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U.F. Scholtz
Malawi-German Fisheries and Aquaculture Development Project, P.O.Box 206, Zomba
F.J. Njaya
P.O.Box 47, Mangochi
S. Chimatiro
H. Hummel
Malawi-German Fisheries and Aquaculture Development Project, P.O.Box 206, Zomba
S. Donda and B.J. Mloko
P.O.Box 593, Lilongwe


Malawi, a landlocked country in southern Africa, is dominated by Lake Malawi, which covers 20% of the country's surface. This has allowed the development of a remarkable fishing industry. The highest landings comprised 88,500 t in 1987 but dropped to 67,000 t in 1993, mainly landed at lakes Malawi, Chilwa, Malombe and Chiuta. Next to supply of fish as a major protein source for the population, the fishing industry creates direct employment for approximately 40,000 people and for at least 20,000 people in secondary sectors. This paper overviews the trends in the fishing industry, including commercial and artisanal landings, species taken and gear used. Special emphasis is laid on the national fishery policy and the status of fisheries legislation. Despite a clear legal situation and explicit fisheries laws (e.g. minimum size, closed seasons, etc.), the approach of a centralised management to fisheries has failed. The Participatory Fish Stock Management Program (PFMP) was launched in 1993 and is jointly implemented by the Fisheries Department and the German Agency for Technical Co-operation (GTZ) under the framework of the Malawi-German Fisheries and Aquaculture Development Project, MAGFAD. This paper gives an overview of experiences and the setup of the programme, which includes co-operation with user groups (Beach Village Committees), income generating activities, a credit scheme and the extension activities, in particular a fisheries radio programme, produced and presented by the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation. In conjunction with PFMP, amendments to the Fisheries Act were made and gazetted in June 1996. Further amendments concerning community participation and the legal status of the user groups were drafted in February 1997. An initiative concerning a common national approach was launched by the project and includes co-operation with the Department on National Parks and Wildlife and the Department of Forestry which are at present also implementing similar programmes in Malawi. Concerning fisheries co-management programmes, selected case studies from Lake Malombe, Lake Chilwa and Lake Chiuta are presented. Information is also given on the fishery at Mbenji Island (Lake Malawi), a unique traditional fisheries management scheme which has been implemented for 45 years by Chief Msosa, his elders and a local fisheries committee. Based on the results achieved in the current regional project, a national implementation of the PFMP is at present in the appraisal phase. Details of the proposed multi-sectoral “National Aquatic Resource Management Program” are also presented.


Despite being a landlocked country, thanks to Lake Malawi the country has developed a remarkable fishing industry. The maximum catch was 88,500 t in 1987 but it dropped to 67,000 t in 1993. It is estimated that there are about 40,000 fishermen on this lake. The secondary sectors such as fish trade and boat-building employ at least 20,000 people. Considering the average household size in Malawi, about 250,000 to 300,000 people are dependent on the success or failure of the fishing industry. The status of the fishing industry is due to the fact that about 20% of the total area of the country (119,000 km2) is covered by water. Lake Malawi (27,000 km2) is the seventh largest freshwater lake in the world. Its fish fauna comprises more than 1000 species and is thus unique among freshwater lakes. Other major fisheries with a very high local importance are situated at lakes Malombe (390 km2), Chilwa (0–2590 km2) and Chiuta (113 km2) and in the Shire River system.

The products of the fishing industry play a significant role in the nutrition of the population which is currently estimated at 11 million. Fish contributes about 70% of the animal protein intake in the country. The high population growth rate of 3.2% p.a. will, however, in the future increase the pressure on the sector. The national per capita supply of fish currently stands around 7.7 kg/year, as it has dropped drastically from the 12–18 kg/year levels that were registered in the 1970s (Hara, 1996).


2.1 Small-scale industry

The small-scale fishery exploits the inshore demersal resources. The principal fish taken are mainly different cichlid species, but also cyprinids and different catfish species (Table 1). The landings of the small-scale fishery comprise about 90% of the total catch. The 1994 nation-wide frame survey revealed 10,600 gear owners and 32,600 assistants who operate a fleet of 13,000 small crafts, mainly dug-out canoes (78%) and planked boats. The fishing methods used throughout Malawi vary considerably. “Traditional” gears comprise gill nets, scoop nets, cast nets, traps and hook-and-line. The more sophisticated and cost-intensive gear type, the seine net, has increased in number during recent years and is used as open water gear (chilimila net, nkacha net) or operated from beaches as chambo beach seine or kambuzi beach seine. Seine nets with a length up to 1500 m and 5 m depth are very catch efficient but destructive, in particular if operated with small meshes like ½ and ¼ inch or mosquito netting at the bunt.

