October 1 marks the beginning of the closed season, an important period in the country’s fisheries value chain.
Until December 31, fishing using all kinds of beach seine nets is restricted to pave way for undistracted breeding of tilapia fish species.
Ordinarily, people can hardly notice that the closed season is in force since the supply of fish on the market goes uninterrupted.
While nets that disturb the breeding process by netting of juveniles and burying of nests are banned, all other harmless fishing gear-including gill nets, weirs, hook lines and trawl nets-remain in use since they target mature fish and operate in the deep areas of the lakes.
This is the right time for farmers to harvest their ponds to close the supply gap on the market when all water bodies are on closed season.
Lake Malombe gets closed for the three months stipulated above. Fishing in Lake Malawi is restricted from November 1 to December 31.
Although a number of bottlenecks continue to hamper the ban, the fisheries sector continues to play a crucial role in the socio-economic development of the country.
It remains the most reliable and cheap source of animal protein as well as livelihoods for over 500 000 households.
However, there is a widespread fear that the country’s fish are declining. In the last year, annual fish production output declined by 9 percent mainly due to the impacts of climate change and persistent non compliance of sustainable fishing methods.
In the country, about 102 fish species are listed as endangered. The species include Mpasa, Sanjika and Ntchira which have almost vanished in the ecosystem. There exists a glaring deficit of fish exports against imports from neighbouring countries. This clearly depicts the state the country’s fishery is in.
Now that fishing closed season is on, it is imperative to reflect on shortfalls frustrating success of the initiative as doing business as usual will not salvage the situation.
In the country, fisheries resources are exploited on free-for-all basis which presents the biggest challenge for management authorities to effectively enforce regulations.
Some countries, such as Egypt and Rwanda, have registered success in managing open-water fisheries. More often responsible authorities are financially and technically constrained to mount rigorous patrols, a situation that gives fishermen room to fish illegally.
Total exclusive fishing rights accorded to commercial trawlers heightens tensions between authorities and artisanal small-scale fishers who largely use rudimentary in-shore fishing gear.
In progressive fisheries, closed season means closed season.
Involvement of local community stakeholders in the cause remains unsatisfactory due to legal implications.
Local fisheries institutions like beach village committees and fisheries associations are not legally empowered to enforce regulations.
Lack of clear-cut incentives has left corruption deep-rooted among its rank and file.
Community members are afraid and defenceless against aggressive fishers sighted fishing illegally and with undesignated gears within their localities.
This is compounded by extended family ties. If not tackled with tact and diplomacy by a third party, bloody clashes are inevitable.
Illegal fishing threatens the very existence of shoreline communities and national economies. When a fishing zone becomes everyone’s property, it becomes no-one’s responsibility to manage
Success of closed season requires multifaceted involvement of stakeholders, with user communities first appreciating its importance. Closed season will remain business as usual unless there is a serious drive to enforce laws, flush out corrupt elements, strengthen laws and bring into force win -win strategies in partnership with local stakeholders. n