Fisheries resources have existed on earth for centuries and their management has depended on the knowledge available to those that were, and are, entrusted with management responsibilities. Formal technical and traditional knowledge have formed the basis for the formulation of fisheries management approaches. In the midst of global fisheries crises, such as fish stock over-exploitation and effects of climate change on fisheries, there has been great interest in fostering sustainable fisheries management as a means to improve the capacity of fishing communities to adapt to the changes. However, the approaches to achieve sustainable fisheries management in Malawi have not adequately involved local people who have acquired traditional knowledge through their direct experience with nature. This article reviewed indigenous knowledge used in fisheries management within the wider context of livelihood systems. The purpose of the review was two pronged: first to document the indigenous knowledge used in fisheries management in order to offer insights of its value to biological scientists and fisheries managers; second, to demonstrate the value of indigenous knowledge as a lens through which biological scientists can look when managing fishery resources. It argues that policies that seek to support sustainable fisheries management need to build on a better understanding of the wide range of knowledge systems acquired by the fisher-folk. The article drew from theories of conservation; information was gathered through literature review and direct consultations with fishing communities in Malawi on indigenous knowledge in fisheries.
Fisheries resources have existed on earth for centuries and their management approaches have depended on knowledge available to those entrusted with management responsibilities. Barnhardt and Kawagley (2005) affirmed that prior to the advent of modern technologies, people relied heavily on indigenous knowledge (IK) to regulate their lives' activities which in turn enabled them to live in harmony amongst themselves, as well as within their environment. Officially IK was successfully mainstreamed throughout the plan of Implementation at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2002. The international recognition of IK in fisheries is also found in the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and FAO Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries, where States are urged to investigate and document traditional fisheries knowledge and technologies in order to assess their application to sustainable fisheries conservation, management and development (FAO 1995, 2015). Instead of using IK and practices to deal with environmental catastrophes, government and policy makers have employed strategies and techniques which worked in developed countries (Anoliefo et al., 2003). Disregard of traditional checks has adversely affected their enforcement (Anoliefo et al., 2003). It is therefore pertinent that these traditions should be included in conservation and management strategies as they have tacitly proved effective (Dudley et al., 2009). In Malawi, communities around Mbenje Island play a critical role in the conservation of fish resources using indigenous knowledge (Manyungwa, 2012). Formal technical and IK have formed the basis for the formulation of their fisheries management approaches. Whichever source of knowledge that has been used, the state of fisheries resources world-wide have changed from virgin stocks to exploited stocks, with some resources being exploited sustainably and others overexploited. Based on FAO's analysis of assessed world fish stocks, the share of fish stocks within biologically sustainable levels has exhibited a downward trend, declining from 90 percent in 1974 to 68.6 percent in 2013. Thus, 31.4 percent of fish stocks were estimated as fished at a biologically unsustainable level and therefore overfished. Of all the stocks assessed worldwide in 2013, 58.1 percent were fully fished and 10.5 percent under fished (FAO, 2016).
The purpose of this review is two pronged; first to document the indigenous knowledge used in fisheries management in order to offer insights of its value to biological scientists and fisheries managers; and second, to demonstrate the value of indigenous knowledge as a lens through which biological scientists can look when managing fishery resources. The review therefore focused on IK used in natural resources, particularly fisheries resources management, within the wider context of livelihood systems in Malawi. Finally, the paper answers the question “what can indigenous knowledge (IK) contribute to fisheries management policies for sustainable fisheries management?”
This article is based on primary and secondary information sources, involving literature reviews of either published or grey literature. The article also builds on past research by the authors and others who have documented the fishing practices at Mbenje Island on Lake Malawi and the history of co-management in Malawi.
What is indigenous knowledge?
The term indigenous knowledge has been referred to differently by different authors, depending on the way the knowledge has been gained and used. Some scholars have referred to indigenous knowledge as traditional ecological knowledge or traditional environmental knowledge (TEK), or as indigenous technical knowledge (ITK) (Berkes, 1993; Stevenson, 1996; Usher, 2000). IK is often culturally embedded and is accumulated over time through interactions with the environment, evolving over generations. In some cases it includes a deep spiritual connection to the environment and specific natural resource. This paper has adopted the definition of Indigenous Knowledge to mean, knowledge produced and long practiced or used by the local community (Gorjestani, 2000). IK in this case encompasses all forms of local or community based knowledge, technologies, skills, practices and beliefs that enable the community to achieve stable livelihoods in their environment. In Malawi, there are several types and forms of IK that if tapped and used, could make a difference in the way natural resources such as fish are managed.