2.2 Industrial sector

A semi-commercial industry was established in the southern part of Lake Malawi in 1968 and today comprises 17 units of pair trawlers, 20–26 foot boats powered by a 2 cylinder diesel engine. They exploit demersal stocks to a depth of about 20 m. The commercial industry operates in deeper waters (<50 m). The fleet comprises three stern trawlers and two lift net units which use light for attraction.

Table 1. Commercially important fish species in Malawi.

FamilyScientific nameVernacular name
Tilapiine CichlidaeOreochromis lidoleChambo
O. squamipinnisChambo
O. karongaeChambo
O. shiranusMakumba
Tilapia rendalliChilunguni
Haplochromine CichlidaeLethrinops “pink head”Kambuzi, Mbaba
Copadichromis viginalisKambuzi, Mbaba
Othopharynx spec.Kambuzi, Mbaba
CyprinidaeEngraulicypris sardellaUsipa
Barbus paludinosusMatemba
Rhampochromis sppNcheni
ClariidaeClarias gariepinusMlamba
BagridaeBagrus meridionalisKampango

2.3 Aquarium fish trade

The aquarium trade for the world famous Lake Malawi cichlids is in the hands of one entrepreneur operating off Senga Bay. Fish are caught by traps, small seine nets and divers and are also bred in captivity. Almost all catches are exported.

2.4 Aquaculture

Compared to the production of the capture fisheries sector, a quaculture production with approximately 200 t per year, is very low. Shortage of suitable land and the erratic rainfall pattern limits aquaculture potential and it will never be a substitute for the capture fishery. Yet, smallholder aquaculture, as it is practised in the Southern Region of Malawi by approximately 1700 farmers, is of very high importance for the household economy. The extension work of MAGFAD has focused since 1993 on the promotion of integrated aquaculture, a concept which is based on the construction of a small water body and its management plus the numerous benefits for the smallholder farming system, e.g. irrigation of crops with pond water during the dry season. Production data have shown the benefits of the integrated farming approach, as for example a 650 m2 pond allows an annual surplus income of 1900 Kwacha (US$130), an amount which is of high significance in a rural area where the average farmer's surplus income amounts to 310 Kwacha. In addition, a pond allows a daily supply of fish for the household by hook and line fishing (Scholz and Chimatiro, 1996).

2.5 Fish processing and marketing

The marketing pattern in Malawi is dependent on the infrastructure which at present does not favour fresh fish trade due to bad road conditions, availability and high cost of vehicle transport and the existence of only two iceplants, which are located in Mangochi District on Lake Malawi. Thus, about 50% of the catch is sun-dried and 30% is smoked, the rest being consumed fresh (10%) or entering the chilled/frozen fish trade (10%) (Hara, 1996).

The 1994 Government economic report states that about 7 million tonnes of fuelwood are needed per annum. 70% are consumed for domestic use, the rest by formal industry such as tobacco and tea and informal industry such as brick making and fish processing. Deforestation is evident and is also a constraint to the fish processing industry in certain areas as traders are forced to buy from dealers. An alternative to traditional processing methods was achieved by introducing of the chorkor smoking technology in the Chilwa/Chiuta region in 1988. However, the technology never really took off due to high input costs, in particular chicken wire. A breakthrough was achieved at Lake Malombe, based on the work of a fish trader and a fisheries extension officer. Their new “BENA” kiln is based on the chorkor technology but is round and uses old bicycle rims plus wire extracted from scrap tyres.


The official Malawi government policy regarding the fisheries resources aims to “maximise the safe sustainable yield of fish stocks that can economically be exploited from the national waters; improve the efficiency of exploitation, processing and marketing, promote investment in viable rural aquaculture units and exploit all opportunities to expand existing, and develop new aquatic resources. Particular care will be taken to protect endemic fish fauna, not only because these are scientific and educational assets, but they represent a particularly vulnerable major economic resource.

According to the Laws of Malawi, fisheries management, legislation and enforcement is under the responsibility of the Department of Fisheries, a division of the Ministry of Forestry and Natural Resources. The number of staff amounts to 566 officers, about 50% are fisheries assistants who are involved in field activities. Besides the headquarters in Lilongwe, four regional headquarters and 27 district stations are operated.

