International Governance of Fisheries Ecosystems: Learning from the Past, Finding Solutions for the Future

Chapter 3: Fisheries Management in Malawi: a Patchwork of Traditional, Modern, and Post-modern Regimes Unfolds

Aaron J. M. Russell, Tracy Dobson, and John G. M. Wilson

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781888569995.ch3

Malawi is a land-locked country in south Africa that is renowned for its warm hospitality, scenic beauty, and aquatic biodiversity (estimated at 500–1000 endemic species of fish). However, this nation has recently also been burdened by a series of droughts, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which is currently estimated to infect 940,000 Malawians, (UNAIDS 2006) and a poor economy, that combine to give it one of the lowest Human Development Index rankings in Southern Africa (UNDP 2005). Given these livelihood constraints, the aquatic biodiversity of Lakes Malawi, Malombe, Chiuta, Chilwa, and the Shire River (see Figure 1) is all the more important, as it provides primary or secondary livelihoods for an estimated 350,000 people, (FAO 2005) and contributes to the incomes of an estimated 1,000,000 people (Malawi 1999). Finally, fish is the cheapest source of animal protein available to Malawians, and due to population growth, the annual per capita amount of fish available has decreased from 12.9 kg in 1976 to just 3.6 kg in 2001 (FAO 2005).

Over the course of the later 1900s, the growth of fisher populations and the expansion of new, more efficient fishing gears, combined with poor government regulation, led to the declines of several key commercial fish stocks (Figure 2). These declines culminated in the 1993 collapse of the chambo (Oreochromis spp.) fishery (from 4–7,000 tons per annum down to about 200 tons per annum) in Lake Malombe (a small lake connected to Lake Malawi by the Upper Shire River), prompting a significant change in the Malawi Fisheries Department’s (FD) management philosophy1 Recognizing that it lacked the local legitimacy and resources needed to enforce its centralized management regime, the government embarked on a process of devolving management authority to fishing communities.