Application of indigenous knowledge in natural resource management
Indigenous knowledge has been found to make a significant contribution to sustainable development of local communities, as it is seen as a set of perceptions, information and behaviours that guide local community members to use the land and natural resources (Gorjestani, 2000). A considerable body of work and associated literature relating to indigenous knowledge already exists. The literature covers a broad range of resources, including forest management (Messerschmidt, 1986; Appleton and Hill, 1994), agronomy and agricultural research (Chambers et al., 1989), soils (Dvorak, 1988; Chadwick and Seeley, 1994), and soil and water conservation (Critchley et al., 1995; Riej et al., 1996). The literature also covers indigenous institutions and organizations, indigenous knowledge and gender (Fernandez, 1994) and indigenous experimentation, as well as reviews of indigenous knowledge systems as a whole (Warren et al., 1995).
Local knowledge and management systems, like formal science and management, are also dynamic in that they expand and change in response to changes in policies and practice, species distribution, species targeted, the movement of people from one area to another, fishery and climate-induced ecosystem shifts, market preference and other factors. Often marginalized in the process of colonization through displacement, mortality, indoctrination and resource degradation, IK can contract in scope and complexity under unfavourable conditions, but is also resilient and can re-emerge as conditions change (Ames, 2005). When resurrected and given support, indigenous and local knowledge and management systems can contribute to the development of innovative approaches to research, conservation and management of species.
Gender aspects to indigenous knowledge
Fernandez (1994) acknowledged that IK is structured by the systems of classification and management that govern resource use, and are fuelled by observation, experimentation and innovation of these community members. Stevenson (1996) asserted that it is accessible to, and developed within the framework of, those members of society who are responsible for that aspect of resource management and production, and as such, the quantity and quality of IK varies among community members, depending upon gender, age, social status, intellectual capability and profession. As such, IK is gender sensitive. Specific experiences, knowledge and skills which women and men develop as they carry out the responsibilities assigned to them, bring about gender differentiation (Feldstein and Poats, 1989). For example, a study carried out by Manyungwa (2012) on Mbenje Island fishing community, revealed that women play an active role in the ‘kuteta’ ceremony, where sacrifices are offered on the graves of the ancestors, which is conducted at the beginning of a traditionally sanctioned closed fishing season. In addition, the kinds of relationships which exist between these two sets of innovators affect hierarchies of access, use and control, resulting in different perceptions and priorities for the innovation and use of technology by women and men. The degree of gender specificity attached to the IK depends not only on the way responsibilities are allocated, but also on the degree of flexibility men and women (particularly women) have to carry out the work. Fairhead (1992) points out that whilst such differences are clear, it should not be assumed that knowledge is limited to areas of people who have a role to play. Chapter 24 of the Agenda 21, developed out of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED, 1992), discusses the concerns of women and their relationship to the environment. Nonetheless, it gives no clear recommendations concerning either indigenous women or women's indigenous or local knowledge systems. Chapter 26 of the same Agenda recognises the role of indigenous communities in relation to the environment; it also acknowledges indigenous peoples' long tradition of holistic scientific knowledge of the environment and natural resources, and suggests that this may serve as a basis for action. However, there are few references to women and those that do exist are generally in the form of an addition to more general recommendations. However, Article 11.6 of the FAO Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Small-Scale Fisheries encourages States to recognize and support specific IK knowledge of women fishers and fish workers (FAO, 2015).
Policy context of indigenous knowledge in fisheries in Malawi
The Malawi's fisheries policy was framed to include various issues on fisheries extension with a focus on participatory fisheries management (Njaya, 2002). The Fisheries Management and Conservation (FMC) Act of 1997 also recognizes that fisheries management has to be implemented using participatory approaches as stated in part III which provides for local community participation in conservation and management of fisheries (GoM, 1997). Further the Act also emphasizes that fishery management for fishing and breeding shall consider local customs, practices as well as community involvement (GoM, 1997). The reflection of such statements in the Act can be seen as a basis for the country's policy commitment to develop the fisheries sector by involving local participation with their indigenous knowledge. The Malawi constitution endorses the concept of IK in its concern for preservation of natural resources. It enjoins the state and the citizens in article 13(d) (iii) that the environment has to be managed responsibly in order to accord full recognition of the rights of the future generations by means of environmental protection and the sustainable development of the natural resources (GoM, 1998).
