameroon.* Fisheries have assumed a state of open access (de facto)
* Fishing has decreased in importance;
* Fishers are poor;
* ASFD management objectives have not been achieved;
* Limited compliance;
* Conflicts over fishing rights have occurred.
3. Fisheries Management: Mixed systemKwatan Dawashi village - Lake ChadFishing on the floodplain of Lake Chad is under the jurisdiction of village head (Bulama); mainly during the recessional period when isolated pools and drainage channels are attractive fishing locations. There are two management objectives: to generate revenue and to avoid conflict. The latter provide the opportunity to construct dumba or fish fences made from rows of basket traps which catch retreating fish. For dumba sites, a fee is negotiated between fisher and Bulama; a proportion of this is passed to the Kukuwa Local Government. Previously, the Bulama had licenced dumba sites under the authority of the Lawan and the Joint Patrol (joint army operation of the four riparian countries of the Chad Basin). Fishing rights to isolated pools are sold before they begin to dry completely (fishing is banned up to this point). Part of the revenue is passed to the Lawan.* Management objectives are achieved;
* Revenue is generated;
* Conflict is avoided;
4. Fisheries Enhancement: Creation of “stew-pond”Madamuwa village - Nguru-Gashua WetlandsFishing on the floodplain of the River Hadejia is under the jurisdiction of the village head (Bulama). As annual floodwaters retreat two major pools remain near the village. For at least two months after their creation each year, no fishing is allowed. Then at an appointed date, the Bulama invites the local community and some neighbouring communities to participate in a “fishing festival” (communal fishing over 2–3 days). All major gears are allowed, except cast-nets which are considered to convey an unfair advantage to fishers using them. All catches are divided into 4 portions - one for the fisher, one for the riparian owner, one for the Bulama and one for disadvantaged villagers. Enhancement technique: fish are allowed to grow larger before harvesting (“stew-pond”).* Catches of large fish at a time (dry season) of relatively poor fishing in general;
* Equitable sharing of resource;
* Cultural aspects of communal fishing (reenforcing ownership and neighbour relations).
5. Fisheries Enhancement: Environment enhancementRiko Kabawa - Upper River BenueFishing in this area of the floodplain of Upper River Benue is controlled by the village head and local district head. The annual recession of floodwaters from the floodplain creates a major lake, Pariya Lake, near the village, which persists until the next flood. All fishing is banned on the lake for at least two months after its creation. In addition, the fishers from the village, with the permission of the village head, construct a large shelter for fish in the centre of the lake by laying cut branches in a circle on the shallow lake bed. Fish take refuge here from predators and also from illegal fishing activities. After two months, the village head organises a fishing festival for invited fishers only. A feature of this festival is the use of large atalla fishing engines (bailers) operated from canoes, within the circle shelter. A portion of the catch is given up to the village and district heads. Enhancement technique: shelter and aggregation of fish to increase fisheries production* Fish are protected and aggregated by fish shelters;
* Large catch made during dry season;
* Equitable distribution of fishing rights and catch by village head (although only within community defined by ethnicity)
6. Fisheries Enhancement: Environmental rehabilitationKurkushe village - Nguru-Gashua WetlandsFisheries management and jurisdiction in the nearby River Katagum and surrounding floodplain are overseen by the village head (Bulama) and a village water management council. After the annual flood a specific sequence of gears is allowed in particular areas of the river. Non-resident fishers are the only ones who pay a fee to gain fishing access; revenue generation is the main objective of the managers. Bulama also receives a share of the catch from floodplain pools from all fishers. Households in the village spend part of the dry season digging ponds on their land which retain water and fish after the flood. Bulama receives share of catch from these ponds. Enhancement technique: pond construction on floodplain to retain water and fish during receding flood.* Additional fishing opportunities and catches are provided by specially-dug ponds or pools;
7. Fisheries Enhancement: RestockingBagale village - Upper River BenueVillage head has jurisdiction over fisheries in local floodplain pools established as the annual floodwaters recede. Each of three main pools is connected to the main channel of the River Benue by a long drainage channel. Village head delegates the job of constructing a barrier or fence across the channels each year to prevent fish from leaving the pools. Village head then charges a fee to fishers who want to fish in the pools. Enhancement technique: construction of fence across drainage channels to prevent fish leaving major floodplain pools.* Fish stock is retained in fishing pools on floodplains to provide dry season fishing opportunities;
* Village head generates cash and receives portion of catch from fishers using the pools.
8. Fisheries Enhancement: AquacultureJimeta-Yola - Nguru-Gashua WetlandsThe Federal Government-funded Upper Benue River Basin Development Authority (UBRBDA) established a series of hatchery and on-growing fish ponds in early 1980s. The objective was to supply juvenile fish to farmers and villages for on-growing in ponds and pools associated with villages. Also to demonstrate the possibilities for aquaculture, to offer technical advice and to supply various inputs, e.g. feeds. Enhancement technique: aquaculture and restocking* Government ponds have not operated successfully due to lack of expertise and poor funding;
* Farmers and villages have not taken up aquaculture techniques.

