Over the years there has been alarm among stakeholders that endangered and protected fish species have been depleting due to illegal fishing practices.
For instance, the introduction of Monofilament nets among other illegal fishing gears on lake Malawi negatively impacted on a decrease in the reproduction of Chambo and Mbuna fish species.
To curb the malpractice USAID through the government of Malawi funded a five-year project called Restoring Fisheries for Sustainable Livelihood (REFRESH) in all the lakeshore districts.
Among its functions REFRESH equips communities with capacity building for Beach Village Committees (BVCs) with patrolling skills which have helped to see a decline of the malpractice for two years now.
Secretary for Mbungo BVC Moses Marama told Zodiak on Thursday that BVCs are now able to report illegal fishing activities and can bring to book suspects according to the bylaws after gaining the mindset change skills from the project.
"We conduct security patrols along the beaches to make sure that endangered fish species are protected. We are also guided by the bylaws to report suspects and confiscate their illegal nets, such as Monofilament and under meshed among other gears" said Marama.
He further added: "those who are proven guilty are charged to pay fines when the matter is handled at a Village level but this does not prohibit us from reporting the same to police, it depends on the gravity of the crime and how do suspects corporate."
Lake Malawi fishermen have been using under meshed fishing gears to catch all sizes of fish species a development which has further affected the reproduction rate of some fish species to declining levels.
According to PACT, a collaboration of implementing partners of Find Your Feet (FYF) and District Fisheries Office, the REFRESH project legally instituted Beach Village Committees (BVCs) along the beaches to safeguard lives of the protected fish species in districts such as Likoma, Nkhatabay, Rumphi, Nkhotakota, Karonga, Mangochi, Salima and Dedza.
Likoma district REFRESH Project technician Kelvin Mkwinda told Zodiak that capacity building of community members promotes a sense of ownership and mindset change.
"Likoma fishing camps were a no go zone for implementors to curb the malpractice due to lack of knowledge on how to preserve and protect fish species among fishers but REFRESH has brought that change and people are now able to report each other when one of them has broken the bylaws," Mkwinda explained.
He said that the project has impacted a total change to such an extent that illegal fishing practices have now decreased because those found on the wrong side are brought to book.
"We engaged chiefs and other key stakeholders how to achieve our intended purpose and I am happy to report that everyone is now aware that Chambo and Mbuna are protected by law and catching them without following the set regulations attracts penalties," he further warned.
However, Zodiak has learned that it has not been easy for BVCs to register this success story of hunting illegal fishers without the patrolling equipment.
Marama said: "Although this is a success story but hunting and apprehending suspects without equipment is a big challenge, we needed to have readily available patrolling speed boats and fuel during day and night patrols. But we are unable to conduct night patrols which makes our work difficult and we think that illegal fishing can not go completely within a day because some suspects are taking advantage of our night absence," he observed.
But the Island district project technician said PACT is aware of the challenges and the concerns will be treated with the utmost attention.
Likoma Island is one of the top districts whose people's economy is dependent on fishing to meet their daily social needs which makes at least 80% of the entire population own various fishing gears in their homes.