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D. Tweddle, R.E. Hastings and T. Jones
Fisheries Department
P.O. Box 593
Lilongwe, Malawi


Elephant Marsh covers an area of approximately 500 km2 in the Shire River valley in southern Malawi. Access to the marsh is excellent. It is encircled by roads, which have been upgraded in recent years, and two roads and a railway lead out of the valley to the major urban areas. The Fisheries Department extended its activities to the valley in 1968 and a development programme, incorporated with the Shire Valley Agricultural Development Project, was initiated in 1972 covering both Elephant and Ndinde Marshes. Under the programme so far training has been given to 1 000 fishermen in improved techniques, 191 planked canoes have been constructed to replace dugouts - suitable trees for which are becoming increasingly rare, 62 demonstration smoking kilns of a modified Ivory Coast design have been constructed, 3 centralized fish landings have been constructed with all-weather access roads, processing and storage facilities provided, canals constructed out to the fishing areas, and outboard engines have been introduced. Planned future developments include two more centralised landings, training more fishermen, a gear research programme, more demonstration smoking kilns, construction of more planked canoes with a transition from the Government-controlled boatyard to independent boatyards, and a pollution monitoring programme. Emphasis is laid on improving access and facilities for fishermen, to provide ready markets for their fish, in order to encourage maximum utilisation of the available resources.


Elephant Marsh (Marais de l'éléphant) couvre une superficie approximative de 500 km2 dans la vallée de la Shire (Malawi méridional). Il est facilement accessible car il est entouré de routes, qui ont été améliorées au cours des dernières années, deux routes, ainsi qu'une voie ferrée relient la vallée aux principaux centres urbains. Le Département des pêches a commencé à s'occuper de la vallée en 1968, un programme de mise en valeur, intégré au projet de développement rural de la vallée de la Shire, a été entrepris en 1972 et les marais de l'éléphant et de Ndinde y étaient englobés. Dans le cadre de ce programme, on a déjà familiarisé 1 000 pêcheurs avec des méthodes améliorées, 191 pirogues bordées ont été construites pour remplacer les pirogues (monoxyles car il devient de plus en plus difficile de se procurer des arbres pour en faire des pirogues), 62 fours à fumer de démonstration ont été construits selon un plan ivoirien modifié; 3 débarcadères centralisés ont été établis et dotés de voies d'accès practicables en tous temps, des installations de transformation et d'entreposage ont été créées, ainsi que des canaux d'amenée vers les zones de pêche; enfin, des moteurs hors-bord ont été adoptés. Les projets de développement ultérieur portent sur la construction de nouveaux débarcadères centralisés, la formation d'autres pêcheurs, un programme de recherche sur les engins, de nouveaux fours à fumée de démonstration, ainsi que de nouvelles pirogues bordées d'abord par un chantier naval sous contrôle gouvernemental, puis par des chantiers indépendants; enfin, un système de surveillance continue de la pollution est prévu. L'accent est mis sur une participation et des facilités améliorées pour les pêcheurs, ainsi que sur la création de débouchés pour leur poisson, de façon à encourager une utilisation maximale des ressources disponibles.


Elephant Marsh (Figure 1) covers an area of approximately 500 km2 in the lower valley of the River Shire, a major tributary of the Zambezi. The marsh is subject to considerable seasonal variation in area. In the wet season (December to April) it is 90 km long and up to 30 km wide, but during the dry season the permanent area of the marsh is reduced to approximately 500 km2, although there may be considerable fluctuations in its minimum area between years (Halcrow, et al., 1954; Ratcliffe, 1972). Two factors influence the level of the marsh, rainfall in the catchment area of Lake Malawi and rainfall in the local catchment area. A barrage on the River Shire at Liwonde between Lake Malombe and the lower valley is an important factor affecting the level. This barrage, built to stabilize the level of Lake Malawi to ensure a minimum flow in the River Shire of 180 m3/sec for the purpose of hydro-electric power generation, is often closed down to this minimum level during the dry season, causing a drastic reduction in the marsh area.

The marsh has a Lower Zambezi fish fauna, being separated physically and ecologically from the Lake Malawi fauna of the Upper and Middle Shire River by a series of cataracts and rapids between Matope and Chikwawa.

Access facilities to Elephant Marsh are excellent in comparison with many other flood-plain fisheries in Africa. The marsh is encircled by roads, enabling good communication at most times of the year, and two roads, one from the north of the marsh and one from the south, link the valley with major urban centres. Also approximately 20 percent of the catch is transported out of the valley by rail from Chiromo and Makhanga.

The Fisheries Department extended its activities into the valley in 1968 with an initial assessment of the size of the fishery, gear usage, important commercial species and the annual catch (Ratcliffe, 1972). Recommendations were made for future development and on the choice of sites to act as focal points for extension activities and research. Biological research began in 1970 (Hastings, 1973) and is continuing (Willoughby and Tweddle, 1977). A Lower Shire Fishery Development Programme was initiated as a result of the visit of the International Development Association's appraisal mission in June 1972. It was incorporated with Phase II of the Shire Valley Agricultural Development Project (SVADP) in order to minimize administrative and other overhead costs. The Development Programme covered the whole Lower Shire Valley, including the Ndinde Marsh, an area of approximately 150 km2 to the south of Elephant Marsh. Overall objectives of the Programme were:

  1. To train 1 000 fishermen in more effective gill net hanging and repair, and improved fish processing techniques

  2. To introduce 225 planked canoes into the fishery

  3. To build 50 brick-smoking kilns for demonstration purposes

  4. To improve the fish distribution network

  5. To study the fish marketing situation

  6. To build 20 miles of fish extraction roads

  7. To fish hitherto unexploited stocks.

Figure 1

Figure 1 Location map of Elephant Marsh. Access roads and places mentioned in the text are shown

These proposals were in addition to the improvements in communications, health facilities and living standards generally being carried out in the valley under the SVADP. A report on the progress of the Fisheries Development Programme was given by Hastings (1976).

Proposals have now been made for the fisheries development component of Phase III of the SVADP, and are being considered by the World Bank funding agency.

At present, the component has been divided into five main activities as follows:

  1. Centralised fish landings

  2. i) Fishermen's Training Programme
    ii) Fishing Gear Research Programme

  3. Fish Processing Programme

  4. Boatbuilding and Credit Programme

  5. Water Pollution Monitoring Programme

These will be discussed in detail later.


2.1 General

The major industry in the area is the sugar factory and plantations of SUCOMA, the Sugar Corporation of Malawi. The presence of SUCOMA and the necessity to transport the sugar was a major impetus behind the construction of a tarmac road from Chikwawa to Bangula, as the old road was often impassable during the rains. Sugar is transported by road to Bangula and thence by rail to Beira for export. The tarmac road has improved access to the fishing communities along the West Bank of the River Shire, and the upgrading of the East Bank road to all-weather standard by the SVADP likewise facilitates communication between fishermen and traders on the eastern side of the marsh. The bitumenising of the road up the eastern escarpment to the major urban centres of Blantyre and Limbe, to be completed in the next two years, will further stimulate the development of the fishery in the northern area of the marsh by providing an easily accessible market for the fish produced.

Between 10 and 20 percent of the fish currently caught in the marsh finds its way by rail up to the urban centres, the main source of these fish being the southern area of the marsh, including the ‘model’ fish landing of Mchacha, the development of which will be discussed separately later.

2.2 Fisheries Development Programme

(a) Training: The target of training 1 000 fishermen from both Elephant and Ndinde Marshes was achieved in April 1977. Men to be trained were recruited from the fishing villages by Fisheries Demonstration Assistants and transport was given to the nearest SVADP Area Headquarters where training was provided.

Elephant Marsh was covered by courses at Chikwawa, Ngabu and Makhanga. Courses were residential and lasted five days; a period shorter than this would not have provided sufficient time for training while most men would have been unwilling to leave their family and work for a longer period. On the course they were shown how to mount gill nets by the half and how to repair them. The function and method of use of the brick Ivory Coast smoking kiln was explained to them. All fishermen were interviewed during the course and asked to provide information regarding their fishing gear, estimated income and family. The stated average income for fishermen who attended the course was K302, which corresponds well with the figure of K350 obtained by Willoughby and Walker (1977) from a survey of the traditional fishery. At the end of the course each fisherman was given a numbered certificate of attendance, preference being given to men who could prove that they had attended a course when they applied for credit to purchase a planked canoe.

(b) Planked canoes (Figures 2 and 3): At the time of writing (18 June 1977) 191 canoes had been completed, and it is anticipated that the target of 225 canoes will be achieved by the end of October 1977.

Planked canoes were introduced as there is a growing shortage of suitable trees in the valley for making dugouts, and the construction of a dugout inevitably involves a considerable amount of waste. The planked canoes have a greater carrying capacity and are more stable than dugouts.

Carpenters from the Lower Shire Valley were sent to the boatyard at Mpwepwe Fisheries Training Centre on Lake Malawi near Mangochi in September 1973 to learn canoe construction, returning to the valley in April 1974. A 14 ft wooden plank canoe designed by Mpwepwe staff specially for the Shire marsh conditions was adopted as the standard production model. Mulanje cedar (Widdringtonia whytei) was chosen as the construction material as it is oily and does not need painting, thereby avoiding undesirable expense for the canoe owners. Canoes are priced at K50 for cash and K55 on credit. A 17 ft design has now been introduced which can either be paddled or powered by a small out-board engine. 17 ft canoes are sold for K110 cash or K125 credit, and are made only to specific order; 28 of the 191 canoes so far produced are 17 ft long.

