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The effects of overfishing, and perhaps a light at the end of the tunnel

Our project in the DRC borders Lake Kivu, but like all the great African lakes, climate change and changing demography are having a severe impact on the ecosystem. A study on Lake Malawi is so instructive.

Lake Malawi is one of the most vulnerable geographical areas on the planet to climate change: inexorable rise in temperatures, successive periods of drought or cyclones have degraded the lake's ecosystem and reduced marine fauna. This disaster poses a food risk in a country where 1.6 million people live and depend on the fishing economy, according to the FAO. Thus, the phenomenon is obviously aggravated by the increase in population, its economic needs, and therefore, by overfishing. As a result, over the years, fishermen have to go offshore to hope to bring back less and less fish. A vicious circle has started, because the little that is caught in the lake is sold for more and more. No longer having the means to buy fish, the diet of the populations changes, favoring vegetables to the detriment of proteins. Officials fear that future generations will soon be unable to live from fishing.

However, measures are taken to fight against overfishing and restore the ecosystem: government agents have started to reforest with mango trees along the banks to limit erosion, awareness-raising actions are taking place in the villages to attract attention to the risks of overfishing. And the Malawian government has mainly banned fishing from October to December, to allow the reproduction of fish. However, these efforts seem to be in vain because people fish to survive, and when fishing is prohibited, there is no more work. From October to December, many fishermen therefore defy the law and illegally catch fish, fueling an infernal fish contraband, very widespread in the region.

Even if the African lakes and the local populations are heading for ecological and food disaster, it should be noted, however, that the application of radical measures can eventually bear fruit. Particularly in the Atlantic Ocean: according to the European Commission, the biomass of fish stocks increased by 35% between 2003 and 2019 in European waters, although some species remain overexploited. This improvement is due to a combination of different factors. For twenty years, knowledge of the species has improved. Management decisions, particularly in terms of fishing quotas, are also more in line with scientific recommendations than those of the time. Finally, the fishermen have improved their practices: they better respect the allocated quotas and have improved the selectivity of their gear. But finally, here, fishing is not really a matter of life or death.


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