RIPPLE Africa Ensures Fish for Tomorrow in Lake Malawi

Pam Haigh

A revolutionary conservation project devised by a small United Kingdom nonprofit organization is going to be adopted to build fish stocks in Africa’s third-largest lake, Lake Malawi.

RIPPLE Africa works closely with communities along the lake to help them introduce local bylaws restricting the type and size of net which can be used and to protect fish breeding areas. Community-run fish conservation committees operate along 80 kilometers of the lakeshore and enforce the bylaws and a three-month closed season to protect breeding fish, as well as issue fishing permits. Fisherfolk in the area are reporting larger catches of bigger fish, meaning that they are making more money and are able to provide more food for their families and secure a plentiful supply in the future.

RIPPLE Africa’s community-led approach to conservation in the northern part of Lake Malawi impressed Malawi’s Director of Fisheries, Alex Bulirani. He described the work that RIPPLE Africa is doing as "magic."

In Lake Malawi, high population growth and lack of effective enforcement of fishing practices have led to huge falls in fish stocks over the last 20 years. In Nkhata Bay District in the north, fish catches are reported to have fallen by up to 90 percent. Fishers have responded to this by using longer nets with smaller mesh sizes, meaning that larger numbers of much smaller fish are caught. In the shallow breeding areas, mosquito nets, which have been provided to protect against malaria, are used to scoop up thousands of baby fish. 

As a consequence, fish, which make up more than 70 percent of animal protein consumed in Malawi, have become more and more scarce and people struggle to catch enough fish to eat. Many species in Africa’s third-largest and most diverse lakes are now classified as endangered or vulnerable. In Nkhata Bay District, more than 80 percent of the population are dependent on fisheries for their income and dietary needs. 

Last month, RIPPLE Africa’s founder and CEO, Geoff Furber, organized a visit to the project for Bulirani. Supported by Pact, an NGO working on fish conservation in the south of the country, Bulirani spent three days seeing how the project works, accompanied by Fisheries Officers and Senior Chiefs from the south.

The team visited five fish breeding areas and met fish conservation committee members and all are now keen to see the approach adopted in other parts of the lake. RIPPLE Africa is working closely with Pact and the Director of Fisheries to secure funding to enable this to happen quickly.