The current fisheries regulations are laid down in the 1977 Fisheries Act (Laws of Malawi, Cap. 66:05). Amendments were made in 1979, 1984 and 1996. The existing fisheries regulations permit sufficient measures for fisheries management and could have been used accordingly. These regulations are in particular : closed seasons (Section 39); the necessity to obtain a fishing licence (Section 3); prohibited methods of fishing (Section 38); prohibited fishing gear, gear dimensions (Section 58, seventh and eighth schedule); minimum takeable length of fish (Section 58, ninth schedule); power of fisheries officers to arrest persons who commit an offence (Section 43); and licences to be checked on request (Section 44).

However, due to various reasons, the centralised management approach by enforcement of regulations through Government institutions can be considered a failure. Indicators are the declining national catch figures and local examples of overfishing like the Lake Malombe case.


In 1993, the Malawi Fisheries Department requested the German Agency for Technical Co-operation to assist with the implementation of a Participatory Fisheries Management Program scheme. Pilot activities were implemented in 1994 under the auspices of the Malawi-German Fisheries and Aquaculture Project (MAGFAD) in collaboration with UNDP/FAO, World Bank and ODA. A comprehensive study of the initial phase of the programme was published by Hara (1996).

The initial setup included seven components (Bell and Donda, 1993): community participation; change of the current fisheries legislation and policy; research and monitoring; public relations and extension; licensing; gear compensation and income generating activities (IGA's); and law enforcement. During the implementation of the programme, certain components and sub-components had to be changed or were discarded and new components included.

4.1 Community participation

The central part of the programme is the establishment and training of local fisher committees (Beach Village Committees, BVCs) which act as intermediaries between fishing communities and the Fisheries Department. They provide a two-way channel of communication, in particular concerning the discussion and adoption of fisheries regulations and extension work.

The groups are elected at a community level. The 10–14 members are mainly fishermen although efforts are made to include traders and fish processors (many of them women) in the work. Traditional authorities like local chiefs and village headmen are ex officio members in the area of their jurisdiction. It was proposed to fund the groups through payment of sitting allowances (Bell and Donda, 1993) and diversion of fisheries license fees.

After initial training by the project in group dynamics, leadership, etc. and the adoption of a constitution, it is suggested that groups be involved in management components such as discussion and adoption of fisheries regulations, licensing and record keeping of fishing gear and boats, control of their beach and fishing area, namely gear and license inspection, organisation of extension sessions and participation in fisheries enforcement.

4.2 Legislation and policy

The implementation of the PFMP included certain changes in fisheries legislation, namely gear dimensions (e.g. minimum mesh sizes) and empowerment of BVCs through provision of a legal basis in the Fisheries Act. Fisheries regulations which were discussed and adopted in 1994/95, were gazetted in June 1996. Proposals concerning an incorporation of community participation into the Fisheries Act were elaborated by Prof. Tracy A. Dobson, Lecturer at the Law Department, Chancellor College, Zomba (Dobson, 1996).

Prof. Dobson's amendments to the proposed Fisheries Conservation and Management Act were in the field of adding of new definitions (e.g. BVCs, regional fishermen's organisations), and adding of entire new parts and sections:

(new) Part: Ownership of the Fisheries of Malawi

(new) Section: As a critical natural resource, the fisheries of Malawi in its fishing waters shall constitute an integral part of the natural wealth of the people of Malawi and shall be conserved and managed for the benefit of the people of Malawi. It shall be the duty of every person to make use of the fisheries in ways which promote their health and conservation.

(new) Part: Local Community Participation

(new) Section: Participation of fishing communities in conservation and management of the fisheries.

(1) Members of the fishing community shall participate in the conservation and management of the fisheries of Malawi through Beach Village Committees (BVCs) and regional fishermen s associations. The authority of BVCs shall extend to fishing and related activities within the fishing areas associated with them. Regional fishermen s associations areas of authority may be identical to fishing districts as set out in Section 55 (1) or may encompass larger areas.

(2) Beach Village Committees may form and shall be recognised under this Act to participate on behalf of fishing communities in conservation and management of the fisheries. Each BVC shall adopt a constitution that directs its operation. A model constitution shall be provided to BVCs by the Director of Fisheries. A constitution may provide for a BVC management subcommittee to manage the affairs of the committee on a daily basis.

Department of Fisheries personnel shall provide basic support services to BVCs, including but not limited to clerical work and supplies and record maintenance.

