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Lake Malawi National Park World Heritage Site

Parc national du lac Malawi, Malawi

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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. It is also 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.

Fishes of Lake Malawi 1. Fishes in Lake Malawi World’s Interest to Lake Malawi

Lakes, rivers and oceans are the three major environments where fish live. Since a lot of water is kept closed inside a lake, the environment of the lake does not change easily. It is also true, however, that a lake environment cannot be recovered easily once it has been damaged.

The life-span of a lake is generally about some 10,000 years, with the lake keep becoming shallower due to silt from the rivers. However, Lake Malawi and other African Great Lakes have an especially long history and they are still becoming deeper as a result of tectonic action. Lake Malawi is thought to be about 3,000,000 years old.

Lake Malawi is known to the world for its enormous variety of fish. 500-1,000 different species of fish are found and most of these are unique to 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 developed from the same origin, over a period of 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. These include 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 forms like Tropheus, Petrotilapia and Melanochromis. Mbuna is especially popular to the world as an aquarium fish because they are colorful and beautiful. These fish are exported and delivered alive by airplane, and traded for a high price of about a thousand Kwacha for one fish. "Utaka" (Copadichromis, Otopharynx, etc.) is also a kind 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 10~20cm in length. Utaka (lower)

Chambo "Chambo" (Oreochromis sp. etc.) is the most popular and favoured fish in Malawi. This includes a few kinds of large cichlids that reach to 30cm. Some of them are found at offshore in the lake and another is found at weedy points 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 50cm. 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 illumination at night. "Matemba" (Barbus paludinosus) inhabits somewhat muddy water such as rivers, marshes and ponds rather than in big lakes. Lake Chirwa is a main habitat of this small fish. Matemba is a cyprinid fish similar to 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 feeds her young on her eggs as food. Kampango is the only fish in the world that has the unique habit of “egg feeding”. Kampango are to be found in Lake Malawi, Lake Malombe and Shire River. "Mlamba" (Clarias gariepinus) is a common catfish in Malawi. It grows to over 50cm in length, but medium-size (20~30cm) fish are most preferred as food. The environment that this fish lives in is similar to that of the Matemba. Mlamba

2. How fish are caught

Fishery in the Malawian Lakes

There are many ways and tackle 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 caught are by the local artisanal fishermen. Fishing is therefore very important as a source of income and employment. Fishermen with machera

The Department of Fisheries and Fishery Regulations

Research vessel Ndunduma To survey and control the fish resource, the Department of Fisheries was founded in 1945. The department operates the research programmes for better management and conservation. There are fisheries regulations and co-management programmes to protect the fish resource. There are various regulations such as the Closed period, and the restrictions for mMinimum mesh sizes, depth and length of the nets; for certain fishing methods like poisoning or explosives; 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 Tackle and Methods There are various methods and tackle for fishing. Each tackle has characteristics according to the target fish. Common tackle are shown below.

Chilimira/Khoka (Lift nets) This is a common fishing tackle 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 a 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 2km. 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 the lake. So some people call it a “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 net is normally a few hundred metres, sometimes up to 1km, 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 water and shoreline beach to catch Chambo and other bottom dwelling fish.

At first, it is set around by boat 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 is 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 bait inside it and left overnight. Standing and drying Mono

3. Fish Processing

Why we process fish?

Fresh fish cannot be kept for a long time without refrigerating, so we have to process the fish for preservation. Many fish traders are working at the beach. They buy the fish from fishermen, then they process it to carry the fish to town for sale at the market.

When you process the fish, you need some facilities and resources. There are many fish processing villages around the lakes, where people stay together to buy and process the fish.

How to process fish

There are several different ways of processing fish, mainly according to the kinds of fish. Different ways of processing also give different tastes to each fish, so there are varieties of processed fish you can find at the market in town. Drying fish on the rack

1) Sun-Dried Fish (Nsomba Zowuma) Sun Drying is a popular way of processing small fish, such as Utaka, Usipa, Mathemba and small size of Mcheni. To dry the fish, you have to put the fish on the ready-made drying rack, and turn the fish once or twice a day to dry evenly. It takes 3–4 days to finish the process, and the fish should be taken away from the rack at night or in the rain.

2) Boil-Dried Fish (Nsomba Zofwafwaza) This type of processing is only used to process Usipa. The fish is first boiled in water, and then put on the rack to be dried under the sun. This process takes less time than the sun drying (for 2–3 days), and the taste is also distinctive. Boiling usipa

3) Roast-Dried Fish (Nsomba Zoocha) This type of processing is especially for flat fish like Utaka, Mayani and Chendamwamba. First the fish is dried for a few hours and then roasted on a steel pan to cook both sides. The fish are put back to the rack to dry again for rest of the day. This process can be completed over 1–2 days and also produces a different taste. Roasting utaka on the fire

4) Smoked Fish (Nsomba Zowamba) Smoking is the only way to process the bigger fishes such as Chambo, Kampango, Mlamba and bigger size of Mcheni. Small fishes are also smoked because of its fairly distinctive taste and the shorter time for processing. Fish are first dried for about half a day, and then put on the wired oven overnight. Big fish like Kampango, Chambo or Mlamba are opened and gutted before drying. Smoking is especially favoured in the rainy season, as the process is not affected by the rain. Setting the fire in the oven

Fish Smoking and Forest Management

Compared to other types of fish processing, smoking requires fairly large amounts of firewood. To keep the fire for smoking fish for one night, you may need almost the same amount of firewood that you use for cooking for one week

So the forest should be carefully managed to plant new trees and to let them grow, otherwise the trees will soon be exhausted and the forest starts to change into a wasteland.

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Official Record

  • WDPA ID10904
  • NameLake Malawi National Park
  • Original NameParc national du lac Malawi
  • Country / TerritoryMWI
  • Sub locationMW-S
  • IUCN CategoryNot ApplicableWhat is this?
  • English DesignationWorld Heritage Site
  • Designation TypeInternational
  • StatusInscribed
  • Status Year1984
  • Reported Area km294.0
  • Marinefalse
  • Governance TypeNot Reported
  • International Criteria(vii)(ix)(x)
  • Management AuthorityNot Reported
  • Management Plan URLNot Reported




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