Lake Malawi is gigantic. The lifeblood of the villages that live along its shores. But, is it sustainable?
“See that dark part in the middle?”
Saidi says pointing to the colossal net being spread out on the beach on Lake Malawi. “That is the bad part. Little fish and everything gets caught in there.”
Saidi grew up here in Senga Bay, the son of a fisherman. His father used a much smaller net back in the 70’s. One that he could manage himself. One that had larger holes. Saidi holds up his hands making the size of a circle about 2.5” in diameter. This way only the larger fish got caught and the smaller, young ones, were left to grow.
With these new huge nets it takes two boats with two canoes to take it out, sink it and tow it back to shore. Fortunately, in some villages along the lake, fishing is periodically banned for as long as six months. In the village next to where we are camped there is no such ban. Saidi says each morning the fisherman are coming in with smaller and smaller catches.
In Malawi it appears that the lake is the villagers’ life blood. Women fetch water in their large plastic buckets. Carrying them back to their modest homes for drinking and cooking. Men catch fish for the family as well as earn a livelihood from those they sell. Children and adults bathe alongside women washing clothes. During the heat of the day children splash and laugh to cool off in the sweltering heat.
Fishing is not an easy way to make a living. During the full moon the fish dive down far to deep to be caught in the net. When the wind whips up the lake, which it does, it also is difficult to stabilize and caste a humongous net. When there is no moon the fishermen use torches (flashlights). They shine them on the water, not to see the fish, but to attract the insects, which in turn attract the fish. Then there are the rips, the continues rips in the net that need to be fixed. To do these repairs this huge net of half a soccer field (it seems) is stretch out and staked down. The outboard motors, they need fuel and maintenance and can break down at the worst possible time.
As we walk along the beach we marvel at this ebb and flow of life on Lake Malawi. However, with the populations ever expanding and no limit to the number of fishermen going out each night in many areas, it may only be a matter of time until this dance is over. Let’s hope we’re wrong, for the sake of Saidi and the villagers.
FYI: Lake Malawi is between 560 kilometres (350 mi) and 580 kilometres (360 mi) long, andabout 75 kilometres (47 mi) wide at its widest point. The total surface area of the lake is about 29,600 square kilometres (11,400 sq mi).
Look how that compares to the UK!