(c) Smoking kilns: The traditional method of smoking fish over an open pit is extremely wasteful of firewood, gives a non-uniform and inferior product in terms of keepability, and in wet weather has to be carried out inside the fishermen's or trader's huts. Because of these disadvantages it was decided to introduce brick-smoking kilns to the fishing villages for demonstration purposes. The target of 50 kilns has been exceeded, and 62 have been built to date in the valley, 40 of these being at 11 sites around Elephant Marsh.

The design used is a modified Ivory Coast kiln. The large kiln in use on Lake Malawi was considered to be too big for the Lower Shire fishery, where smaller catches are landed and individual traders operate on a much smaller scale. A design was developed 5 ft × 3 ft × 3 ft high, which requires 220 bricks and 1½ packets of cement to build (Figure 4).

Each kiln was provided with four ½" mesh chicken wire trays and a 5 ft roofing sheet to cover it. The project provided a builder and the bricks and cement; sand, water and labour had to be provided by the village. On completion the kiln was signed for by a prominent member of the community, who from then on was responsible for the maintenance and correct use of the kiln.

Twenty kilns were constructed at Mchacha fish landing. As awareness of the purpose and practical usefulness of the kilns increases through training and demonstration, the use of these has increased considerably, and some members of the fishing community have expressed a desire to build their own kilns and have asked to be supplied with kiln trays. These are now being supplied at a cost of K2.20 each. At the request of certain fish traders portable smoking kilns have been constructed of iron sheets by the SVADP for K20 each.

Figure 2

Figure 2 14 ft planked canoe of new design

Figure 3

Figure 3 Traditional dugout design

(d) (e) (f) Fish distribution and marketing: The major factor in developing a marsh fishery is the improvement of access to markets for the fish produced. Elephant Marsh, as mentioned earlier, is reasonably accessible from major roads which are being improved at present; however, during the rains access from many fish landings to the ‘all-weather’ roads is difficult, if not impossible. Furthermore, lack of fish preservation and storage facilities in fishing areas, especially in the north-east of the marsh, means that fishermen stop work as they are unable to sell their fish. For these reasons it was decided to improve access roads and preservation and storage facilities, and Mchacha was chosen by the Chief Fisheries Officer in 1972 as the site for a ‘model’ fish landing. This is a large fishing village situated on the south-east edge of the marsh and a large proportion of the fish caught from the area is landed there. It was chosen because of its pre-existing importance as a population centre and proximity to Makhanga, from where much smoked fish is sent up to the Shire Highlands by rail.

The yearly fluctuation of the marsh shoreline, which may retreat up to half a mile in the dry season from the high water position, was a major problem in the development of the landing. It was solved by the provision of a 2 000 ft long canal which, except in very dry years, enables fishermen to reach the landing for most of the year (Figure 5). It was dug in three stages, by local labour with hoes and wheelbarrows in the 1973 and 1974 dry seasons, and by a mechanical dragline in 1975.

With the position of the landing more or less stabilized, it became possible to provide a variety of facilities for the fishing community with particular emphasis upon processing techniques. Initially six smoking kilns were built, but due to the demand the total was increased to 16 and finally 20; 15 fish drying racks were constructed, consisting of four 2" pipes with a welded bracket supporting a 3" by 1" wooden frame over which ½" mesh chicken wire was stretched (Figure 6).

A concrete floored, metal roofed gutting shed, which could be cleared easily, was erected to reduce the degree of contamination of the soil with fish waste, which tends to attract flies. A latrine was provided to encourage general hygiene and in particular reduce the risk of fly-transmitted infections to drying fish. A fish store was constructed with fly screened doors and windows, in which traders can store their fish until they have enough to take to market.

An ox-cart ‘taxi’ service has begun from Mchacha to Makhanga railway station to transport smoked fish. The cotton ginnery at Bangula 10 miles from Mchacha buys approximately 150 lb of smoked fish per week from Mchacha fish traders to feed its staff, and other potential local markets are being investigated. The Fisheries Department assists in bringing together potential markets and traders but takes no part in the actual negotiations or contracts.

The Fisheries Development Programme target is to construct 20 miles of all-weather road by 31 March 1978 in order to improve communications with the fishing villages and therefore make it easier for fish traders to get to them to purchase fish. It is anticipated that the new all-weather roads will facilitate the movement of fish traders and increase the beach demand for fish, which should then induce greater fishing effort and an increased fish harvest. The first 2¼ miles were constructed in 1975 to Mchacha, and 10 more miles of road are to be constructed in the coming weeks, one road from Makhanga to Karonga Village and linking up with the Mchacha road, and one from the East Bank road to the second ‘model’ fish landing at Ndombo in the north east area of the marsh.

A third fish landing, at Alumenda, serves the Western Bank of the marsh. This is the closest point on the River Shire to Ngabu, being situated 10 miles away by either of two roads, one of which has a good all-weather surface. A small harbour with storage and service facilities nearby has been constructed to form a base for the operation of the Fisheries Development Programme launches. The harbour site is formed by a quiet backwater of the River Shire.

Figure 4

Figure 4 Modified Ivory Coast-type brick smoking kiln

Figure 5

Figure 5 Canal at Mchacha fish landing

Figure 6

Figure 6 Drying racks, store and kilns at Mchacha

Figure 7

Figure 7 Fish drying on racks prior to smoking

(g) Unexploited stocks: Research has indicated that there is not a great deal of scope for further expansion of the marsh fishery, except perhaps in the north-eastern area, where improved access and communications may lead to more intensive and consistent effort on the part of the fishermen. The south-eastern area appears to be fully exploited, and in a small-scale tagging programme, 40 out of a total of 240 Clarias tagged were returned, a very high percentage. Estimates of ichthyomass, using rotenone quadrats, are to be made in the near future. These will, it is hoped, give some idea of the fishing intensity at present. The greatest scope for expansion therefore lies in fishing the River Shire itself. This is only lightly fished over long stretches because of the difficulties with currents and snags. The river has a much greater species diversity than the marshes and many species are virtually unfished. With the introduction of 17 ft canoes and Seagull outboard engines into the fishery it is hoped that a certain amount of exploitation of the river fishes will take place using drifting gill nets. Ratcliffe (1972) showed that this method was very successful when used at night, catching Labeo altivelis, L. congoro, Hydrocynus vittatus, Synodontis zambesensis and Eutropius depressirostris.

It is intended to introduce up to ten engines on credit. To obtain an engine (Seagull Silver Century short shaft) on credit, the fisherman must put down a deposit of K100 and pay back the remaining K200 within one year. He must attend a two-week training course at which he is taught theory of the petrol engine, Seagull construction, engine operation, fault finding, power boat handling and drift fishing. One engine has been sold so far on these terms.


In the next phase of the SVADP, more emphasis will be given to the development of the Ndinde Marsh, to the south of Elephant Marsh, where progress has been hampered by difficulties in communication and the absence of a fisheries station in the area.

Existing projects on Elephant Marsh will continue with minor modifications. The plans at present may be summarized as follows:

  1. Centralised fish landings: Two more centralised fish landings are proposed, one in the Mlolo area midway between the existing landings at Mchacha and Ndombo, and one at the north of the marsh in the Chikwawa Lagoons area.

    As Mlolo is close to the Thyolo escarpment road the landing could prove as important as Mchacha as an outlet for fish to the Thyolo/Mulanje areas where, because of the large labour forces employed by the tea estates, there is a high demand for fish.

    The Chikwawa area, because of its distance from the Fisheries Department stations in the valley, has not benefited as much from fisheries extension activities as areas further south. The establishment of a centralised fisheries landing/field office in this area should correct this imbalance.

    1. Fishermen training programme: The establishment of more centralised landings in Phase III of the SVADP will mean that more smoking kilns will be constructed in all parts of the valley. It will therefore be necessary and possible for fishermen to attend one-day courses on the use of smoking kilns at their local landings, rather than having to travel, in many cases, considerable distances to attend residential courses. Technical Assistants stationed at the landings will be able to organize short talks and demonstration of the kilns for traders and fishermen interested in their use.

      Training in modern methods of using fishing gear will commence later in the project after the fishing gear research officer has made his recommendations. One week training courses will be given at Ngabu.

    2. Gear research programme: Ratcliffe (1972) made preliminary experiments on modification of existing gears to improve their efficiency. In the next phase of the SVADP this work will be resumed under a Gear Development Officer who will work in close conjunction with the Fisheries Department's research unit. In the research programme the effectiveness of existing fishing gears will be evaluated and compared with new gears and modified existing gears.

  2. Fish processing programme: Sixty more demonstration smoking kilns are to be constructed at the new centralised landings on Elephant and Ndinde Marshes, and at other important fish landing sites on request for demonstration and extension purposes. Each will be provided initially with six trays free of charge, after which new trays will be supplied to individual fishermen and traders at a cost of K2.20 each. Portable smoking kilns will be constructed on request and sold to traders. Wherever possible traders will be encouraged to build their own kilns with supervision from Project Fisheries staff.

