Department of Fisheries

Research Agenda Based on Thematic Areas


Setting appropriate research agenda requires understanding of global perspectives on fisheries research as well as national priority research needs of the fisheries sector. As with other sectors, research in fisheries is important because it is closely linked to policy and assists knowledge advancement in the fisheries sector. The purpose of research is very often seen as being to inform policy (situational analysis, problem identification, agenda setting, policy formulation), to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of policy implementation, to allow monitoring and evaluation of policy and to inform the desired distribution of the benefits of policy. With regard to what exactly research entails, DFID (1998) says, “Research is based on the collection and analysis of data which are processed to create knowledge.

Research Goal

Department of Fisheries of the Mzuzu University will compliment government’s efforts in fulfilling its research agenda which remains the provision of information based on an understanding of the biology, life history and distribution of the target species as well as an understanding of the harvesting fisheries. Very often, universities fall in the danger of conducting “academic” research which bears little relevance to the needs of the fisheries sector. In view of diminishing research budgets in many countries, including Malawi, it is important that research funds are effectively used.

Therefore, Department of Fisheries research goal shall be to conduct research in Fisheries sector that is demand-driven and poverty-focused and that will provide answers to the needs of the sector for socio-economic development, sustainable resource utilization and livelihood improvement. To achieve this underlying goal, Department of Fisheries shall undertake research, which shall focus on the following thematic areas as arranged in their priority order:

1.         Conservation of natural resources

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) maintain that sustainable harvests of world capture fisheries are approaching the ceilings imposed by nature (FAO 2000). Watson and Pauly (2001) show that this ceiling has most probably already been exceeded. Overexploitations in the past means that many capture fishery resources are now producing below their full potential. It is generally assumed that Malawian fish stocks have declined in recent years (FAO, 2005). The decline of the fisheries has stressed the need for efficient fisheries management, based on scientific knowledge. (GoM, 1999).

On conservation of natural resources, especially fisheries resources, Department will focus its research on four areas:

I.        Estimate sustainable levels of catch and effort from the major landing sites in the northern part of Lake Malawi and other major aquatic bodies.

II.        Assess riverine species biodiversity.

III.        Identify, describe and taxonomically categorize fish stocks and ascertaining their ichthyofaunal distribution ranges to facilitate their conservation efforts.

IV.        Conserve aquatic environments (through protection of wetlands, construction of water retention structures, use of appropriate fishing techniques e.g. wide-meshed nets, avoid fish explosives and fish poisons).

2.         Climate change

The changing global climate poses a significant threat to food security, livelihoods and the environment globally, in particular those which are already vulnerable. Developing countries are particularly vulnerable to climate change as a large proportion of their populations are dependent upon agriculture and fisheries to support their livelihoods. Agriculture and Fisheries sectors are among the areas which have heavily suffered the effects of climate change.

The Department of Fisheries plans to assess the impact of climate change on fisheries of Nkhatabay, Rumphi and Karonga by recording data on water temperature, wind direction, dissolved oxygen, pH, water conductivity, lake depth, rainfall e.t.c. Time series analysis would be applied to predict the impact of climate change for 30 years in the past and 30 years in future

3.         Environmental degradation

Anthropogenic activities such as cultivation using chemicals, deforestation due to land use activities in the catchment area of Lake Malawi have contributed to destruction of breeding grounds for Cyprinid fish species that swim upstream to breed due to siltation. Changes in land use in the catchment area have reduced the base flow rate of major rivers in the northern region such as Songwe, North and South Rukulu due to heavy siltation. This has consequently contributed to destruction of breeding grounds for fish that swim upstream to breed. The result has been declining Cyprinid catch overtime from the rivers. The decline in catch has affected the per capita fish consumption and income levels of households surrounding the mouths of the mentioned rivers.

The Department of Fisheries plans to:

I.        Assess changes in land use patterns along the rivers from the source to the mouth and the effects on the population of Cyprinid fish species using Geographical Information System (GIS).

II.        Assess population dynamics of Cyprinids, by determining age, growth, size and age at first maturity, recruitment pattern and exploitation rate.