Mixed system

Finally, an example of a “mixed system” is given in Table 4, Type 3, in the village and fisheries environment of Kwatan Dawashi village in Lake Chad. The leaders of traditional government (village and district heads) and the Local Government (which has no formal de jure role in fisheries management) co-operate in the control and licensing of fishing areas. The arrangements are relatively new and have emerged with the establishment of dumba (or fish fence) fishing methods by recent migrant fishers. The mixed system is successful in ensuring that fishing sites are allocated without serious conflict resulting and that revenue is collected and passed to the leaders of both the Traditional and Local Government. Overall, the arrangements of the “mixed system” provide a good example of how local-level fishery management arrangements can be adapted to accommodate a new fishing system through the co-operation of both traditional and modern government.

4.2 Performance assessment

Two approaches have been taken to assess the performance of the management systems.

Firstly, performance can be defined as the degree of success in achieving particular management objectives (Devine et al., 1985). On this basis, modern systems do not perform well (i.e. they do not attain either their de jure or de facto management objectives to any significant degree). In contrast, the traditional systems are performing well at the present time, and almost all management objectives are met to some extent. However, there is a trend towards the dominance of the collection of cash revenue as a major objective in de facto traditional systems, possibly at the expense of other more community-orientated objectives (a problem of equity).

Secondly, the institutional performance of management systems based on common property resource regimes, such as the traditional management systems of N.E. Nigeria, can be appraised using four criteria: efficiency, stability, resiliency and equitability (Table 5, after Gibbs and Bromley, 1989). Overall, it can be judged that the management systems based within the traditional institutional framework in N.E. Nigeria are functioning well based on the above criteria. However, it must also be recognised that the systems are also under threat in certain locations as a result of various agents, e.g. increasing involvement with the market economy and the commercialisation and privatisation of fishing rights which threaten to undermine the stability and equity criteria, as shown in Table 5.

Table 5. Assessment of institutional performance for traditional management systems in N.E. Nigeria (after Gibbs and Bromley, 1989).

Assessment criteriaCharacteristics of a well-functioning common-property regimeGeneral assessment of traditional systems in N.E. Nigeria
EfficiencyA minimum (or absence) of disputes and limited effort necessary to maintain compliance: the regime will be efficient.Disputes are minimal and a high level of compliance is achieved.
StabilityA capacity to cope with progressive changes through adaptation, such as the arrival of new production techniques: the regime will be stable.Changes such as variations in the hydrological regime and new technology have been accommodated; other changes such as population increases and urbanisation, increased demand for fishing and commercialisation have caused disruption in some cases (depending on the rate of change).
ResiliencyA capacity to accommodate surprise or sudden shocks: the regime will be resilient.Sudden shocks such as changes in climate and new State Government rules have been accommodated, but there is variation between communities which is not always easy to explain.
EquitabilityA shared perception of fairness among the members with respect to inputs and outcomes: the regime will be equitable.Up until recently, most community-based systems showed a high degree of equity. More recently, increased commercialisation and social differentiation have threatened equitability.
Overall assessmentn.a.Traditional management systems in N.E.Nigeria, based on common-property regimes, are functioning well at the moment. However, there are serious threats to their stability and equitability, in particular which may undermine the systems in the long run.


It has also been discovered that the traditional fisheries management systems in N.E. Nigeria also include various methods for enhancing fisheries production. Four examples are given in Table 4 (Types 4–7), as follows:

  1. Creation of a “stew-pond” at Madamuwa village (Nguru-Gashua Wetlands). The village head prevents fishing in two local recessional pools on the floodplain of the River Hadejia for at least two months. A fishing festival is organised to harvest all the fish, which have grown larger, and there is an equitable distribution of catch among all the community at a time of low food availability (dry season).

  2. Fish shelter and aggregation device at Riko Kabaw a village (Upper River Benue). A large circle of cut branches is made by the local fishers with the permission of the village head in Lake Pariya, a large floodplain lake formed after the peak flood. Fish take refuge here from predators and poachers. No fishing is allowed for 2 months until the head organises a fishing festival for invited fishers only.

  3. Pond construction on the floodplain at Kurkushe village (Nguru-Gahua Wetlands). Villagers dig ponds on the floodplain of the River Katagum to retain water and fish as the annual flood recedes.

  4. Fish fence construction at Bagale village (Upper River Benue). Village head delegates a number of villagers to construct a fence or barrier across the drainage channels of major floodplain pools as floodwaters start to retreat in order to prevent fish from leaving. Village head then charges a fee to fishers who want to fish the pools.