(a) BVC membership shall be drawn from persons engaged in all aspects of the fishing industry associated with a particular fishing beach, included but not limited to: fishing, processing, fish marketing and fish trading.
(b) BVC officers shall be selected from the members of the committee.
(c) The officers of the BVCs shall be honorary fisheries officers under Section 6

(3) Duties of beach village committees. Within their fishing areas BVCs shall share with the Department of Fisheries responsibility for the conservation and management of the fisheries. In particular, BVCs shall

(a) register fishing vessels of small scale commercial and subsistence fishermen under Section 10, and maintain records of vessels registered;
(b) issue fishing licenses to small scale commercial fishermen under Section 15, and maintain records of licenses issued;
(c) in conjunction with the fisheries protection officers, enforce fishing regulations regarding

1- fish species permitted to be caught
2- fish size
3- closed seasons and fish sanctuaries
4- requirements as to gear size, type, stowage
5- requirements as to methods of fishing

(d) in conjunction with fisheries protection officers, enforce conditions specified in licenses;
(e) in conjunction with fisheries protection officers, enforce Section 31(2) a,b,c,d,e,and f; and,
(f) have the authority under Section 33 (1)(c) and (d) to seize vessels and other items until the end of 48 hours after seizure, by which time either fisheries protection officers or police officers shall take charge of seizure actions

(4) BVCs may create regional fishermen s associations. The areas of regional associations may correspond to fishing districts as defined in Section 57(1) or may encompass larger areas.

(a) Each regional fishermen s association shall adopt a constitution that directs its operation. A model constitution shall be provided to associations by the Director of Fisheries. Department of Fisheries personnel shall provide basic support services to regional fishermen s associations, including but not limited to clerical work and supplies and record maintenance.
(b) The officers of regional fishermen s associations shall be selected from the members of the association.
(c) Officers of regional fishermen s associations shall be honorary fisheries officers

(5) Duties of regional fishermen s associations

(a) Regional fishermen s associations shall represent the interests of the fishing population.
(b) They shall be responsible for conveying conservation and management recommendations developed by their association to the Director of Fisheries and /or the Fisheries Advisory Board on behalf of their constituent fishing communities

1-At least 180 days in advance of final action, the Director of Fisheries shall provide the associations with proposed changes including but not limited to draft management plans, regulations, statutes and statutory amendments related to fisheries conservation and management.
2-An association or group of associations may request meetings with the Director of Fisheries and/or the Fisheries Advisory Board to discuss proposals or provide written comments to the Director of Fisheries or the Board or both

(6) Any regional fishermen 's association may sue and be sued in its own name.

The draft amendments were incorporated into the Draft Fisheries Conservation and Management Bill in February 1997 and are at present being revised by the Ministry of Justice to be presented to Parliament. So far, the Ministry of Justice was extremely co-operative in the process. The new Act will not only include changes regarding community participation but also a decentralisation of power of decision making from ministry level to department level. The proposed Act is further going to be harmonised with the Land Acquisition Act, Deeds Registration Act, Water Resources Act and the National Parks Act.

4.3 Research and monitoring

Fisheries research and monitoring is conducted by the Fisheries Research Unit in Monkey Bay, supported by the ODA funded Aquatic Ecology Project. Monitoring is done through the Malawi Traditional Fisheries Assessment Program and via special surveys like the annual frame survey.

4.4 Extension

Fisheries extension is today a combination of different approaches and extension aids (Table 2). A modified Training + Visit approach still exists in parts of the field extension programme, which includes two field meetings per BVC per month. A special event is the annual BVC forum where three members per BVC plus traditional leaders discuss events of the past year. Special events are further inter-BVC visits plus visits to other regions, e.g. the PFMP scheme of Chief Msosa. Extension aids used are leaflets and posters, video is used on a very limited level during meetings. A newsletter in vernacular language to decision makers and BVC members is currently being drafted.

Table 2. MAGF extension package: Extension methords/aids, number of persons targeted and costs (Malawi Kwacha) per farmer (15 MK=1US$). SWAP: Success, Weakness, Aims and Problems, (a methord of participatory extension). PRA: Participatory Rural Appraisal.

Extension methods and aidsRequirementsAnnual costsAnnual # PersonsCost per farmerRemarks
T+VMotorbike, spares, fuel, allowances etc.60,0004001501 Fieldworker
Extension outpost1 Field staff, other staff, construction260,00072036020 Trainings/year
Open days1 mini bus etc., driver, allowances310,000300103020/year/station
On-spot-trainingMotorbike, spares, fuel, allowances etc.44,0007006320/year/station
SWAP1–2 facilitators, motorbike etc.46,0002,4001920/year/station
PRA4 Extension workers, motorbikes etc.88,0002,4003720/year/station
Staff trainingAllowances, training material70,000  Fisheries:15.
Other 70
Slide shows12 V projector, battery, slides etc.15,0002,4006On spot training
PostersEditor, printer3.0002,4001.3On spot training
PamphletsEditor, printer13.0002,4005On spot training
  Usodzi walero1 vehicle, prod. costs, air time, field trips330,000104 mio0.032 broadcasts/week
Magfad Band1 Mini bus, allowances, equipment400,0003,0001302 shows/month