    It is also planned to establish firewood plantations at or near the landings so that by the end of the Project an ample supply of firewood is available close to the kilns. It is estimated that two acres of plantation per kiln should be adequate, although this will depend on the importance of the landing and amount of use of the kilns. Planning of these plantations will be incorporated into the overall forestry planning for the valley, under the responsibility of the Project Forestry Officer.

  3. Boatbuilding and credit programme: A further 500 of 14 ft and 17 ft canoes are to be built at the present ‘canoe factory’ at Ngabu for cash or credit sales to fishermen and traders. The ultimate aim of the Project is for the trained carpenters to establish themselves as independent canoe builders at fish landing sites. Careful supervision will be required until the canoe builders have acquired the necessary business acumen, and no time scale has been set in which the transition from a centralised SVADP controlled factory to fully independent boatyards will take place.

  4. Pollution monitoring: With the increased use of pesticides by both large and small-scale farmers in the Lower Shire Valley, it was thought necessary during Phase II of the SVADP to ascertain whether measurable residue buildups in the soil and fish were occurring. Fish and soil samples from various areas of the valley were therefore sent to the Tropical Products Institute (TPI) laboratory in London for analysis. Traces of organic pesticides were detected in the samples and consultants have subsequently visited the area and carried out field investigations. Fish samples are now sent to London on a regular basis to monitor pesticide levels, so that in the eventuality of these reaching unacceptable levels corrective measures can be recommended. Samples will continue to be sent to the TPI for analysis throughout Phase III of the SVADP, and consultants will be requested to visit the area when necessary for on-the-spot discussion with both agricultural and fisheries personnel.


In a marsh environment, fisheries on a large-scale commercial basis using active gears are impractical, and under these circumstances the major developments are usually concerned with improving the traditional fishery. Because of its ease of access, Elephant Marsh is more fully exploited than many marsh systems. The traditional fishing methods are fully adapted to the regime of fluctuating water levels, highest catches being obtained when water levels are rising at the beginning of the rains, and falling in the dry season. Basket traps are extensively used, often in weirs set across entrances and exits from river channels to seasonally flooded areas. Relatively clear areas in the marsh are fished using reed fences called psyailo (see: Ratcliffe, 1972 for details). Methods using modern materials include gill nets, which are used very extensively, cast nets, beach seine nets (in the very few areas where it is possible to find open water, usually on a stretch of river) and longlines. Under these conditions, where the fishing methods are fully adapted to the water regime, development has concentrated on improving facilities, where the lack of such facilities has inhibited full use of the available resources by the fishermen. During the rains communication between fish landing beaches and all-weather roads is often difficult. In Phase II of the SVADP three centralised fish landings were established: two have all-weather feeder roads and the third, Ndombo, will have a road constructed to it in the next few weeks. Both fishermen and traders were quick in taking advantage of these bases, which provided not only modern smoking kilns and fish storage sheds but also an easy means of getting fish to the markets. These landings also guaranteed fishermen that fish buyers would be present every day and conversely fish buyers knew that fishermen would be using these sites every day thus producing a stable ‘supply and demand’ situation.

Centralised fish landings not only benefit fishermen and fish traders but also give one common spot in an area where it is possible for Fisheries staff to monitor fish catches and fishing effort and to establish communication with people involved in the fishing industry. They also provide places where semi-formal training can take place and give a chance for Fisheries extension staff to be able to talk to fishermen and discover in which fields people need advice. Fisheries research teams working from these landings are able to directly compare their methods and results with those of local fishermen and to observe directly in the field the natural fluctuations in fishing effort and yield.

Following the success of the initial three landings, especially that at Mchacha which had natural advantages, situated as it is on an extensive lagoon system and only 4 miles from the railway, it is proposed to build two more landings to extend the influence of the Fisheries Department's activities.

The introduction of brick smoking kilns has been most successful at Mchacha where all 20 kilns are in full and continuous use. In other areas the natural conservatism of fishermen and traders alike has still to be overcome. Fish smoked in the new kilns absorb more of the smoke than those smoked over the traditional open pit and in consequence have a more bitter flavour. The traditional product is therefore preferred for local consumption, although traders interested in transporting large quantities out of the valley prefer the more efficient, quicker modern kiln. Another problem in introducing the kiln in areas away from the major landings is that fishermen, without the benefit of a canal out to the fishing grounds, land their canoes as near as possible to their homes. Few fishermen therefore land in the immediate vicinity of the kiln. Although the kiln may be more efficient overall in use of firewood, the fishermen intending to smoke his own catch will require less wood for a small traditional pit than he would to effectively produce enough smoke and heat for the brick kiln. The kiln is therefore only likely to be used when a trader buys enough fish from the fishermen in the area to effectively utilize the benefits of the kiln. Improved access for traders and increased extension activities in future should lead to an increased use of the kilns available. A number of traders have expressed interest in building their own kilns, and this will be encouraged whenever possible. A portable kiln constructed out of sheet metal has also been designed and offered for sale to traders at K20.

New demonstration kilns to be built are supplied with six trays initially. When these wear out (approximately two years) traders and fishermen will have to either replace them themselves or buy them from the SVADP at the cost price of K2.20. This policy is in accordance with the change in emphasis in the development policy agreed on in recent months. Up to now improved facilities have been provided by SVADP and the Government at no cost to the fishermen and traders.

Although this policy will obviously continue with the development of new landings and provision of demonstration kilns, processing and storage facilities, it is intended to persuade the fishermen to participate in the developments. If innovations have genuinely proved worthwhile and the fishermen approve of them, then it is in their own interest to cooperate, e.g. in the maintenance of landings and canals constructed initially at SVADP expense.

It is worth noting in this respect that the introduction of planked canoes into the fishery has apparently been a popular innovation, and the authors have noted more than one dugout canoe with a wooden plank skilfully built in to replace areas of rot. Prior to the introduction of planked canoes, dugout canoes were constructed from suitable hardwood trees in the area. However, indiscriminate felling of trees, particularly for firewood and charcoal, now means that suitable trees for canoe making are extremely hard to find and canoes are being built up to 20 miles from the water. In some areas canoes made of bark have been observed in recent months. These are not only very unstable but have a low carrying capacity, a short lifespan, and are extremely unsafe in the presence of crocodiles and hippos.

In the Middle Shire River, upstream of Elephant Marsh, two barrages have been constructed to control water levels for hydro-electric power generation. Operation of these barrages has major effects on the water levels in the marsh and consequently on fish survival and fishermen's catches. Welcomme (pers. comm.) has shown that there is a close relationship in the Shire Valley marshes between flood duration/height in one year and the size of the fish harvest the following year. It is therefore in the interests of the fishery that water levels should be maintained at the highest possible level. Also, if either barrage is to be closed, a gradual closure over a period of weeks has less drastic effects than a sudden closure which causes rapid draining, making the fish populations in the areas drained very vulnerable to predation by both human and animal agencies. Many interests are involved in the barrage operations. Above the barrages the level of Lake Malawi and therefore shoreline structures (harbours, buildings, etc.) are influenced, and below the barrages the river generates electricity, irrigates the SUCOMA sugar estate and marsh gardens, and provides transport. All interested parties are now consulted before alterations to the water flow are made, the aim being to develop a balanced operational regime taking into account all economic and social factors influenced by the barrage operation.


In this paper the authors have summarized the fisheries development work taking place in the Elephant Marsh fishery and have given reasons and justification for the programmes pursued. It is felt that many of these projects would have equal value in other floodplain fisheries in Africa and elsewhere, either in the same format described here or in a form modified to suit local conditions. The major limiting factor in the development of a flood-plain fishery is the problem of access to the marshes for traders, and the difficulty in marketing the fish. If these difficulties are overcome, as they have been and are being overcome in Elephant Marsh, the fishery can expand to fulfill its potential using both traditional gears which have evolved to suit the marsh conditions, and modifications to these gears which take advantage of modern materials. If road access is difficult then consideration can be given to the introduction of river “bus services”. A service of this nature is to start in the Ndindi Marsh in the near future, which will permit access to the East Ndinde area for traders and will enable fishermen to get their catches out of the area. The increased demand will therefore hopefully result in an increased effort and greater catches in this area.

Further possible development projects include the introduction of powered canoes to enable fishermen to exploit fishing grounds hitherto untouched because of their distance from the nearest landing, and improvements in processing techniques and facilities to enable a uniform high quality product to be produced.


Halcrow, W. and Partners 1954 The Shire Valley Project. A report on the control and development of Lake Nyasa and Shire River. 3 Vols. Halcrow Offices, London

Hastings, R.E. 1973 Fisheries Research Unit, Lower Shire. Report 1970–1973. Fisheries Bull. No.6, Lilongwe, Malawi

Hastings, R.E. 1976 Lower Shire Fishery Development Programme. Report 1973–1976. SVADP publ. Ngabu, Malawi

Ratcliffe, C. 1972 The fishery of the Lower Shire River Area, Malawi. Fisheries Bull. No.3. Ext. Aids, Zomba

Willoughby, N.G. and D. Tweddle 1977 The ecology of the commercially important species in the Shire Valley Fishery, Southern Malawi. Contribution to CIFA Working Party on River and Floodplain Fisheries

Willoughby, N.G. and R.S. Walker 1977 The traditional fishery of the Lower Shire Valley, Malawi, Southern Africa. Contribution to CIFA Working Party on River and Floodplain Fisheries



By fishery technology is meant not merely devising and development of more efficient fishing methods and gear but also easing the lot of fishermen while ensuring profitable fishing and sound use of resources. The kinds of promotional aid, including manpower training and extension work, required for various types of small-scale inland fisheries in Africa classified according to the principal environments are discussed in this paper.