Available indigenous knowledge in fisheries
Evidence of traditional fisheries management in Malawi during pre-colonial period is scanty. However, Allison et al. (2002) observed that attempts to limit access to fishery resources in southern Lake Malawi were an instrument used by traditional authorities or rival ethnic groups to exercise power rather than a measure to conserve fish stocks. Even Msosa (1999) noted a conceptual basis for resource conservation among the Tonga people in northern Lake Malawi but also observed that traditional fishing gear designs indicated an appreciation of conservation imperative in fisheries. Lowe (1952) also encountered survival of traditional conservation measures whereby local rules were set by the Native Authorities such as banning the use of seines near river mouths at certain times of the year to conserve spawning runs of fish or nursery grounds for juveniles.
Development of various fishing gears
This section provides a valuable overview of indigenous fishing technologies utilized in Malawi. The review identified that traditional fishers use conceivable types of fishing gear using locally made materials such as floating rafts made out of papyrus reads, light branches of aquatic shrubs and dugout canoes made out of huge tree trunks locally known as (Bwato or Ngalawa) that have been propelled by either long bamboo poles in relatively shallow waters or paddles in deeper waters (ICLARM/GTZ, 1991). These types of fishing craft are still being used up to now in some parts of Malawi. Shaping a tree trunk into a water craft that can float, carry people and be able to be navigated in water requires special skills. Fishing communities have developed these fishing crafts depending on the type of fishing method to be employed, fishing equipment to be taken on board, type of water body to be fished and how the waters flow in the fishing grounds.
Emtage, 1967 (also cited in Nsiku, 2007) reported that at one time it was expected that planked boats, fibreglass or other types of boats with outboard motors, as well as relatively large inboard vessels, would replace the dugout canoe. However, it has prevailed as the main fishing vessel among the rural small-scale fishers. In the case of Malawi, the dugout canoes represented about 85 per cent of all traditional fishing craft between 1985 and 1995 (Nsiku, 1999). Between 2011 and 2014, canoes have represented 70 per cent of the fishing craft in Malawi (GoM, 2014). Technologically, according to Emtage (1967), the in-curved lips of the hull make well-made dugouts virtually impossible to turn over; they can roll through 90° to lie on their sides and still recover, without sinking. Slight lifts at the bow and stern reduce rolling and enhance recovery.
Alongside the development of the fishing crafts, the review has also found that traditional fishing nets have also evolved. The first gill nets to be used for fishing in Malawi were made up of fibres produced from either shrubs or trees in the early 1900s (Mzumara, 1967), which eventually were made from sisal ropes and then the current nylon twines. Several designs of fishing nets have over time developed in Malawi and have been named differently by different fishing communities. The most common ones being the gill nets, beach seines and open-water seine nets. The Malawi seine nets have been named after their target fish species. For example, Chambo beach seine nets (named after the tilapia Oreochromis spp.) and nkacha open water seine nets (named after the Happlochromis spp.).
Fish species identification and naming
Since time memorial, artisanal fishers have identified and named almost all the fish species they have interacted with. The naming has been based on the shape or colour of the fish as well as the habitat where the fish is commonly found. Some of the characteristics used in the identification and naming of the fish are not all that different from the ones that the modern taxonomists use. In Lake Malawi alone, by the year 2000, Snoeks (2000) had recorded over 845 species. Typical examples of fish identified by their physical characteristics, such as shape include Mormyrus deliciosus, which is locally called samwamowa (meaning does not drink beer due to the shape of its head and long snout). Named for their habitat, rock dwelling cichlids Pseudotropheus spp., are locally called mbuna, because they live in holes or rock crevices.