The programme is accompanied by the weekly broadcasted fisheries radio programme “usodzi walero” (a day's fishing). It is a forum for all kind of fisheries matters presented in vernacular languages. The distribution of extension messages has so far been hampered by the fact that e.g. each fisheries extension officer in the Mangochi District had to cover a coastline of approximately 70 km, a distance which required the use of motorcycles. The radio programme, however, reaches a much larger community, as the number of radios in Malawi is estimated to be 1 million. The annual costs for usodzi walero are similar to the costs for one set of tires for each motorcycle of the fleet (Table 2).

4.5 Licensing

Licensing of fishing gear is still the responsibility of the Fisheries Department. However, it is proposed that an agreement between the Department and BVCs be amended in the Fisheries Act. Also pending is the flow-back of license fees to the user groups similar to schemes implemented in wildlife management in Malawi.

4.6 Gear compensation

In the initial study in 1993, a proposal was brought up to compensate gear owners in the form of grants/netting material (a) for converting existing nets to comply with new regulations, (b) for removal of nets and boats. The Fisheries Department was to be responsible for procurement, storage and replacement of net materials. The projected cost for the net replacement of undermeshed nets with ¾ inch nets was expected to be US$ 93,000.

However, when the programme was properly discussed, it emerged that donations from Government and donors are a particularly critical issue. Taking into consideration that the necessary change of resource management can only be achieved through a change of the target group's understanding, the gear compensation scheme was not put in place. Unfortunately, messages concerning free handout of nets and net purchases through the project trickled down to the community. From today's experience, the promises made under the previous management appear to still have a negative impact even four years later.

4.7 Income generating activities and credit

Since the gear compensation was discarded in 1995, a stronger emphasis was laid on IGA activities and credit for net replacement. Based on pressure from the community (which was still expecting free nets), a net-replacement programme, implemented by the Commercial Bank of Malawi, was launched in 1996. The scheme has been linked to commercial interest rates which were 50% p.a. in 1996. One of the pre-conditions to obtain a loan was to pay 10% of the requested amount into a savings account. During the initial phase credit for the replacement of undermeshed nets was distributed the repayment rate was 87%. During the second phase the approach was changed as net panels instead of cash were given.

The initial IGA's programme was taken over from UNDP in 1997. Next to loans to fisher groups, women's groups are a special target, in particular IGAs in conjunction with fish processing devices. It is the target of all programmes to link the groups to other existing lending schemes as was done with 16 groups who received loans from the Malawi Rural Finance Programme. Further activities in this area will include literacy and numeracy classes through resident school teachers plus training in simple business skills and bookkeeping.

4.8 Law enforcement

Law enforcement by Government institutions is still seen as necessary by the fisher community, and the demand for enforcement is expressed in various meetings. Today the enforcement unit is called in by BVCs, e.g. during violation of the closed season or when undermeshed nets are being used. The fisheries enforcement unit is under the responsibility of the World Bank Fisheries Development Program.

4.9 Co-operation with other programmes

MAGFAD launched an initiative to co-ordinate participatory management activities in the Departments of Fisheries, Forestry, and National Parks and Wildlife, which are all under one Ministry (Ministry of Forestry and Natural Resources). Malawi is at present at a stage of including more user groups into the management of their natural resources, such as controlled use of the 75 forest reserves by the local community. In conjunction with the GTZ-funded Nyika Plateau/Vwaza Marsh Border Zone Management Program (Dept. of National Parks and Wildlife) a flow-back of license fees (revenue sharing) is proposed, as 20% of the generated income from the national park is supposed to be given to the surrounding communities for development projects.

The so-called NARMACO (National Resource Management Committee) meets at regular intervals to discuss common approaches in programmes, such as handling of the issue of sitting allowances, future concepts of revenue sharing, etc.


5.1 Lake Malombe

Lake Malombe, an impoundment on the Shire River, is located south of Lake e Malawi. It covers an area of 390 km2 and has a mean depth of 4 m (maximum 6 m). The development of the fishery is well documented (FAO, 1993) and represents a classic case of change in species abundance related to the use of inappropriate fishing gear. The maximum catch was 15,500 t in 1988, but declined considerably in the 1990s (Table 3).