La promotion de la technologie de la pêche vise non seulement à la mise au point et au développement de méthodes et engins de pêche plus efficaces, mais aussi à une pêche plus économique et plus facile, ainsi qu'à une exploitation plus rationnelle des ressources. La nature des interventions requises pour cette promotion dans les pêches continentales africaines, y compris celles concernant la formation et la vulgarisation, est étudiée pour les différentes pêcheries artisanales, classées selon les principaux types de milieu.


1. Fishery technology covers research on, devising of, and improvement of techniques employed in fishing. These techniques group direct and indirect means of catching fish (fishing gear, fishing vessels, locating and attraction of fish, studies on fish behaviour toward fishing gear, etc.) as well as fishing tactics and strategy (combination of means, sailing of vessels, etc.).

2. This paper discusses the principal tasks of fishery technology for inland waters of Africa but only for areas where difficulties of fish marketing do not hamper resource exploitation too much. Problems of keeping fish in good condition that arise in certain regions also lead to treatment of one particular aspect of technology, namely, preventing spoilage of the product between the time it is caught and initial sale, any possible steps that have to be taken necessarily being envisaged solely as far as the fishermen are concerned. In fact, by enhancement of profitability of fisheries, improvement of working conditions of the fishermen, ensuring sound utilization of resources and preventing spoilage of fishery products, better exploitation of Africa's inland fisheries resources can be achieved.

1 Working paper prepared by the Fishery Industries Division of the Fisheries Department, FAO, on the basis of the preliminary study prepared by P. Morissens and P. Lessent of the Fisheries and Pisciculture Division, Centre Technique Forestier Tropical (Tropical Forestry Technology Centre), Nogent-sur-Marne, France.

3. The inland waters of Africa can be grouped as follows: floodplains and streams; streams or parts of streams not on floodplains; shallow lakes; man-made reservoirs; and large deep lakes, more like oceans from the standpoint of fishery technology, that will not be dealt with in this paper.


Definition and description

4. By floodplains is meant lowlying flatland through which flow rivers which in seasonal spate inundate it. Fish landings depend largely on the extent and duration of the floods. At low water quantities of fish corresponding to the capacity of production of the flooded areas become concentrated in the river channel. Consequently most of the fish on flood-plains is found already concentrated and can easily be fished.

Fishery Resources

5. The total production of the floodplains is estimated at about 500 000 tons per year, or 30 to 35 percent of the total production of Africa's inland waters. Average productivity seems to remain fixed at about 40 kg/year per hectare of flooded area.

Social structure of fishermen populations

6. It is extremely difficult to draw a general picture of the social structures of fishermen's populations on floodplains given the great diversity of customs of the various ethnic groups of fishermen. For many of them fishing is an occupation that has been traditional for many centuries, with the consequent ritualization, the nuances of which it is often difficult to grasp. Therefore it is absolutely essential for those wishing to guide fisheries along new paths to make sure they do not too brutally jar fishermen's customs.

7. On the floodplains fishing grounds depend on the level of the water in the stream channel for which reason there is considerable seasonal migration of fishermen. Fishermen in floodplain areas are classified under three headings:

  1. occasional fishermen, i.e., farmers or stock raisers byvocation who practice subsistence fishing;

  2. seasonal fishermen, who combine farming with fisheries but do rather intensive fishing during part of the year, which sometimes involves migration over small distances;

  3. regular fishermen who fish year round depending on the level of the floodwaters. These are highly-specialized tribes that may undertake large-scale migrations sometimes leading them very far afield from their homes. The most typical groups of this kind of fishermen, mainly descendants of the Bozos and Somonos of Mali origin, as well as the Haussas originally from Nigeria, fish the Niger river.

8. All three categories of fishermen are found on most major floodplains; however their habits differ from those from the Niger characterized by the extent of their migration.

Small-scale or “artisanal” fishing techniques

9. Of all types of inland waters in Africa it is doubtless on the floodplains and rivers running through them that fisheries are most ingenious and diverse as regards fishing gear, vessels and strategy. This diversity is imposed by the different kinds of fishing grounds (river at peak flood, as the waters subside, and at low water) as well as by the diversity in behaviour of a great many fish species.

10. Fishing gear can be of two kinds:

  1. fishing gear “actively” used by fishermen for year round fishing especially when the waters are low, consisting mainly of seines and castnets; and

  2. so-called “passive” or fixed fishing gear used all year round as well, but particularly well suited for fish populations in movement. This type of gear works all by itself and consists mainly of fishing lines, gillnets, traps and baskets, and barrages.

Fishing gear

11. At the present time in Africa new types of gear are coming into use and customary techniques are giving way to new ones. For instance gillnets and castnets that 20 years ago were virtually non-existent have come into wide use. Generally speaking the most widely used fishing gear today in floodplains are gillnets, seines, castnets and, to a lesser degree, lines and baskets. The development of fishing techniques as far as gear is concerned is occurring mainly at the expense of types of gear that fishermen actively handle but that are impractical and difficult of upkeep such as the large “zemy” of Logone-Chari (large triangular nets used from pirogues).

Fishing vessels

12. The fishing vessels for floodplains come in a great many models. The most remarkable ones, owned by professional fishermen, are as a rule large, well built and well suited to river navigation. In areas where fishermen can readily obtain tree trunks, they are made out of single tree trunks while in more desert regions (Niger) they are made out of planks nailed together or else out of tree trunks with one or two sides built up of planks. Everywhere pirogues are either rowed or pushed with poles.

Organization of fisheries

13. Fishing methods are of three categories, corresponding respectively to low waters, floodwaters and subsiding waters.

a) Low water fishing

14. At low water the fish come to be concentrated in the residual pools left on the plains and in the main river channels so extremely intensive fishing can be done. During this period the best gear is definitely the so-called active fishing gear (seines, castnets, traps and baskets handled by fishermen, or ripnets, although fixed gear is also used to a large extent (gillnets, lines and traps). Of the latter, the gillnets which are coming more and more into use are the most efficient. This is by far the most productive part of the year for floodplain fisheries.

b) Floodwaters

15. From the fishery standpoint, flooding is itself divided into two distinct periods, namely, the period of rising water as the river comes into spate before flooding and the actual flood period.

16. At the beginning when the river is coming into spate certain categories of fish move in great abundance along the river channel and, because of their migration, are the appointed victims of fixed gear (gillnets, baskets, longlines with nonbaited hooks, traps). Fishermen also actively fish during this period. The most remarkable illustration of the strategy of active fishing when the waters are rising is that based on controlled drifting by fishermen of barrage nets or trolling along with the current, so to speak going to meet the migrating fish (for example: fishing of ‘Tineni’ (Alestes leuciscus) in the Niger river, combining the use of a barrage-net drifting between two pirogues with fishermen using castnets downstream). Drifting gillnets are remarkably efficient during this period.

17. During the peak flood period corresponding to the time when the plains are inundated, the fish are dispersed over an enormous area. This corresponds to the period of least productive fishing which then most often becomes a subsistence occupation. The most widely used gear are lines, baskets, gillnets and castnets. As a rule floodwater conditions are unfavourable for use of seines.

c) Falling or subsiding waters

18. While the waters are receding the fish resume migration toward the river, which phenomenon leads to resumption of fishing. At that time the fishing is centred on the population of fingerlings or juveniles born in the flood area.

19. Baskets and traps are the gear used to catch fish moving downstream. Small dams and drains can also be built by fishermen to facilitate operations of collection of juveniles (Ouémé, Logone-Chari). During this period fishing is often organized collectively, with redistribution of the catch according to strict customary rules.


20. The implementation of fisheries development programmes in tropical Africa depends essentially on structures facilitating fish transport and marketing. In regions where fish marketing seems difficult it is essential that these structures be organized before any work is done in the field of fisheries. A fortiori, no fishery technology programme has any chance of being effective unless such structures are available. In this connection highly productive but unexploited regions, such as the Kafue and Barotse valleys in Zambia, apparently need not be given priority in fishery technology efforts.

Role of technology in enhancing fishery profitability and improving fishermen's conditions

21. In order to increase the profitability of fishing, what is needed is to make fishing easier, more efficient and more economically profitable and to increase the income of the fishermen themselves. From the practical standpoint this implies work along the following lines:

Improved design and use of fishing gear and vessels. Improvement of efficiency of fishing operations - new techniques

22. In the best-known floodplains (Niger, Logone-Chari, Senegal), the level of fishery technology is high as regards fishing gear, their use and fishing vessels. If unsuitable nets are sometimes used this is due to failure of merchants to supply the right ones so the solution calls for supplying of materials for making the gear rather than improvement of design.

23. Improvement of gear in this thoroughly exploited type of zone therefore does not seem to be a priority matter. It is nonetheless true that when there are contacts between fishermen and technologists the latter should take advantage of the situation to offer help in this field. The kinds of improvement that can be made depend on the particular cases met by technologists or extension workers but essentially has to do with techniques of mounting and repair of gear (cut and mounting of nets from webbing, fabrication of metal traps or baskets that can withstand river currents), the construction and maintenance of fishing vessels as well as fishing operations themselves (sounder methods of use of gear).