III.        Assess socioeconomic status of households who depend on fishing as a form of livelihood.

4.         Aquaculture Development

The Department of Fisheries of the Mzuzu University shall undertake aquaculture research following the priorities set in the National Aquaculture Strategic Plan (NASP) (2005 – 2015) and the Presidential Initiative on Aquaculture Development (PIAD) as follows:

I.        Determine the best aquaculture management strategies and research into improved methods of farming in Malawi.

II.        Establishment of a fish seed production centre in the northern region to provide ease fish seed access to the fish farmers in the region, who depend on the fish seed from the National Aquaculture Center (NAC), in the southern region, 900km away.

III.        Conduct genetic improvement for fast growth in local tilapia species.

IV.        Continue work on promotion of catfish farming in Malawi.

V.        Research the selective breeding of Oreochromis karongae and various other species.

VI.        Biotechnology-Genetically modified Fish – Carry out research in the genetic modification of the available fish species for enhanced production and assess consumers’ perceptions on the consumption of the GMF.

5.         Natural Resource Utilization

Quality of fresh fish in all landing sites is poor due to methods of handling, processing and preservation. This has contributed to high post harvest losses and reduced income from sales of fish. This is mainly due to lack of knowledge and skills among fishermen and lack of capacity by Fisheries Department (Malawi Government) to provide service in handling, processing and preservation of fish to maintain quality and extend shelf life of fish.

The Department of Fisheries plans to:

I.        Assess effectiveness of current fish handling, processing and preservation techniques on the quality of fish and fish products.

II.        Establish the HACCP for the selected strata in the Northern region to enhance quality control.

6.         Environmental management systems

Management of Fisheries of Malawi has been based on Conventional fisheries management which is largely built on developing norms and punishing those who do not comply (negative incentives), as a result the approach has been successful. Co-management program was introduced in Lake Malombe after unsuccessful government controlled system, but it also failed to achieve the intended objectives.

The Department of Fisheries plans to conduct a pilot use of Ecosystem approach to fisheries (EAF) management in selected stratum. The approach is working well in other countries like Namibia, Iceland, Norway etc and can complement current Malawi fisheries management systems that seem not to be working. An ecosystem approach to fisheries (EAF) strives to balance diverse societal objectives, by taking account of the knowledge and uncertainties about biotic, abiotic and human components of ecosystems and their interactive and applying an integrated approach to fisheries within ecological meaningful boundaries.

7.         Cross Cutting Issues

The Fisheries Department plans to

Assess the varying roles of women, men and children in fisheries and aquaculture.

  1. Analyse socio-economic status of fishing communities and their vulnerability to HIV & AIDS and the relevance or effectiveness of the Fisheries HIV & AIDS policy in mitigating disease prevalence. There is exceptionally high incidence of HIV/AIDS in fishing communities and therefore it is important to investigate appropriate HIV prevention and AIDS impact mitigation strategies. High rates of HIV/AIDS have wide-ranging implications for the contributions of the fishery sector to food and livelihood security and provide a potential threat to the concept of responsible fishing.

8.         Policy and advocacy

Recent studies in capture fisheries are showing that pelagic fish species have adapted to semi demersal environment due to excess fishing pleasure exerted at a depth of not more than 50m where most of artisanal fishery is concentrated. Based on the studies the Department of Fisheries is encouraging fishers to start semi demersal fishing by supporting them with loans for motorized boats. However, the coverage is very small to make an impact to the lives of people.

The Fisheries Department plans to assess the impact of subsidizing modern gears, just like in agriculture in order to allow more fishers access the equipment and consequently increase fish catches. The recommendations of the study would be used to advocate for subsidy in fisheries gears.

Secondly studies in aquaculture are showing that production is still very low despite several efforts by farmers and scientists to improve production. Studies on the other hand are showing that Carp has the potential of improving the production because of its fast growth and size reached in a short space of time. Carp has been found to have negative effects on the environment and not directly on other fish in studies that were done in pond environment.

The Fisheries Department plans to conduct biosafety measures of Carp in large water bodies like reservoir and the results would be used to advocate for introduction of Carp in natural water bodies.



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