Lake Malawi National Park

Lake Malawi National Park is a national park located in Malawi at the southern end of Lake Malawi. It is the only national park in Malawi that was created to protect fish and aquatic habitats. Despite this, Lake Malawi National Park does include a fair amount of land, including several small islands in Lake Malawi, and is home to other animals such as baboons. A large baobab tree, purportedly over 800 years old, is said to have been a favourite of Dr. David Livingstone as a place where he could give sermons and speak with other missionaries. The graves of five early missionaries are also found in the park. The many endemic fish species make it a key example of specialized evolution. For this characteristic, it was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.
Lakes, rivers and oceans are three major environments that the fish lives. Since a lot of water is kept closed inside the lake, the environment of the lake does not change easily. It is also true, however, that the lake environment cannot be recovered easily once it is damaged.
Life span of a lake is generally about some 10,000 years, for the lake keep becoming shallower because of the soil from the rivers. However, Lake Malawi and other African Great Lakes have especially long history, and they are still becoming deeper. Lake Malawi is thought to be about 3,000,000 years old.
Lake Malawi is known to the world with its enormous variety of the fishes. 500-1000 different species of fish are found, and most of these fish are found only in Lake Malawi. 90% of these fishes belong to the family called “Cichlid”, which includes Utaka, Mbuna, Mcheni and many other kinds. It is thought that all of these 500 different cichlids have developed from thesame origin, for about 2,000,000 years.
There are some other kinds of fish which live in the Lake, and most of them are also found only in Malawi. Catfishes such as Kampango, Bombe, cyprinid fishes such as Usipa, Ningwe, Nchila, Mpasa and Sanjika. Common fish found in the lakes.
Mbuna "Mbuna" is the most diverged group among these cichlid fish. This group includes many generic like Tropheus, Petrotilapia and Melanochromis. Mbuna is especially popular to the world as the aquarium fish, because they are colorful and beautiful. These fish are exported and delivered alive by airplane, and traded for high price of about a thousand Kwacha for one fish. "Utaka" (Copadichromis, Otopharynx, etc.) is also kinds of cichlids that is very common and popular as a food fish in Malawi. Utaka is a general name including several species that inhabit off shore in the Lake. Most of them mainly eat plankton and grow up to 10~20 cm in length. Utaka (lower)
Chambo "Chambo" (Oreochromis sp. etc.) is the most popular and favored fish in Malawi. This includes a few kinds of large cichlids that reach to 30 cm. Some of them are found at offshore on the lake and another is found at weedy point in the river. They usually swim in the water in groups. "Mcheni" (Rhamphochromis species) is one of the largest cichlids. Their total length can reache 50 cm. They are very fierce fish, the hunters in the water. They cruise the off shore in a group, and chase and eat small fish like Usipa. Mcheni
Usipa "Usipa" (Engraulicypris Engraulicyprisardella) is one of the non-cichlid fish. These small fish swim in huge numbers near the surface of the lake. Since they like brightness, they are usually active in the daytime, and gather around the illumination at night. "Matemba" (Barbus paludinosus) inhabits in somewhat muddy water such as the river, marsh and pond rather than in big lakes. Lake Chirwa is a main habitat of this small fish. Matemba is a cyprinid fish same as Usipa. Matemba
Kampango "Kampango" (Bagrus meridionalis) is a famous catfish in Malawi. The parents of this fish make a nest on the bottom of the water. The mother fish feed her young on her eggs as food. Kampango is the only fish in the world that has unique habit of “egg feeding”. Kampango is found in Lake Malawi, Lake Malombe and Shire River. "Mlamba" (Clarias gariepinus) is a common catfish in Malawi. It grows to over 50 cm in length, but middle size (20~30 cm) fish is most preferred as food. The environment that this fish lives is similar to that of Matemba. Mlamba
There are many ways and gears used to catch the fish. People have developed various ways of fishing according to the kind of fish they want to catch.
There are some big commercial fishing companies, but most of the fish catch are by the local artisanal fishermen. Fishing is therefore a very important as a source of income and employment.
Research vessel Ndunduma To survey and control the fish resource, the Department of Fisheries was founded in 1945. The department operates the research programs for better management and conservation. There are fisheries regulations and co-management programs to protect the fish resource. There are various regulations such as the Closed period, and the restrictions for Minimum mesh sizes, depth and length of the nets; for certain fishing methods like poisoning or exploding; minimum fish sizes, fishing areas and so on. The introduction of fish not indigenous to the area is also prohibited to conserve the existing fish resources.
Fishing Gears and Methods There are various methods and gears for fishing. Each gear has each character according to the target fish. Common gears are shown below.
Chilimira/Khoka (Lift nets) This is a common fishing gear at offshore area.This net catches a lot of smaller fish, mainly Utaka in daytime, and Usipa at night by using lamps to gather them. This fishing requires plank boat with engine and one or two dug-out canoes and about 10 persons to roll-up this big net. We've got fish !
Ready to go. Hooks with bites Mbedza (Hooks and Lines) Mbedza consists of many Hooks and Lines. Fishermen who want to catch bigger fish like Catfish, Ncheni etc., use this gear. This Mbedza has over 300 hooks with Usipa as bites. The length of the line is more than 2 km. This is set under water for a few hours, sometimes overnight. Machera (Gill nets) This net is set at evening until next morning just on the bottom of lake. So some people call it “sleeping net”. There are various sizes of mesh according to the target species of fish from Utaka to Kampango. It requires one or two persons only. The length of the netis normally a few hundred meters, sometimes up to 1 km, and the width is about 1m. What fish have we got ?
Draw the net ! Khoka la Pansi (Seine net/dragnet) This net is suitable for wide and shoreline beach to catch Chambo and other bottom dwelling fish.
At first, it is set roundly by boat in offshore, and then drawn on both sides of the net, which is over 100m long. Khoka requires a lot of hands. Mono (Fish trap) This is a kind of fish trap made of reeds, and set in the weedy zone, swamp or slow stream, but very rare in Lake Malawi. The target fish is mainly small Carps and Catfish. There are several sizes, but normally about 1m-length. This trap is set underwater sometimes with bites inside it, and left overnight.


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belinda burrows
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