New techniques - pisciculture

24. Most likely it will be during the actual flood period when the fish are widely dispersed that fishermen can benefit most from the introduction of more efficient, new techniques.

25. On the other hand in certain well specified places in the floodplains pisciculture production can be increased by practising a certain type of aquaculture during the dry season. As the waters recede it is possible in fact to build dikes or dam up the entrance to certain creeks thus forming ponds or swamps. These man-made bodies of water can be stocked with fingerlings or juveniles collected as the waters recede and they can be fished at the end of the dry season using the techniques of certain countries which already practise this type of pisciculture successfully, as in Benin and Nigeria. Fishery technologists can teach this in their extension work wherever they consider the use of this technique feasible.

Supplying and cost price of fishing gear

(a) Supplying of fishing gear

26. For the main floodplains of West and Central Africa (Niger and Logone-Chari), fishing nets and other gear are supplied by merchants who exchange for fish whatever the fishermen need (fishing gear, food, cloth, etc.). For that reason the fishermen themselves do not market their own products. But the nets, ropes, floats, hooks, etc. the fishermen are offered do not always meet the specifications for their fishing conditions.

27. In order to supply fishermen with the gear they need, two possible policy lines can be followed, namely:

convincing merchants to supply the fishermen with the kind of materials they require in their circumstances and according to their fishing needs; a more ambitious programme of work aimed at replacing or changing the old merchant-fishermen circuit by a chain of supply of materials at good prices for users.

28. The first policy proposed, while it has the advantage of simplicity and also no doubt of efficiency, has one drawback to the extent that it does not sufficiently improve the living conditions of the fishermen. The second policy therefore should serve as a basis as far as the supplying of fishing gear is concerned within a development programme launched in the regions where the above-described commercial circuits occur. This is an ambitious policy in that the new proposed system has to be substituted for the old circuits while ensuring both supplying of fishing materials and gear and various foods and fish marketing.

29. If fishing gear procurement cooperatives are set up solely for this one purpose the fishermen who cannot readily sell their fish will return to the traditional circuits - as has already happened. The system instituted must therefore aim at converting traditional circuits into independent commercial circuits for buying up of the fish directly from the fishermen by merchants and selling them the food and other things they need. A gradual change over seems extremely desirable because by its very nature it could facilitate fishery development operations. So it is advisable to determine how traditional circuits can be replaced by independent ones.

30. One solution, that of setting up big fishermen's cooperatives for the combined procurement of materials and gear and sale of fish should be deliberately discarded. Experience has shown that management of these bodies very rapidly is taken out of the hands of the fishermen and that they involve considerable operating costs. Rather what should be envisaged is the two distinct, but complementary, steps, viz:

  1. making fishermen aware that it is to their interest to sell their catch themselves rather than exchange or barter it. In order to ensure some chance of success for this phase of the operation it should be suggested to the fishermen that they group themselves in small associations so that commercial transactions will involve relatively large quantities of fish;

  2. setting up of cooperatives to supply fishermen with fishing gear. These bodies, to be located along the rivers at the main points of assembly of the fishermen, should not be too large.

31. In other fishing areas, as in Senegal and Benin, it appears that the commercial circuits are healthier because the fish landing places are less cut off. In these countries distribution of fishing gear through small fishermen's cooperatives can also improve conditions under which fishing is carried on as well as raise fishermen's income by supplying them with both cheaper and more suitable gear and materials.

(b) Cost of fishing gear

32. Most of the nets used in Africa are imported ones. Probably the fabrication of fishing gear in the user countries would make it possible to lower costs. That is why it seems important to suggest the setting up of industrial plants for the fabrication of fishing nets and gear in the vicinity of the main fishing grounds. These plants, which might become an integral part of the existing textile industries, would usually have to import their raw materials. However, setting up of such new plants can only be considered with the reservation that a preliminary technical-economic study indicate that it is advisable.

33. On the other hand net making can also be done locally as a handicraft (hand lacing of the webbing using imported twine) wherever local manpower is ample.

34. Finally the use of materials available locally (for instance twine or nets of natural textile fibres given a preservative treatment, weights made of terra cotta or cement) should be encouraged to the extent that they are cheaper and the gear is no less efficient.

Preventing the fish from going bad between the time it is caught and marketed in the Niger and Logone-Chari valleys

35. The fishing grounds in the Niger and Logone-Chari floodplains are enclaves entirely out off from the outside world so that a rather long time elapses between the time the fish is caught and marketed. Dry-cured fish becomes badly infested with ichthyophagous insects; the results of this infestation are serious and may involve losses as high as 25 to 30% of dried fish, equivalent to tens of thousands of tons each year for the two regions in question.

36. This situation is due largely to the above-described commercial relations between fishermen and merchants in these two regions. Since the fishermen do not actually sell their own fish they care very little about its preservation, being content with a barter system that has become customary.

37. The first step that has to be taken in these areas to prevent spoilage of dried fish by insects is therefore to make each fisherman responsible for the quality of his own product. To do so it is necessary that he himself sell his fish and that the sales price depend on quality. This brings us back to the recommendations on the subject of supplying of equipment and gear. Once the fishermen have become aware of these matters they can be taught appropriate techniques for fish curing, keeping, storage and packing. These techniques are simple, essentially requiring observation of strict discipline in the matter of cleanliness and airing of storage facilities. In practice proper storage can be organized by the fishermen groups mentioned in connection with fish marketing.

Role of fishery technology in encouraging correct fishing methods

38. Work in this connection should be conducted in collaboration with biologists specialized in fish stock assessment. Although the problems involved in sound fishing of stocks are always difficult to define, one thing is certain, namely that fishery technology is important for maintaining the fish population equilibrium by supplying good fishing gear and teaching the techniques of selective fishing in certain places. The purposes may be to avoid over-exploitation of the whole fish population or of certain species as the case may be or, on the contrary, to facilitate the catching of underexploited species.

39. In places where fisheries are based on a small number of species of similar sizes over-exploitation can readily be avoided by setting the fish net mesh sizes so as not to catch immature fish. Floodplains with their large number of species pose a much more complex problem, any limitation on net mesh sizes resulting in an imbalanced fishery for different species (great differences in sizes of species).

40. From a practical standpoint it seems sensible not to promote a technology for balanced fishing of different species except in areas where there is definitely an imbalance. Such an imbalance due to either over- or under-exploitation can be redressed by joint action of biologists, technologists and legislators.

Proposals regarding manpower training

41. In order to attain the various objectives discussed above, it is necessary, for those promoting the new technology, to have excellent contacts with the fishermen. Such contacts can be established through manpower training. From the practical standpoint such work could be based on national or regional manpower training centres with pilot outposts in the fishing areas. The purpose of these units is to establish and maintain direct contact with fishermen in order to teach them how to improve their techniques of fishing, fish processing or treatment as well as to set up better organizations for procurement of equipment and gear and the sale of fishery products. More durable indirect contacts with fishermen can also be established through “leaders” trained at the centres. Proposals for more detailed, concrete action projects suited to these goals will be discussed again in the annex.


Definition and description

42. What is referred to are well defined rivers the flooding of which does not extend to large areas. Many rivers and streams fall into this category along certain parts of their trajectory where they cross plains that are badly flooded during upstream or downstream high waters, as for example the middle portion of the Black Volta, the Comoë, the Bandama and the lower portion of the Congo river, etc.

43. Rivers or portions there of that fall into this category usually flow through rougher terrain than floodplains rivers, very often in forest areas. They vary extremely in size, from the lower Congo with its enormous discharge to small streamlets in the forests found everywhere in the wet equatorial tropics.

Fishery resources

44. Such rivers and streams yield much less fish in Africa than do the large floodplains, essentially because of the smallness of the production areas.

45. The fish populations here are also less fished because their density does not vary considerably over the year as happens in inundated areas (no great concentrations during the dry season). For this category of rivers or streams the best fishing season is still the low-water season.

Social structure of fishermen populations

46. With a total catch that is relatively small, fisheries are less well organized in this area than on the large floodplains (Niger, Senegal, Logone-Chari). This is also true of the social aspect of this organization, based on essentially seasonal or occasional fishing practised by the riparian peoples. Note however that in streams without floodplains in West Africa (Nigeria, Benin, Ghana, Ivory Coast) located close to the fishing zones of the Sahel (Niger, Logone-Chari) one finds seasonal settlements of regular fishermen from Mali or Nigeria.

Small-scale or artisanal fishery technology

47. In this milieu as a rule fishery technology is mediocre as compared with the major fishing zones on the floodplains. The often very active fish trade, a large part of which goes for consumption by the fishermen themselves, tends to limit contacts between fishermen and merchants along these waterways. Yet it is these very contacts which most often lead to better supplies of gear and equipment.

48. All the gear mentioned in discussing the floodplain areas are used for this type of stream as well (seines, gillnets, castnets, lines, traps and baskets) but generally at a lesser degree of efficiency. The fixed fishing gear (baskets, traps, barrages) are used most during periods when the fish are migrating (rivers coming into spate and when the waters are receding) while fishing techniques using seines, castnets or baskets are the ones that yield the major portion of the catch during times of low waters.