Until the mid 1980s, the fishery was based on catches of a large cichlid, the c hambo (Oreochromis spp). From a total catch of 12,800 t in 1982, 8200 t consisted of chambo. In 1994, the total catch was 5600 t with only 150 t of chambo, 90 % comprised small (5–8 cm) haplochromid cichlid species, so-called kambuzi. The main reasons for the decline in landings and change in species abundance was the increase in the use of small-meshed (0.25 inch and less) seine nets, which replaced the traditional gill net fishery. A second reason (Banda and Hara, 1994) was the destruction of the abundant macrophytes, resulting from dragging of seine nets.

Table 3. Key data on Lake Malombe Fisheries based on data from Malawi Fisheries Department.

YearGear Owner/CrewGill netsChambo SeineKambuzi SeineNkacha SeineTotal catch (t)Chambo catch (t)
198164810362772 75005960
1982     128008320
198328518112035 76004460
1984250874520145 102006560
1985241767715202 84005250
1986195854718224 136005900
1987     124001900
1991     9500260
1992     8000300
19953267510 522631900*195

* Kambuzi only

The change in species abundance also had an effect in economic terms. Bell and Donda (1993) estimated a loss of K 28 million (1993 prices = US $ 9 million) when comparing the 1982 and 1990 catch figures, which were of a similar tonnage, as a result of the replacement of the chambo fishery.

In 1997, there are 18 user groups at Lake Malombe. They have adopted new fisheries regulations as follows (Table 4):

The proposed gear regulations were gazetted in June 1996. The adoption rate of ¾ inch increased from 17% in 1994 to 60% in 1995 and 85% in 1996. The remaining owners of unchanged gear are mainly fishermen from Lake Chilwa which do not fall under the authority of Malombe chiefs.

The Lake Malombe fishing community is today at the stage where regulations, management measures and co-operation with the department are accepted. Catch statistics and statements of fishermen reveal the first positive results of the approach. As an example, catch of kambuzi species increased from 800 t in 1994 t in 1995. Chambo catches increased from 79 t (1996) to 195 t (Table 3).

Table 4. Fisheries regulations of Malawi, comparison of 1979 fisheries regulations (old) and amendments made in 996 (new)

AreaGearRegulationHeadline LengthNet DepthMinimum MeshProhibition Period
Lake MalombeGill netOldNo restriction4.5 m76 mm (3")  
NewNo restriction4,5 m76 mm (3")  
Shore seine netOld100 m10 mNo restriction1 Jan.31 March
New ("Kambuzi)500 m10 m19 mm (¾")1. Nov.31. Jan.*
Nkacha netOld: not definedno restriction
New250 mno restriction19 mm1. Nov.31. Jan.*
Mosquito netOld3 m1.5 mno restriction
New: bannedBANNED
Chalira netOld:not definedno restriction
New: bannedBANNED
Lake ChilwaGill netOldno restriction70 mm (2 ¾") 
Newno restriction3 m70 mm (2 ¾") 
Shore seine netOld300 mNo restrictionno restriction 
New300 mno restriction12,5 mm (½") 
Nkacha netOld: not definedno restriction
New: bannedBANNED
Mosquito netOld3 m1.5 mno restriction
New: bannedBANNED
Chalira netOld: not definedno restriction
New: bannedBANNED
Lake ChiutaGill netOldno restriction
Newno restriction63 mm (2 ½") 
Shore seine netOldno restriction
Newno restriction1.5 m63 mm (2 ½") 
Nkacha netOld: not definedno restriction
New: bannedBANNED
Mosquito netOld3 m1.5 mno restriction
New: bannedBANNED
Chalira netOld: not definedno restriction
New: bannedBANNED

* not yet gazetted

During the last annual meeting in December 1996, the following pending matters were discussed and adopted:

At the meeting other management measures were discussed. Enforcement of the regulations entirely by traditional authorities and BVCs is still seen as not fully applicable, as the action has no legal base in Malawi legislation. Government involvement in this regard is still seen as essential and the fisheries enforcement unit is called in by user groups to enforce regulations.

Recommendations from BVCs ranged from a total closure of the lake for two years to a ban of nkacha seine nets. However, the majority of fishermen opted for a three-month closed season and no change of the minimum mesh size of ¾ inch, which means it was decided to continue the kambuzi fishery.

5.2 Lake Chilwa

Lake Chilwa is a very shallow lake (max. depth 4 m). The water regime is dependent on rainfall and evaporation as there is no drainage river system. The size varies between a maximum area of 2500 km2 and almost nil, as it dried out seven times in this century, the last time in 1995. On average, it has a mean water area of 750 km2 of open water and 390 km2 of associated wetlands. The maximum annual catch was 25,000 t in 1988. The main species in catches are Barbus, cichlids and Clarias species.

