Sunday, May 29, 2016

News from the Beach and Rob! Fisheries Monitoring at the Maru Edition

Every weekday morning, our research interns head down the lake shore to the local fishing village, leaving at 8.15 on the dot so as to coincide with the fishermen coming back from a long night’s fishing. Upon arrival in the village, locally referred to as Masakurunju, one can encounter as many as 60 wooden canoes scattered along the sandy shoreline, with the recently landed boats surrounded by groups of people, sorting through the fine gauge fishing nets that were cast across the deeper waters of the lake the night before. The catch invariably contains small open water fishes know as utaka in the local Chitonga. Most of these fish belong to the genus Copadichromis, a type of cichlid fish, and they make up a large proportion of the diet of the villagers in this immediate coastal region of Malawi, especially at this time of year.  Also potentially found in the catch are usipa – a sardine like fish, gongo – another cichlid and nkholokolo (synodontis njassae) - a small species of catfish with a mottled leopard style pattern.

At the Maru, we aim to collect baseline data, every week, over long periods of time. For the last four years we have strove to create a comprehensive data set for charts almost daily the fish caught at Masakahunju, the fishing conditions and the fishing effort (in terms of working boats). Data sets that track the same variables over such long time frames hopefully provide useful context and history about the exploitation of local fisheries in Lake Malawi that can be used by local people and government officials to make better environmental management decisions.

Incidentally, one of the real pleasures of walking to the fishing village everyday, is bumping into the beach venders; well spoken salesmen, of whom many have adopted bizarre names hailing from all sorts of random English words, phrases and celebrities. So far I have had the pleasure of meeting Sweet Bananas, Gift, Brown Bread, Michael Jackson, Sugar and Spice, Cheese on Toast, Spiderman, Donald Duck, Wiseman and my personal fave, Mel Gibson. These men earn a living by selling whatever bits and bobs they can to tourists, but it can also be helpful to have them around when the fish are being sorted from the nets, as their translation and enthusiasm make the whole process slightly less awkward.

For the fishermen themselves, it is a hard life. It is currently the windy season here at Kande, and conditions have oft been too choppy to go out in little one-man canoes. Sometimes the need for food and money is such that personal safety gets put aside and there is no other option but to brave the forces of the lake. But this is the harsh reality of living off the land in the manner that these people do. It is a difficult living, but for now it would seem there is ample food, enough to sustain the population in this part of the lake. Recalling that old adage of ‘give a man a fish and he can eat for a day, but teach a man to fish and he can eat for a lifetime’; well perhaps if we can learn to fish sustainably in other fisheries around the world, as it appears here, then people will be able to eat for more than just one lifetime but for the lifetimes of generations to come.

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