49. The main aims of fishery technology should be to secure supplies of the constituent materials and proper design of fishing gear. In the absence of large fishing centres it seems best to base such action upon the supplier units in certain towns or on itinerant units (boats on navigable waterways). Fishermen “leaders” can also be trained at pilot centres set up at fixed points along the rivers.

50. In areas where fish marketing problems occur it might be advisable to combine collection of fishery products with supplying of materials and equipment along the routes of itinerant or mobile units, as proposed by the French pisciculture mission on the Zaire river (Action de formation professionnelle à la pêche sur le bassin du fleuve Zaire, 1972–1976). Such units may be linked with the regional fishery technology centres. It does not seem advisable for them to dissociate work in the fields of fishery technology, fish processing technology and fish marketing.

51. In populous regions along the banks of waterways that will never supply more than a limited catch, it is advisable to take great care that sponsoring of exaggerated fishery technology development not encourage a trend to overexploitation of the fish populations. In some cases exertion of too great efforts to introduce new technology may endanger stocks, so this must be avoided.


Definition and description

52. All natural lakes of Africa that cannot be ranked among the so-called great lakes (Victoria, Tanganyika, etc.) fall into this category, being distinguished from the practical standpoint by fisheries organized only on a small, artisanal scale. The most typical such lake, but also the largest in this category, is Lake Chad which, with an area of between 10 000 and 25 000 km2, represents an enormous fishery potential. But Africa is dotted with very many small, large or medium-size lakes which if fished can have a considerable impact on the supplying of markets with fish.

53. Shallow lakes are of such diversity, ranging from the large lakes on the plains such as Lake Chad to the tiny mountain or hill lakes, that it is useless to try to describe them. However, all of them are hydrologically more stable than the above described rivers and streams. Some of them exhibit seasonal fluctuation of the water table (Lake Chad) but all of them normally offer year-round conditions suitable for fisheries.

Fisheries resources

54. Whereas out of total landings of inland waters of Africa the tonnage from such shallow lakes seems rather insignificant, the present-day production structure is such, due to its centralized aspect, as to offer one great advantage over other areas fished, viz: ratio between the area fished (production potential) and the length of the banks (landing facilities) is better for fishing than are rivers.

55. Also whereas these lakes often permit centralization of production, good for development of fisheries, it may prove difficult to fish them in their entirety due to the large distances that have to be covered under often precarious navigation conditions, a handicap for fisheries.

56. The natural productivity of tropical lakes varies in the extreme, ranging between 15 kg/ha for upland lakes to over 100 kg/ha for fertile lakes of volcanic regions. Average landings run about 50 kg/ha/year.

Social structure of fishermen populations

57. People leaving along the shores of natural lakes who practice fishing have as a rule been long settled there and because of this fishing often is done according to time-honoured custom. Among these populations one encounters various attitudes toward fishing, from those of ethnic groups whose sole occupation it is to those that absolutely refuse to fish at all.

Small-scale or artisanal fishery technology

58. Since fish migration is rarely as great in lakes as in streams because of the stability of the aquatic milieu, conditions for fishing are less diversified. Hence the use of often simpler fishing techniques in lakes than in rivers. The most widely used gear in this type of environment is definitely the gillnet, next come castnets, seines, lines and baskets.

59. Because of the great distances that have to be covered and the difficulties of lake navigation the factor that either limits the development of fishing or makes it feasible is the type of fishing vessel. Contrary to what one may find on certain floodplain streams (the Niger), very frequently the vessels used on lakes are inappropriate; being too small and driven only with paddles they cannot be used for fishing in rough weather. The best illustration of this aspect of artisanal fishing technology is certainly that of Lake Chad, where fishermen use boats made of assembled papyrus stems (for lack of timber in the region) entirely unsuitable for navigation on this vast body of water.


60. Coming to lakes we enter a field of work where fishery technology can considerably enhance the profitability of fishing as well as improve the lot of the fishermen. In this type of environment one finds every possible situation, from complete absence of fishing of lakes that are too inaccessible or too enclosed to overexploitation of small lakes with overpopulated shores. Excluding such extremes, technology work can be of prime importance for improvement of lake fisheries.

Enhancing fishery profitability

Improving design and use of fishing gear and vessels

Fishing gear

61. While the improvement of traditional fishing techniques does not seem absolutely indispensable on floodplains, at least during low water when the extreme concentration of the fish makes their catching very easy, the same is not true of lakes where the far more dispersed and more sedentary fish learn to avoid fishermen. A satisfactory level of fishery technology in a well-exploited area is indispensable here to ensure fishermen success somewhat in proportion to their fishing effort.

62. However all too often the lack of supplies of suitable fishing gear and equipment combined with the way fishing is organized in small units (two fishermen, one pirogue, a few dozen metres of netting) makes for a very low technological level as far as gear is concerned. The type of gillnet most widely used nowadays is not really efficient unless there is sufficient drop and it is raised properly. All too often, for instance the fishermen hang too much webbing on the ropes, which gives them longer mounted nets but of greatly diminished efficiency. Only rarely also do these small fishing units have several nets of a sufficient variety of mesh size. Mesh size is generally adjusted to the most common fish species and the most usual size, leaving other fish species in the lakes underfished.

63. Other fishing gear suited to shallow lakes, such as longlines, castnets or fyke nets are not now used everywhere but could be easily brought into use. Original techniques for fishing, such as the “acadjas” in Benin, may also be useful when environmental conditions are favourable (see page 11 LAGOONS).

Fishing vessels

64. The difficulties of navigation are often the reason for underexploitation of lakes. In the majority of cases the fishermen have only pirogues ill-suited for covering long distances and dangerous in bad weather. As a rule these are dug-out pirogues, often too low, or else made of more or less well-assembled planks. A factor that can be absolutely decisive for better fishing in lakes as well as for improving fishermen's conditions is the wider use of properly designed and constructed vessels with appropriate means of propulsion.

65. From experience however it has been learned that when trying to do extension work along these lines one encounters considerable inertia among freshwater fishermen who, while they are usually very receptive to ideas of introduction of new fishing techniques, are less so when it comes to the matter of navigation. There is no chance of successful introduction of new types of fishing vessels - attempted in various parts of Africa (Chad) - unless the extension services conduct lengthy continuous campaigns in the areas concerned. Furthermore even suitable models of vessels more costly than the traditional pirogues have no chance of being accepted in certain areas unless the fishermen are certain they will increase their incomes and enhance their safety. This therefore limits opportunities for introducing new types of new vessels to areas where fishermen would like to increase their production and earnings (dynamic populations).

Supplying of equipment and cost prices

66. As in the other milieu studied above (floodplains, streams) fishermen on shallow lakes can be helped to earn more by setting up structures for supplying them with appropriate and cheap fishing gear. In this connection it seems important to encourage widely the fabrication of nets and webbing in local enterprises and to organize small fishermen's cooperatives for procurement of materials.

Role of fishery technology in sound exploitation of fish populations

67. Generally speaking it can be said that fewer species of fish are caught in shallow lakes than in streams. This characteristic facilitates technology work in the field of sound exploitation of resources to the extent that there is less to be concerned about as regards balanced fishing for various species.

68. From the practical standpoint the two situations requiring intervention are over- and underexploitation.

(a) Underexploitation

69. There are two cases, namely:

  1. underfishing in the sense that fishing effort covers several species and size classes but the lake as a whole is underfished. There may be several deep reasons for such poor exploitation of fishery resources, namely:

    commercial:   difficulties in marketing of fishery products;

    social:             too few inhabitants along the banks or the inhabitants are not interested in fishing;

    technological: fishermen's vessels unsuited for fishing over the entire area of the lake, poor gear.

    The answer to underexploitation for these reasons involves intensification of fishing effort. One possibly important factor making for progress is extension work to teach fishermen how to use vessels suited to lake navigation.

  2. Under fishing, despite a relatively great fishing effort, may be due to poor spread over various species and size classes, which in turn may be attributed to the use of gear ill-suited to fishing in such bodies of water. Such cases of underexploitation are met frequently in the shallow lakes of Africa. The cause may be outmoded rules and regulations concerning minimum limits on net mesh sizes inherited from old administrative structures. In such case it is up to the technologists to encourage diversification of gear (gillnets with different size meshes, castnets, lines) while the administration, in accord with the technologists, takes on the task of revising fishery laws and regulations to foster conditions for sound working of these bodies of water.

(b) Overfishing

70. In intensively fished bodies of water one of the most effective ways of avoiding or reabsorbing overexploitation consists in fishing in such a way as to catch immature fish.

71. While the problem of such limitation is very difficult to solve in the case of fish populations consisting of many species, in the case of lakes where landings with each type of gear often involves only one or two types of fish, simple restriction on net mesh dimensions may have the desired effect.

72. Here too it is up to the fishery technology experts to act in two ways, i.e., to influence governments (for revision of legislation) and to influence fishermen (by supplying and teaching use of more suitable fishing gear and equipment).

Proposals as regards manpower training

73. As in the floodplain and stream areas, good contacts between fishermen and fishery technology spreaders seem indispensable to bring about profitable and sound utilization of resources. Such contacts, once again, can be established through manpower training work aimed at making fishermen aware of the value of appropriate fishing techniques. One particularly satisfying solution consists in setting up pilot centres on the lakes for training of fishermen “leaders”.

