By Mercy Phiri
The main objectives of the USAID-funded Fisheries Integration of Societies and Habitats project, or FISH, are to increase resiliency to climate change and improve biodiversity conservation through effective, sustainable fisheries co-management across all four major lake ecosystems in Malawi. To meet these objectives and ensure that its interventions will last after the project ends FISH works through available structures in the fisheries sector, including the government.
Since 2017, FISH has been working with Malawi’s Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, or the PCAIWD, to build support for the fisheries sector in Malawi. PCAIWD members visited FISH catchment areas along Lake Malawi in Mangochi district in 2017. The teamwork and commitment to managing fisheries activities they saw among community members, traditional leaders and the District Fisheries Office encouraged them to seek more funding for the Department of Fisheries so that fisheries activities in the country are fully supported. In 2018, Malawi’s Department of Fisheries’ budget funding was doubled.
This February, during a follow-up visit, the PCAIWD’s chairperson, Chidanti Malunga, assured artisanal and commercial fishers in Mangochi that the PCAIWD will lobby for activation of the Fisheries Fund to support activities such as research, enforcement and extension. He also said that his team will encourage more funding for the operational budget for the Department of Fisheries to enable it to carry out enforcement activities and the construction of landing sites in fishing districts. And Malunga said that the PCAIWD will call for a general meeting with all members of Parliament to explain the need to curb political influence by MPs and other politicians that negatively affects the fisheries sector.
These remarks were in response to petitions that artisanal fishers and Commercial Fishers Association (CFA) members presented to the PCAIWD asking for its support for their efforts in advancing fisheries activities. In their petition, CFA members raised concerns about the increase of commercial fishers on the lake. They appealed to the PCAIWD to support the Department of Fisheries in stopping new entrants into commercial fishery, especially in areas with the maximum numbers of fishing vessels, in order to sustainably manage the fishery. In 2018, CFA members already volunteered to reduce their fishing capacity and proposed that the government should set up a fund to buy back excess trawler capacity. CFA also asked the PCAIWD to support the Fisheries Department in flushing out all unlicensed commercial fishers, including politicians.
In TAs Namabvi, Makanjira and Lulanga, in Mangochi district, members of local Beach Village Committees, or BVCs, registered concerns over inadequate enforcement support from the government to BVCs because of resource limitations in the District Fisheries Office and non-recognition that BVC activities are done on behalf of the government. The group petitioned the PCAIWD to seek further funding for the Department of Fisheries and a provision that they should not pay allowances to police officers should they engage them in lake patrols. They further asked the PCAIWD to advocate for a legal provision to control the entry of illegal fishing nets and netting raw materials into Malawi.
Realizing that other natural resources along the lake play a great role in fisheries management, the artisanal fishers also petitioned the PCAIWD to lobby for interventions to bring alternative livelihood activities to people living along forests in order to stop illegal harvesting of forests for charcoal and firewood production. They also urged the PCAIWD to facilitate the acquisition of solar water pumps to support year-round farming in Mangochi to increase the profitability of agriculture as an alternative livelihood. The artisanal fishers also requested a tarmac road to improve access to fish and produce markets. This is the only way to ensure that agriculture and fisheries translate into improved livelihoods for people in the Chiphole and Makanjira areas of Mangochi.
Artisanal and commercial fishers are some of the beneficiaries of FISH knowledge and capacity building, which aims to foster collaborative management practices and empower constituents to select and maintain appropriate interventions that limit threats to their livelihoods and environment.
The FISH project sees collaboration among parliament, community members, local fisheries management authorities and government as an assurance that the project’s interventions will be maintained after the project ends. The PCAIWD’s involvement in fisheries activities also presents fishing communities an opportunity to directly contribute to national legislation regarding fisheries activities.