The development of the fishery is also characterised by the invasion of small meshed seine nets. Fishermen and traditional authorities approached the project in 1994 to assist with the management of the lake. So far, 18 committees were formed and are functional. Management measures during the drying out in 1995 concentrated on a ban on fishing in the few remaining water areas, e.g. in river mouths. The ban was followed throughout except for a few cases of poaching close to the Mozambique borders, in Mpoto lagoon and the use of katupe (Syzigium cordatum), a plant used traditionally as fish poison, mainly by women.

After the lake filled again in 1996, the community agreed to close the fishery until further decisions are made. Experimental fishing from December 1996 showed about 20% mature fish in samples. Beach samples taken from hook and line and trap catches in March 1997 showed a much higher proportion of mature fish.

The Lake Chilwa area is now receiving abundant rainfall and flooding which has destroyed much of the crops. The population is eager to start fishing as no alternative sources of income exist, such as catching of waterfowl during the drying out period. An opening of the lake and new regulations will be discussed in March 1997, the proposed fishery regulations will include a ban on nkacha nets, a minimum mesh of ½“ for shore seine nets and 2 ¾” for gill nets.

5.3 Lake Chiuta

Lake Chiuta covers an area of 113 km2, the mean depth is 5 m. The lake does not dry up, the annual catches range from 700 t (1986) to 2000 t (1984), mainly cichlids and catfishes.

Lake Chiuta is at present the most successful example of adoption of a co-management scheme by the local community. The demand for improved management was expressed first in 1994 as the fishing activity of 300 non-resident nkacha units caused a rapid fall in catches for resident fishermen, whose fishing activity was based on traps, gill nets and longlines. Discussions concerning regulation led to the adoption of a minimum mesh of 2 ¾ inch for all kinds of gear used. The new regulations were announced by Chief Kawinga in June 1996, and led to the emigration of nkacha fishermen as they were not willing to change the mesh size. The stocks have meanwhile recovered and sufficient catches are achieved by traditional gear.

5.4 Mbenji Island

Mbenji Island is located in the central part of Lake Malawi, approximately 60 km north of Senga Bay. The fishery is mainly based on utaka (Copadichromis spp). Since the 1950s, a strict management regime has been conducted by Sub-Chief Msosa and his elders. It consists mainly of a closed season from December to March, to allow stocks to recover. During the closed season, nobody is allowed to stay on the island in order to fish in surrounding waters. The closing ceremony is marked by reports to the chief from the committee of elders and the fishing committee chairman on events and any contravention of the regulations and discipline measures taken during the previous season.

The opening ceremony starts with the chief and the elders who arrive on the island early in the morning to offer their sacrifice (nsembe) to their ancestors to bless the coming fishing season. Events during both ceremonies mainly involve traditional dances and a public address of the chief re-emphasising the need to comply with the regulations and the existing restrictions.

Further regulations comprise a ban of alcohol, gambling and marihuana (chamba). No women are allowed on the island. Another regulation is the limitation of fishing gear types to those sanctioned by the committee. Fishing with light attraction, for example, is seen as destructive and hence not permitted.

The quality and quantity of the fish landed has convinced many traditional leaders from other parts of the country of the benefits of community management, as regular visits (and invitations to other areas) are a part of the extension programme.


6.1 Lessons learned

From the beginning, the implementation of the Participatory Fish Stock Management Program was affected by various factors. In favour of the programme was the disastrous stage of some local fisheries which led to its acceptance at the target group level. The participation programme came during the transition of Malawi from an autocratic one-party state to a democratic country. The PFMP therefore not only necessitated training and sensitisation of the user groups but also of fisheries extension personnel, e.g. in participatory extension methods and sustainable project management.

However, Government officers at all levels, including decision makers and field extensionists relied on the old Government policy of an overall responsibility, which included ownership of resources and problem solution in a top-down manner. This was contradictory to self-help mechanisms or decision making by local communities. The policy of dependence on external help was also facilitated by various donor funded relief programmes, donor aid and, later, gifts and numerous promises by politicians during election campaigns. In the initial formulation of the programme mistakes were made which still have an effect four years later. These were:

As these activities can be seen as contradictory to certain aspects of development policy such as sustainability, they were cancelled after long discussions with BVCs in 1994. As an alternative to replacing undermeshed nets the project had to enter the troublesome field of fisheries credit, which was implemented through the Commercial Bank of Malawi, as loans from Government institutions are generally seen as grants as has been proven by numerous failed agricultural credit programmes. A lot of extension effort is still being spent on these initial promises.

