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Give a man a fish ... The Lake of Stars


“Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” This saying coined by Anne Ritchie (1837–1919) in her novel, Mrs. Dymond (1885) may have been true in 1885 but it’s not anymore. Overfishing is a global problem.

In landlocked Malawi the situation is critical. The lake's water levels are dropping. Fishermen’s catches, have shrunk by more than 80%. Years ago, it was the norm to catch about 5,000 fish a day, but now, lucky fishermen, bring in one-fifth of that.

The rapid drop in Lake Malawi's water levels, driven by population growth, climate change and deforestation, is threatening its flora and fauna species with extinction. Included among the wildlife threatened are the fish that so many depend on for a livelihood.

Over the last three decades some water balance models have been done on the lake and have shown that the water levels have dropped from 477 metres above sea level in the 1980s to around 474.88m.

Studies are showing that the water levels in the lake will keep on dropping in coming years because there are signs that show there will be less rainfall and increased evaporation.

An estimated 1,000 fish species rely on the fresh waters of Africa's third-largest lake for their survival, which also provides 60% of this southern African nation's protein requirement. The mbuna cichlids species and the famous tilapia fish, locally known as chambo, are facing extinction. Chambo is Malawi's most popular fish.

The country's department of fisheries says fish stocks in the lake have dwindled by 90% over the past 20 years. It is a huge concern as, according to authorities, about 1.5 million Malawians depend on the lake for food, transportation and other needs.

Village Impact Village Impact

The need to arrest the loss of biodiversity is particularly important in Malawi, where people depend on biological resources to a greater extent than they do in other parts of the world.

Fish stocks have depleted because of unsustainable fishing practices and non-compliance with fishing regulations. The unsustainable cutting down of trees for fuel is also affecting the quality of the water and the smoke from cooking fires is affecting peoples health.

Fishermen in villages have been working with local authorities to address the threats and challenges facing the conservation of Lake Malawi but we have to do more. We need to constantly educate villagers about responsible fishing and conservation and help restore fish stocks and you can help.