The lunar cycle
Within the fishing communities, the fishers are the ones that seemed to have intensive indigenous knowledge about the fish species they go for and at what time of the day and year they can fish the desired fish species. They indicated that the lunar cycle plays a critical role in the Lake Malawi fishing system. Local fishers understand the lunar phases as they tend to influence the behaviours of fish species. Fishing of Engraulicyprus sardella locally known as “Usipa” is conducted when the moon is in the dark (locally the phase is called “mwezi ukapita ku mdima”). Fishing is done with light attraction and basically involves the use of light at night to attract fish towards the fishing nets. The most common nets used in light fish fishing are the off-shore seine nets for the small scale fishers and purse seines for large scale fishers. There are currently different sources and types of lights that are being used in light fishing in Malawi. These range from paraffin (kerosene) operated pressure lamps, battery operated led lamps to solar operated led lamps. In the early days before the above mentioned lamps were introduced, indigenous fishers in Malawi used to make grass bundle torches to attract fish at night.
Indigenous management information
Fisher migrations are associated with corresponding movements of targeted fish species, who know whether such migrations are for feeding or spawning, or due to a change in water conditions and water body productivity. Fishers are even aware of the feeding relationships associated with their target species' predators (ICLARM/GTZ, 1991). Local fishers keenly observe specialized feeding and breeding patterns of targeted fish species. Discussions with local fishing communities in Nkhotakota indicated that they know when the most targeted fish species (Oreochromis karongae) breeds and what habitats are associated with their breeding patterns (Chia fishing community 2015, personal communication). The communities also pointed out that at the onset of the rains, the fish tend to move more inshore due to the heavy sedimentation in-flows that are rich with fish food.
Traditional management system of fish resources
Fishing communities have traditional management practices. A study conducted by Mwale and Malekano (2000) in Chembe Village identified that fishers manage to sustain themselves through the use of different gears. For example between November and December they do not allow fishing with nets instead they encourage hook and line fishing (Mwale and Malekano, 2000). In addition they have restrictions on who can fish in the area thereby restricting introduction of diverse fishing technologies.
In another case on Chisi Island, Kalanda-Sabola (2007) established that inhabitants developed some practices including restricted cutting of Typha, conservation of reed “mabawe” which encouraged regeneration of fish and sustainable utilization of fish resources.
A study conducted by Manyungwa (2012) on Mbenje Island fishery established that communities of Chikombe village have a detailed understanding of ecological processes associated with habitats of the Island and therefore established social processes including the practice of offering sacrifices “kuteta” to their ancestral spirits. In addition, the communities established some norms based on beliefs associated with accessing the Island, where no women, beer or gambling were allowed.
With the local knowledge of the breeding season for the fish around the Island, the traditional leaders in collaboration with the village elders instituted a “closed fishing season” that runs from December to April of every year. Coincidentally, this is during the rainy season and gives fishers a chance to go farming for maize. The maize is harvested around April, when the closed fishing season ends. There is always a closing and opening traditional function that is done by the village elders by giving sacrifices to their ancestral spirits in the kuteta ceremony. After the kuteta ceremony, fishers leave the main land and camp on the island for fishing up to the end of the fishing season. This is in line with a self regulatory mechanism of common resource management (Berkes, 1996).
Link between theories of conservation and indigenous knowledge: The case of Mbenje Island
The term ‘conservation’ is operationally defined according to Talbot (1980) cited in Berkes (1996) as the maintenance of essential ecological processes and life support systems, the preservation of genetic diversity and the sustainable utilization of species and ecosystems. Management of natural resources cannot afford to be the subject of just any single body of knowledge such as the Western sciences but it has to take into consideration the plurality of knowledge systems (Pandey, 1996). Hemes, 1983 asserts that three conditions would have to exist in order for conservation to develop. The first condition is that the local population would have to be territorial, that is able to defend their resources against outsiders who might subvert their conservation plans. In accordance with the economic defendability model (Hudson and Smith, 1978, cited in Hemes, 1983) territoriality is most likely to evolve in groups that occupy areas characterized by relatively dense and predictable resources. In accordance with this review we have identified that Mbenje Island may have fish resources that meet this condition. In addition territoriality would not be necessary for conservation if a group had a home range that did not overlap with a neighbour's home range. In the case of this review, waters of Mbenje and Chisi Islands are shared. It is against this first condition of conservation where the review has established the different practices by the local people to manage the resources around the Islands. It is therefore being argued that the waters around Mbenje Island are shared with consent from the traditional owners under the authority of the Chief, and this demonstrates an element of “exclusivity” for the fish resources around the Island.
