The natural history and fisheries ecology of Lake Chilwa, southern Malawi
Lake Chilwa produces between zero and 24,000 metric tons of fish per year, making it one of the most productive but variable lakes in Africa. The size of the lake varies seasonally and among years, sometimes drying completely. Its surrounding wetland and floodplain provide habitat for a diversity of birds and economically valuable grasses and reeds. When the lake has water, there is considerable activity on its shores and temporary fishing villages spring up. People move in and out of the lake basin in concert with these seasonal and longer term changes. This paper examines the environmental dynamics of Lake Chilwa and its surrounding wetlands, presents an overview of the socio-economic context of the area and discusses threats to this resilient system that might occur as a result of climate change. We conclude that management of Lake Chilwa must place the lake in the wider economic and ecological system in which it is situated. Ultimately, land-use practices within the basin present more of a threat to the resilience of the fishery and people's livelihoods than overfishing or a strict focus on the lake's resources. These perspectives present significant challenges to conventional fisheries governance.
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