The four types of traditional enhancement described above have proved successful in increasing fisheries yield and providing fishing opportunities for fishers who pay a fee to gain access. In contrast, the main type of fisheries enhancement which has been attempted by the modern fisheries administration, that is providing juvenile fish from fish farms for restocking in villages ponds (Table 4, Type 8), has not proved successful, with little uptake from villagers.


The research findings on institutional arrangements, management systems and indigenous enhancement methods (described above), and the implications for the development of a strategy for the enhancement of inland fisheries in northern Nigeria in the future can be reviewed as a series of opportunities and constraints as follows:

6.1 Opportunities

  1. Traditional management systems.
    Traditional management systems are widespread and important in N.E. Nigeria. The systems have a well-established institutional basis within the fishing communities. The management systems perform well in achieving their objectives, e.g. allocation of fishing rights and generation of revenue, and could form the basis for the introduction of further fisheries enhancement approaches.

  2. Property rights and fisheries exploitation.
    Traditional management systems, in particular, have as their basis a framework of property rights which prevent the development of an open access fishery and the inevitable pattern of overexploitation under such conditions. The benefits of fisheries enhancement under a property rights system would accrue to the “owner”, as opposed to a dissipation of benefits under an open access system with intensive exploitation.

  3. Indigenous experience.
    There is some indigenous experience of fisheries enhancement in N.E. Nigeria which capitalises on the seasonal movements of water and fish on the floodplains of the major rivers. This includes digging pools to trap water and fish, restricting movements of fish and the creation of “stew-ponds” through fisheries regulation. The indigenous fisheries enhancements are not widespread, and are probably location specific, but could form the basis of a strategy to extend these approaches to other locations.

  4. Adaptability of local systems.
    An important feature of the traditional management systems, and the local population in general in N.E. Nigeria, is the ability to adapt to changes in their environment. For example, at Lake Chad, an institutional arrangement involving both traditional and local government administrations has recently emerged to regulate the use of dumba fishing in shallow waters. In the Nguru-Gashua Wetlands, where the annual flood has declined in recent years, certain villagers are regularly digging ponds to conserve water and their fisheries. Such clear examples of the adaptability of the management systems and communities, suggest that appropriate fisheries enhancement schemes could be taken up and used locally.

  5. Opportunities for co-management.
    Although traditional management systems are the dominant type in the fisheries of N.E. Nigeria, mixed and modern systems are also found operating. The link between traditional and modern systems within the mixed system, as seen at Lake Chad (Table 4, Type 3), is significant. The possibility that traditional and modern government administrations can work together for improved fisheries management offers important prospects for the development of a co-management approach to fisheries enhancement.

  6. Identification of development priorities.
    It is widely recognised that the fisheries of N.E. Nigeria are threatened by overexploitation and environmental changes. The need for certain interventions to address these problems is also acknowledged. The identification of appropriate development priorities, encompassing various interventions, can best be achieved by the participation of all stakeholders in the fishery including fishers and the traditional administration, and the modern administration. Participation by stakeholders in the institutional development and decision-making processes of traditional management systems is one of the reasons why these systems are effective, and there is an important lesson here for the future design of enhancement strategies.

6.2 Constraints

  1. Lack of government support and co-operation.
    The role of fisheries within the farming systems and the economy of northern Nigeria is not well recognised by National Government and there is a lack of support for fisheries development initiatives.

  2. Environmental change.
    Climatic fluctuations and change have a major influence on the fisheries of northern Nigeria, as with all arid zone fisheries. The design and implementation of fisheries enhancement schemes could be severely constrained if the possibilities for environmental change are not accommodated within any plans.

  3. Institutional changes.
    Although many of the traditional institutional arrangements in N.E. Nigeria perform well when assessed in terms of criteria such as efficiency, stability, resilience and equitability, there are other cases, when the performance is poor. Important changes such as the privatisation of fisheries by rural elites may increase in the future. By threatening the operation of traditional institutions, these changes may limit the future utility of the traditional systems as a basis for the development of fisheries enhancement strategies. Scudder and Conelly (1985) have pointed out that too much should not be expected of traditional management systems for riverine fisheries.

  4. Lack of expertise.
    Certain fisheries enhancement approaches such as restocking using farm-reared juveniles require a certain expertise and human capital. In northern Nigeria, the number of trained technical personnel is limited, and this may narrow the scope of particular enhancement schemes.

  5. Demonstration effects.
    There are two aspects here: firstly, it has been demonstrated that fishing opportunities can be increased or rescheduled using indigenous enhancement approaches. However, national government will certainly require further documented evidence of the cost-effectiveness of more technically-based schemes before it will be willing to invest. Secondly, government-sponsored aquaculture schemes have not performed well in northern Nigeria. Fishers will have to be convinced of the benefits of involvement in fisheries enhancement schemes through appropriate demonstration, if their participation is to be ensured.


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