The second condition of the model as observed by Hemes (1983) is that local populations must have mechanisms for dealing with their own members who might decide to break conservation conventions. This auger very well with the notion that artisanal fisheries are managed de facto through local institution arrangements. In this review we have established that communities around Chisi and Mbenje Islands laid down social sanctions against anyone who attempts to break conservation rules.
The third condition is that conservation implies that unregulated hunting and fishing or population growth places so much pressure on a group's resource base that increases in work effort and/or decline in the consumption of limiting resources will ultimately result in a crush of the groups' population.
In line with the third condition, we can argue that even with increased population, there will be a wide diversity in IK development as people have diverse ideas and experiences that also enhances unregulated fishing and development of illegal fishing methods due to increase in demand for fish in which case the aspect of conservation may be compromised. The other dimension that we can allude to is that with diversity of ideas the opposite may happen, whereby innovative indigenous knowledge may develop and contribute effectively to the conservation of the group's resource base.
Potential for indigenous knowledge in fisheries management
Leveque (1999) hinted that IK and traditional practices may yield new ideas about conservation and management of natural resources. It is widely recognized as potentially useful to fisheries conservation and management. The Mbenje Island fishery in the central part of Lake Malawi has survived since the late 1950s due to traditional management system orchestrated by traditional leaders (Manyungwa, 2012). The introduction of closed fishing season around the Island shows that the fishing communities' IK is in line with scientific knowledge and modern principles of fisheries management. It is therefore argued that local communities have observed the breeding habits of fish at the Island over time, and using these observations, have devised the closed season, which is exactly similar to the management measures instituted by the fisheries scientists in the other parts of Lake Malawi.
IK also has potential for fisheries researchers and managers especially when used in conjunction with conventional scientific data for its role in providing baseline ecological data required for planning purposes. For instance Kalanda-Sabola (2007) observed that communities of Chisi Island on Lake Chilwa, are able to identify the lake resources meaning that local people are able to know which species exist in their area. Such information and knowledge can be applied in scientific studies when creating inventory of resources for the Island.
The adoption of IK in formal resource management system is believed not only to highlight the complex and multifaceted relationships between indigenous and non indigenous managers but also promotes the achievement of co-management partnership that is framed by the distinctiveness of indigenous law and place (Robinson et al., 2006).
IK development, just like any other knowledge development, is a continuous process due to continued interaction between the communities and their environment and the search for solutions to their daily socio-economic problems. This aspect brings in both positive and negative effects on the status and management of fisheries associated with the concerned indigenous knowledge developers. For example, there is constant development of fishing gears and methods by the local fishing communities which are indigenous based that may be destructive to the fish stocks. A typical example is the development of nkacha fishery in Lake Malombe (Donda, 2001). It is therefore, important that fish resource management authorities keep abreast of any IK developments and use it in the development of fisheries management regulations for the benefit of the fishing communities by building these over the localized IK. This process may enhance the acceptability of fishing regulations as the fishers may understand the basis of the regulations.
This article has reviewed the literature on the role of indigenous knowledge and its potential in fisheries management in Malawi. Today the majority of people working in development, be it in agriculture, aquaculture or other forms of natural resources management, recognise the benefits and necessity of working alongside the local population. There are specialised fishing community groups whose whole livelihood depends on their ability to manage these resources. The fisher-folk have built up an intimate knowledge of how their environment operates around them and have developed appropriate, often complex, systems of management. This knowledge is localised, differing by locality, group and individual. Furthermore, such knowledge is of great importance: it is often sophisticated and efficient and always relevant to local needs and realities. It does represent knowledge articulated with the realities of everyday life in a setting where it may mean the difference between survival and destitution. IK and the processes that operate upon it are not static. Such characteristics are crucial in a sector where the dynamics of fisheries management are changing at a frenetic pace. We argue that IK has potential in fisheries management, the only effective way to achieve this is to utilise the knowledge and flexibility of local institutions.
Considering the fact that IK about the management and potential use of resources is in danger of being lost when it is no longer seen as useful and when large scale out migration leaves fewer members of the younger generation in rural areas, there is need to thoroughly document and publicise it. The importance of IK documentation cannot be over-emphasised, as it is knowledge that includes cultural beliefs and tacit knowledge which is rarely documented and slowly disappears since it generally only gets passed on orally from one generation to the next. Hence, information can easily be lost from within a community within two or three generations.