74. In lake areas ease of navigation and the relative concentration of the fishermen populations are factors favouring maintenance of regular contacts between manpower recruitment and training staff on the one hand and local populations on the other. It seems equally desirable for manpower staff to be trained in regional fishery schools. This aspect of training seems to be at least as important as direct extension work, ensuring the permanence thereof as it does.


Definition and description

75. Lagoons constitute an environment in between inland waters and sea waters. Lagoons, located in flat coastal areas, are fed fresh water from coastal streams and sea water through channels. In some places they can contribute a good deal to inland fisheries (Benin, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, etc.).

76. What has been stated above regarding shallow lakes holds true in large part for lagoons. Note, however, some fundamental differences between lagoon and lake environments pertaining essentially to stability of the water environment (chemical characteristics), fish biology (migrations), and the sometimes great quantities of crustaceans, not to speak of the small-scale artisanal type of fishing techniques used.

Fishery resources

77. Lagoon fish can be divided into two kinds:

freshwater species such as Tilapia, Heterotis, Clarias, etc., species that can thrive in brackish waters, and

euryhaline species that migrate between sea waters and inland waters, comprising many species, the most typical one doubtless being the mullet.

78. Lagoons are distinguished from other inland waters by sometimes considerable shrimp resources. Shrimps are very much like euryhaline fish in their migrations and are a commodity of great commercial value. Shrimps reproduce at sea and migrate between the lagoons and the seas following a well-known cycle. These migrations are taken advantage of to catch adults as the tides go out and the immature ones as the tides come in.

Small-scale artisanal-type fishery

79. From the standpoint of the technology, i.e., the practice of small-scale artisanal-type fishing, lagoons resemble lakes very much, differing however as regards the techniques for catching migratory species (shrimps and euryhaline fish). These special techniques are based on the use of a combination of barrages and traps (shrimp traps in the lagoons of Dahomey, barrages to catch mullet in the lagoons of Madagascar).

80. Mention should also be made of one fishing technique peculiar to the lagoons of Benin, known by the name of “acadjas” fishing. The acadja consists of a network of three branches set out in shallow mud with the purpose of getting the fish to concentrate in one locality. Actual fishing consists of encircling the acadja with a net, removing the branches and catching the fish - a remarkably efficient technique.


Role of technology in enhancing profitability of fisheries and improvement of fishermen's conditions

Improvement of design and use of fishing gear and vessels improving fishery strategy - new techniques

Fishing gear and vessels

81. The recommendations formulated for shallow lakes and regarding the improvement of design of fishing gear and vessels are valid for lagoons as well. These recommendations pertain especially, we repeat, to the two following points:

extension work to teach techniques of mounting, use and maintenance of appropriate gear; bringing into use of vessels designed for navigation on large bodies of water.

82. On the other hand the presence of migratory species in lagoons (shrimps, euryhaline fish) calls for a complete organization of fishing using traps and barrages. Such gear, the design of which is sometimes very elaborate, would often gain by being made of modern materials. Total or partial substitution of traditional materials used (latticework, plant fibres) by either synthetic fibres or metal can in some instances improve working conditions of fishermen.

Fishery strategy

83. As regards fishery strategy and to the extent that the environment lends itself (shallow lagoons, availability of tree branches, not too dense fishermen populations), it may be worth-while spreading the very efficient fishing techniques used along the coasts of Benin (acadjas and driftnets). These techniques not only make fishing easier but are also beneficial as regards productivity (due to growth of a biological cover on the branches making up the acadjas).

New techniques

84. Lagoons are places where more or less intensive aquaculture systems can be introduced. Widely developed in southeast Asia there seem to be no counterindications for their introduction in the lagoons of Africa where they can greatly increase landings. Except for oyster culture beds their introduction does depend on potential supplies of agro-industrial by-products.

Pisciculture in enclosures

85. This is a method suitable for whole lagoons or shallow portions of large lagoons. Fish fingerlings, often those of mullet, are caught in open waters and raised in enclosures where they are fed up to a marketable size. These enclosures are made of a fence of trellises or latticework fixed to posts set into the bottom mud.

Pisciculture in cages

86. Again drawing on a method that originated in southeast Asia, it is possible to develop pisciculture using cages in lagoons. Fingerlings are placed in floating cages in places sheltered from the tides and fed there.

Shrimp farming

87. It is possible to raise shrimp in enclosures by a method like that used for fish. To the extent that controlled reproduction of shrimp does cause serious technical problems it seems advisable to start such pisciculture using shrimp in the larval or postlarval stages caught in their natural environment.

Oyster culture

88. Wherever there is a market outlet for oysters it is possible to develop oyster farming in lagoons. From the practical standpoint the oysters can be gathered young on beds and can be set out to grow and fatten in special grounds, on cultch, in claires or on platforms elevated from the bottom.

89. New techniques succintly described here offer a promising future for fishermen in the most densely populated lagoons, now characterized by the fact that the present degree of exploitation cannot be exceeded by conventional fishing methods.

Supplying of materials and sales prices

90. As for streams and lakes, the organization of structures to supply fishermen with appropriate equipment and gear at the best prices seems extremely advisable for those working in lagoons. Here again one should advise the organization of a regional industry for fabrication of fishing nets as well as small supply cooperatives.

Role of fishery technology in sound exploitation of fish populations

91. Biologically speaking the lagoon environment is very complex. The fauna consists of many species of fish and crustaceans (shellfish) and for this very reason is difficult to fish in a really balanced and sound manner. The difficulty involved in balanced exploitation virtually confines the possibilities of fishery technology work in this field to situations where there is either over- or underexploitation.

Proposals for manpower training

92. Usually lagoon fisheries involve extremely dense fishermen settlements, sometimes so large as to minimize incomes of the fishermen and productivity of these bodies of water. In such cases it would be absurd to encourage the use of modern technology the only result of which would be to aggravate overexploitation or to decrease the number of fishermen. On the other hand it may be advisable to introduce and develop new techniques such as aquaculture mentioned above.

93. However, these are high level techniques and bringing them into general use cannot be done unless a considerable effort is made to train the fishermen. At this technical level (intensive and semi-intensive aquaculture) it is indispensable that efforts be first directed to the manpower training staff itself before working with the fishermen. Hence the suggestion that training facilities include regional manpower training centres, pilot and experimentation units out in the field and itinerant extension and training units. Here again extension work should be focussed on individuals selected from among the most dynamic in the fishermen population to act as “leaders”.

94. In lagoon areas where the extent of fishing is not such as to be able to develop the new techniques mentioned above, the manpower training facilities suggested for shallow lakes is perfectly appropriate. In major outline training based on fishermen “leaders” is intended to promote the use of technology more appropriate than traditional fishing vessels and gear (nets cast from pirogues).


Definition and description

95. This category includes all man-made lakes, small, medium and large size. A distinction has to be made between large reservoirs (over 1 000 km2 in size) and smaller man-made lakes found throughout Africa.

96. The major reservoirs (lakes Nasser, Kariba, Volta, Kainji and Kossou) are intermediary as far as size is concerned between the so-called shallow lakes described above and the enormous lakes of East Africa which will not be discussed here at all. As a rule small-scale artisanal type fishing is practised there, but very often it seems possible to develop alongside with this more intensive fishing of pelagic species.

97. Small and medium-size reservoirs are fished in much the same way as shallow lakes. However, all of them differ from natural lakes due to their recent construction and their purposes (for the energy production, for irrigation purposes). These differences essentially affect the hydrological and chemical cycles of their waters, fish biology and social structure of the fishermen populations.

Fishery resources

98. It can be estimated roughly that the productivity of, or landings from, these reservoirs becomes stabilized at around 50 kg/ha/year once the highest levels have been attained in the period when water is first let in. Small shallow reservoirs are perhaps slightly more productive than others.

99. Among the major reservoirs mentioned above (Nasser, Volta, Kariba, Kainji, Kossou) it seems that only Lakes Volta, Kossou and Kainji are now being fished satisfactorily as regards productivity. Lake Nasser, and especially Lake Kariba, seem to be largely under-fished.

100. A multitude of small and medium-size reservoirs throughout Africa constitute a considerable production potential on the same footing as the large reservoirs, though they are often underfished. In a country like Upper Volta where fish is in short supply there are many such reservoirs, which makes their underuse all the more regrettable.

101. The basic fish population of such reservoirs is made up of species that flourish in barred waterways. Passage from a running water environment to one of calm waters normally causes a profound change in the basic populations. Some species may disappear entirely in the new environment while others will remain and flourish.

102. In some cases it may be important to introduce certain species into reservoirs to fill in unoccupied ecological niches. Usually this means introducing planktonophages not represented in the river fauna (at Kossou, Tilapia nilotica and Heterotis niloticus; at Kariba, sardinelles to stock the pelagic zones).

Social structure of fishermen populations

103. As there are no previous settlements of fishermen who use customary methods of recently built reservoirs, fishing is done there by local farmers who take up this new occupation or else by regular fishermen who come in from elsewhere. Sometimes the bringing in of foreign fishermen to the region causes serious social problems (as in the case of Mali fishermen brought to Lake Kossou).

