A research by Mwapata Institute has found that the outbreak of epizootic ulcerative syndrome (EUS) among species of fish can bring a wide range of negative impacts to the economy.
The study says if the disease remains uncontrolled, it can further affect the ecology with implications for biodiversity, incomes, food security and international trade.
Conducted by the Mwapata Institute research fellow Maggie Munthali, the study recognises that fisheries sector plays a crucial role in the livelihoods of many Malawians as consumers of fish.
Reads the study in part: “The EUS outbreak will likely lead to a shortage of fish in the affected areas, potentially undermining the food security of the local population, especially among those who cannot afford more expensive sources of animal protein, and the sustainability of the fish value chain.
“If it is not controlled, the EUS outbreak is likely to have a profound effect on rural livelihoods and food security in Malawi”.
The study has since called for the training of fishers, fish farmers, and frontline staff on EUS.
Another policy recommendation is on the need for public awareness campaigns to target a wide range of stakeholders, including policy makers and civil society organisations.
The study found that government taking measures to prevent the spread of EUS which was dominant in the Central Region, the disease has been reported in the South Rukuru River in Rumphi district in Northern Malawi.
It points that by causing mass mortality, it is expected that the EUS outbreak will affect the population density and population structure of susceptible species, namely catfish, chambo, tilapia, and straight fin barb which may disappear from the market in some areas.
In addition to causing fish production losses, the EUS outbreak could lead to higher rates of market rejection for fish and reduced fish consumption in the country.
This, according to the study, is because the presence of unsightly lesions or ulcers may lower the price received for the fish, resulting in income losses for fisherfolk, traders, and others depending on fishing.
The EUS outbreak was first reported in Malawi mid-July last year.
Earlier, the Department of Fisheries expressed fear that the outbreak may wipe out species of fish in the country’s water bodies, including Lake Malawi.
Ministry of Agriculture director of fisheries Friday Njaya conceded that while EUS may not be life threatening for humans, it wipes out fish species.
He said the discovery of the disease mid last year in Mchinji district, moved government and relevant stakeholders in aquaculture to take action.
Njaya said: “Our team has been on the ground mapping the affected areas to ascertain the extent of the disease and the damage.
“There are six rivers in Mchinji and surrounding areas that flow into Lake Malawi and if the disease extends to the lake then it may rapidly wipe out the fish species, which can be disastrous.”
He said the department has taken stringent measures to contain the outbreak, including restricting movement of fingerlings and fishing nets from.
Njaya said the department has since advised consumers not to consume the affected fish as they can cause other diseases.
Based on the findings, it is expected that the livelihoods of more than 70 000 fishers could be affected, while affected households could be five times greater considering the effect on fish traders, transporters, processors, fish industry inputs and equipment suppliers.
The Southern African Development Community and partners in fisheries in a statement expressed fear that the outbreak of EUS, the first ever in Malawi, can affect livelihoods of over 55 000 fishers in and around Lake Malawi if left unchecked.
Sadc and stakeholders also feared that the disease situation poses a serious threat to the regional fisheries and aquaculture sector, especially along the Zambezi River Basin.
The regional body then called for collaboration to fighting the disease through various means, including suspension of fishing in affected areas in Malawi and Zambia.
The fisheries sector provides direct employment to 153 084 fishers and 12 800 fish farmers and nearly another two million Malawians are involved in ancillary activities such as fish trade, processing, marketing, net making, boat construction and maintenance and boat engine repair.
The sector contributes about four percent to the gross domestic product of Malawi.