Liwonde National Park, Shire River
– Baseline Fisheries Assessment
In order to investigate the potential of freshwater protected areas as a tool for improving fisheries in adjacent areas, a Baseline Fisheries Assessment of the Shire River in Liwonde National Park was conducted by Advance Africa.
Liwonde National Park (LNP), Malawi, is situated on the Shire River downstream of Lake Malombe. The lake area supports economically and culturally important artisanal fisheries which contribute to the food security of the region and are the basis for the livelihoods of local fishing communities.
Though historically important, the fisheries have suffered a history of overexploitation in past decades, resulting in associated declines in catches which have impacted on communities reliant on this resource.
African Park’s Community Engagement Plan objectives include empowering local communities to support the park while mitigating the negative impact of protected area management. Expected benefits from the protection of the Shire River within LNP include a reduction of fishing mortality leading to improved fish abundance.
This will potentially lead to ‘spill-over’ or movement of fish from the protected area into open-access areas outside of LNP, thereby improving catches for local fishing communities, increasing levels of food security and creating more sustainable livelihoods for fishing communities.
In order to investigate the potential of freshwater protected areas as a tool for improving fisheries in adjacent areas, a Baseline Fisheries Assessment of the Shire River in LNP was conducted by Advance Africa.
Catch data from surveys were used to provide baseline estimates of abundance, species composition and size composition. These data were compiled into a comprehensive fisheries database which will allow AP to track trends in fish populations, and the efficacy of the protected area, through future monitoring surveys.
A potentially significant finding included the high numbers of ntchila (Labeo mesops) recorded during the survey. Ntchila previously supported an important commercial and subsistence fishery in Lake Malombe but are now uncommon in catches. Preliminary results suggest that LNP may serve as a sanctuary area for this species.
In addition to LNP’s existing community engagement projects, including the efforts already initiated and conducted by AP, the survey team embarked on community engagement efforts aimed at improving understanding of the perceptions of local fishermen towards the fishery in the area, historical trends in catches, target species, fishing gears and community perceptions of the LNP.
This was coordinated by Advance Africa, African Parks, and Mr. Chiliritso Kasipa, an extension officer working in neighbouring communities for LNP.
The Fisheries Baseline Survey clearly illustrates how the support of diligent scientific investigation can empower communities and enhance the natural resources on which those communities depend, spearheading conservation alongside efforts to enhance human wellbeing.
The survey team included Advance Africa’s Jim McCafferty (Ichthyologist) and Ben Pellegrini (environmental consultant), who were joined by the current Fisheries Manager of AP Bangweulu, Mr. Carl Huchzermeyer (Ichthyologist) and Patrick Chugwayo from the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW), Malawi.
The team was assisted by African Parks’ Liwonde National Park and Mvuu Lodge throughout the survey.