Small-scale, artisanal-type fishery technology

104. The first fishing gear to appear on reservoirs are gillnets; castnets, baskets and lines follow. Because of the incumbrance of brush or forest vegetation, seines are only rarely utilized. As a rule the vessels that the newly settled fishermen introduce on reservoirs are ill-suited for long distance navigation and for bad weather.


Role of technology in enhancement of profitability of fishing and improvement of conditions for fishermen

105. Fishery development on reservoirs - a new environment - enjoys the benefit of work facilities that do not exist in areas where fisheries are already organized according to ancient custom. These facilities may comprise the possibility of guiding overall fisheries organization and of doing extension work to teach certain fishing and navigation techniques. In order to take advantage of all this, it is advisable that the fishermen be given training as soon as water is let into the reservoirs.

106. All too often, unfortunately, the value of pisciculture in reservoirs has not been sufficiently taken into account at the time of their design so that fisheries come to be organized, at least in the major reservoirs, under the unchecked influence of the old fishermen or regular fishermen from other regions. Small and medium-size reservoirs located far from the major fishing grounds do not even benefit from this influence of regular fishermen which very often explains the low level of their exploitation.

Improvement of design and use of fishing gear and vessels.
Improvement of fishing strategy - new techniques

Fishing gear and vessels

107. At the small-scale, artisanal-type fishery level the problems arising in reservoirs are comparable to those in shallow lakes. Of top priority is the improvement of fishing gear and especially of fishing vessels.

Fishery strategy (fishing of pelagic species)

108. In major reservoirs stocked with pelagic fish it seems possible to organize fishing of this portion of the lake population. Such fisheries, which require a special strategy, can be organized either in intensive fashion or for small-scale fishing, depending on the resources.

109. Small-scale artisanal fishing can be done using lights to attract the fish in the pelagic zones and, as fishing gear, large dipnets or small ringnets. It is advisable that the pirogues used for this type of fishing be sufficiently large and wide for fishing during long night hours in the middle of the lake.

110. Mid-water fishing can also be practised using pelagic bull trawls (trials with them have been made on Lake Volta), ringnets or large dipnets. Vessels from 8 to 12 metres in size needed for this type of fishery have to be motorized. However, the development of such techniques on reservoirs is not likely to have any marked effect as far as improvement of the condition of the indigenous fishermen goes.

New techniques

111. As in all bodies of waters situated in the vicinity of places where industrial by-products are available, it is possible to envisage improvement of the catch from reservoirs through intensive pisciculture using floating cages or cages placed on the bottom along the banks.

112. The prospects for such pisciculture in Africa - practised in the populous areas of southeast Asia - are now under study. As far as we now know it seems desirable to combine any effort to bring such techniques (pisciculture using cages) into general use with research.

Supply and fabrication of gear and materials

113. As for the other environments described in the preceding chapters the supplying of fishermen on reservoirs with appropriate equipment at good prices should be envisaged. Here again the fabrication of webbing or netting in local enterprises and the organization of small procurement cooperatives should increase the benefits that the fishermen derive.

Role of fishery technology in sound fishing of fish populations

114. Problems of keeping stocks in equilibrium and of sound utilization of resources that may arise in reservoirs are often linked to underfishing of part or of all species. Generally speaking it is up to the technologists working on underfished bodies of waters to encourage the use of fishing gear and vessels that will secure maximum efficacy of fishing effort.

Proposals as regards manpower training

115. Such work should be done at two levels:

  1. among manpower training staffs educated at regional fishery schools with curricula in which fishery technology is a major subject;

  2. among fishermen at pilot centres, by itinerant extension units and including training of fishermen “leaders”.


116. Governments have only limited means for fishery technology work, so discretion must be exercised within the framework of well defined priority aims. The recommendations on which it seems development of fishery technology in inland waters in Africa should be based are as follows:

  1. In all cases, independently of the devising of more efficient or more selective fishing gear, fishery technology work should promote more economically profitable fishing and bring about an improvement in the working conditions of fishermen.

  2. In the still numerous parts of Africa where difficulties of transportation and marketing of fish hamper fishery development, it does not seem advisable to exaggerate fishery technology work by going beyond the above-mentioned measures.

  3. Aid to fishermen in procurement of materials and equipment should be organized in all the types of environment studied. However, such work should always be done only taking into account the particular socio-economic situation in each of these environments.

  4. Improving the efficiency of fishing gear and vessels is not a priority matter in those environments where fisheries are already close to optimum productivity; fishery technology work then has as its main objective the maintenance of balanced fisheries.

  5. In underfished environments it is advisable above all to determine the deep causes of such underfishing. It may have to do with a low level of technology as far as fishing gear and vessels are concerned but most often it is conditioned by socio-economic problems (difficulties with fish marketing and transportation or populations little inclined to doing fishing). Fisheries development in environments where there is underfishing always calls for aid and support in the field of fishing gear and vessel technology.

  6. In environments where there is obvious overfishing of one or several species, fishery technology work should aim primarily at re-establishing the optimum level and redressing fish population equilibrium especially through the introduction of more selective gear or gear better suited for fishing as yet underfished stocks.

  7. An essential factor for implementation of any development programme in this field is the maintaining of satisfactory contacts between technologists and fishermen. It appears advisable to take advantage of such contacts to try to make fishermen aware that it would be to their benefit to group themselves in small associations. Such associations should help them market their fish under optimum conditions and constitute a favourable social milieu in which new techniques can be introduced.

  8. Contacts between fishermen and technologists can arise out of a manpower training campaign conducted essentially at two levels, namely:

    that for manpower training and extension work staff;

    that for fishermen through pilot centres, extension work units and supporting itinerant units or through so-called fishermen “leaders”.




Fishery technology training centres

These training centres undertake training of manpower training and extension staffs and should be situated near the major fishing zones to train agents on a national-wide scale. Multi-national type training may be envisaged under certain conditions; it has the advantage of shared operating costs, for example shared among several neighbouring countries having comparable fisheries. This training work may be organized at several levels (for fishery officers, head technicians, technicians) and should consist in courses both abroad and in other fishing regions. While these training courses will be geared to the level of the agents, it is desirable to have cadres at all levels profit from them.

Fishery Technology Division

The Fishery Technology Division has a triple function:

definition of work in coordination with the policy of the service in charge of fisheries (relations with the biologists, legislators, etc.);

organization of field operations (extension work, manpower training, research and experimentation, supply of gear and equipment);

consultant services for the industries of the production sector (fabrication of nets, fishing vessels, etc.).

Local fishery technology centres

These local centres will be placed directly under the Fishery Technology Division of the Department of Fisheries. Their functions are identical to those of the division but the scope of their work does not go beyond dealing with problems specific to the region where they are located. They are the intermediary agencies between the national division and field operations units.

Research and experimental fishing

This is one of the activities of the Fishery Technology Division intended to solve the problems linked principally with the exploitation of resources and the development of new techniques (for example: fishing of pelagic fish on the large reservoirs, making more efficient or more selective gear, contribution to the study of pisciculture problems in enclosures and in cages, etc.).

Fishermen equipment supply centres (situated in fishing areas)

These centres are not necessarily placed hierarchically under the regional technology centres, which nevertheless support them. It seems in fact desirable for the small supply cooperatives to be managed in the long term by the fishermen themselves.

Pilot extension work units (situated in fishing areas)

These are units that come under regional centres and use for demonstration purposes the techniques to be popularized (demonstrations of mounting and utilization of fishing gear, construction of fishing vessels). Here fishermen “leaders” are trained to guide their own people in the organization of fishing.

Itinerant extension work units (in the field)

Charged with maintaining continuous contact with fishermen populations, these units do extension work to familiarize them with new techniques and new organization of production (small groups of fishermen). To ensure these units a maximum chance of success, their objective can initially be combined with aid in the form of supplying of equipment and, possibly, teaching of improved methods of handling and treatment of the fish, with a view to better marketing of fishery products.


Possibilities are limited for increased fishing during the flood period which usually coincides with the spawning season. Intensive fishing at that time is unadvisable, as it might adversely affect future exploitation of stocks. Improvement of subsistence fishing during that period might however be considered, especially if it could lead to a reduced fishing effort on juveniles.

The principles presented on fishery community centres are already being implemented with encouraging results in some countries such as Ghanaand Malawi. Elsewhere, as in Burundi, Kenya and Tanzania, results have been irregular or less satisfactory, particularly due to the inadequacy of the technical support provided by extension or training services to fishermen communities or fishing centres. Certain failures can also be accounted for by inadequate prior assessment of the technical competence of fishermen. On the other hand it was also emphasized that the setting up of facilities for supplying food and fishing equipment, particularly appreciated by fishermen, often was a prerequisite for the successful operation of fishery centres, particularly as regards the active participation of fishermen.

The problem of supplying fishing equipment is as crucial in certain countries, where governments have to take action to remedy deficiencies in that respect, for instance by encouraging the practice of group orders or by facilitating tax-free sales to fishermen.

As regards the general economy of inland fisheries, stress was laid on the importance of reducing production costs, as well as on the value of creating rural jobs in fishing or fish culture.

The documents on fishery technology and fishery community centres, which are highly valuable for inland fisheries in Africa, can serve as guides, particularly in preparing integrated development programmes for artisanal fisheries adapted to the various prevailing conditions. It is advisable that these documents be published, after further elaboration, with a view to their distribution to member countries.

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