In the field of PFMP, some questions are still to be answered:

6.2 Status of the current programmes

Today, the status of fisheries management in Malawi ranges from a full government based management to a 100% user group based management and can be categorised using the classification by Sen and Nielsen (1996):

Lake Malawi: (Co-management, Type A)
The lake, in particular the south-east arm, can be classified as Type A (Instructive) with trends towards Type B (Consultative). Regulations exist but intensive fishing takes place without much enforcement from the Government side. The catch, in particular chambo, is declining. The community in certain areas is sensitised and cases are reported where owners of nkacha open water seine nets from Lake Malombe and Lake Chilwa are chased by local chiefs.

Lake Malombe: (Co-management, Type C)
The mistakes made during the initial phase of the programme, in particular the promise of free net replacement, gear compensation and a sitting allowance of US$ 1 per day per BVC member, still has a negative effect, causing increased extension efforts. The legal status of BVCs through the Fisheries Act is also pending.

Lake Chiuta: (Co-management, Type D)
The Malawi Government, though the Government Gazette, endorsed the regulations which were adopted by three fishing communities, e.g. the ban of nkacha nets.

Mbenji Island (CBRM, Type E)
The management scheme of Chief Msosa is outstanding but does not comply with the term of Co-management, as Government has not been involved in the decision making of the chief.

Figure 1. Status of community-based fisheries management in Malawi (based on Sen and Raakjaer-Nielsen, 1996).

    E. Informative
   D. AdvisoryFigure 1. Mbenji Island
  C. Co-operativeFigure 1. Lake Chiuta 
   Figure 1. Lake Chilwa 
 B. ConsultativeFigure 1. Lake Malombe  
A. Instructive    
Figure 1. Lake Malawi    

6.3 Outlook/prospects

The development of community-based regimes in Malawi is still quite new and will only be successful in connection with the national democratisation and decentralisation process. A nation-wide extension of the programme was considered in 1996, as the creation of several isolated programmes will not solve the problems of the fishing industry of Malawi. As fishermen are highly mobile and migratory, nkacha fishermen evade the Malombe closed season by moving to Lake Malawi. The introduction of their fishing technology, which operates mainly in shallow waters, is today seen as one of the reasons for the decline of the chambo fishery.

As data on the Lake Malawi fishery showed declining catches, the German Government was requested to extend support for a management programme for all water bodies of Malawi, based on the experience already made by MAGFAD. The proposed “National Aquatic Resource Management Program” being presently appraised, is expected to operate through all regional fisheries offices, giving support to the extension staff, fisheries research and enforcement units, where required. BVCs will also be strengthened through programmes directly oriented to the aspects of community participation in fisheries.


Banda, M. and M. Hara. 1994. Habitat degradation caused by seines on the fishery of Lake Malombe and Upper Shire River and its effects. Paper presented at the CIFA Seminar on Inland Fisheries, Aquaculture and the Environment, Harare, Zimbabwe, 5–7 Dec. 1994. Banda, M. 1995. A preliminary report on investigations into the biology of Kambuzi species in Lake Malombe. In: Proceedings of the Fisheries Research Symposium 1994. Department of Fisheries.

Bell, R. and S. Donda. 1993. Report on community participation consultancy. Malawi-German Fisheries and Aquaculture Development Project Report.

Dobson, T. 1996. Community participation and natural resources legislation in Malawi. A report to the Director of Fisheries. Malawi-German Fisheries and Aquaculture Development Project Report..

FAO. 1993. Fisheries management in the south-east arm of Lake Malawi, the Upper Shire River and Lake Malombe, with particular reference to the fisheries on Chambo (Oreochromis spp). CIFA Technical Paper No. 21. FAO, Rome. 113p.

Hara, M. 1996. Problems of introducing community participation in fisheries management: lessons from the Lake Malombe and Upper Shire River (Malawi) Participatory Fisheries Management Programme. Southern African Perspectives No. 59. Centre for Southern African Studies. University of Western Cape. RSA. 28p.

Scholz, U. and S. Chimatiro. 1996. The promotion of small-scale aquaculture in the Southern Region of Malawi, a refection of extension approaches and technology packages used by the Malawi-German Fisheries and Aquaculture Development Project (MAGFAD). In: Vieh und Fisch. Fachliche Beiträge über Viehwirtschaft, Veterinärwesen und Fischerei aus Projekten und der Zentrale. GTZ Publication, Eschborn, Germany.

Sen, S. and J. Raakjaer-Nielsen. 1996. Fisheries co-management, a comparative analysis. Marine Policy 20(5): 405–418.

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