It is slightly after 7:30 pm and I have just arrived in Salima district, specifically at the famed Kamuzu Road T-junction.
This is a place that becomes full of life under the cover of darkness. This is because the numerous night clubs and bars dotted along the Kamuzu road in Salima (part of the M5 road which adjoins the M1 road down in Ntcheu) draws huge patronage during the night, courtesy of the many people from other towns and cities that patronise the lakeshore district for various workshops and activities.
Right now, the bells in my tummy are ringing. I am dying for a quick bite, and no doubt I now seem to understand why they say ‘a hungry man is an angry man’
I quickly pull up at the nearby filling station where there is a restaurant, and my better half who is half asleep has no intention of stepping out of the car, it appears.
I quickly made my way to the counter to grab take aways, and though no big fan of fish, I am tempted to place an order of the popular Chambo, a local delicacy, but I am demoralised by the response I get from the waitress (let us call her Nora).
“Sorry, but we only have chicken stew on the menu,” came Norah’s quick fire response.
“Whoa! This is unbelievable! I thought being a district that is closer to the lake, you guys should have plenty of fish?” I grew inquisitive.
“Well, not exactly…it is not as common as it used to be, things are now different because fishermen are not catching a lot of fish so it is not readily available,” she narrated.
I quickly took a glance and realised that patrons who were enjoying a meal in the restaurant at that particular time, were indeed nibbling chicken, most of them not out of a choice, as they faced a similar predicament like mine.
That is the sad reality these days. Due to over fishing on most water bodies and the effects stemming from climate change, the population of fish has been dwindling in recent years.
Not long ago, fishermen were left stranded as they had nowhere to turn to after Lake Chilwa in Zomba dried up, which essentially rendered their fishing gear and canoes redundant at the time.
Information made available by the Food Agriculture Organisation – FAO on their website shows that fish farmers are the primary stakeholders of the aquaculture sector.
“There are 4 050 fish farmers. Approximately 30 000 people are involved in fish farming related activities including fishpond digging, pond management and fish harvesting,” it reads in part.
It goes on to emphasise that the use of exotic species is restricted in Malawi. The Fisheries Conservation and Management Act (1997) restricts the introduction of exotic species in order to protect Malawi’s fish biodiversity.
“Malawi’s fish production from capture fisheries has risen from 50,382 tons in 2004 to 116,315 tons in 2015,” reads a statement signed by Gray Nyandule Phiri of the Agriculture,Irrigation and Water Development ministry.
According to the ministry, Usipa (Engraulicypris sardella) and Utaka (Copadichromis species), which are essentially small fish, dominate the catch.
Despite this potential, the ministry identifies open access to fish resources that leads to overfishing, weak capacity to enforce fishing laws, high post harvest losses, stress of freshwater ecosystems due to growing population and climatic changes, low quality feed, uncertified fingerling producers and limited hatcheries for aquaculture as well as low private sector participation as some of the factors that are hindering the growth of fish farming.
This is perhaps why stakeholders in the sector were until yesterday reviewing these issues at the 2017 National Fisheries and Aquaculture Forum held in Mangochi.
Enough of that, the fact of the matter is I have failed to get a platter of fish delicacy at the Kamuzu Road in Salima and my better half tries to restore my hopes by saying that we are likely to get some, once we hit Senga bay, an area along the shores of Lake Malawi that is beautifully dotted with resorts, hotels and lodges.
By the time we arrive at our destination, my temporary appetite for fish has waned and one look at the food menu, I began salivating towards a sumptuous dish, full of beef helping. Surprised? Well I did warn you earlier that I am no big fan of fish.
As I sit along the shores of Lake Malawi, I could not help but wonder as to how far stakeholders, including the fishermen themselves, are willing to go in the preservation of fish in the country, considering that not many of them are complying to the periodic ban that is imposed by the fisheries department each year.