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Doctoral Dissertation Research: Small-Scale, Subsistence Fishing as a Potential Threat to Biodiversity in an African Great Lake

The East African Great Lakes are home to some of the most diverse animal communities on the Earth, and they hold immense importance as sources of protein and employment in one of the world's poorest regions. Lake Malawi is home to more species of fish than any other lake in the world. Of the more than 500 species in the lake, 95 percent are found nowhere else. The Malawian cichlids are one of the best examples known of a vertebrate species flock, a closely related grouping of species which radiated over a very short evolutionary time period. One of the world's least-developed nations, Malawi, controls more than half the shoreline of Lake Malawi. Fishing is an important source of food, providing about 75 three-quarters of the animal protein consumed in Malawi, with almost a quarter million people involved in fishing or related processing and trading activities. Threats to the fish community in Lake Malawi include sedimentation due to land degradation, the introduction of exotic species, and overfishing. Plans for conservation of biodiversity in Lake Malawi must take into account the needs of the surrounding human communities. This doctoral dissertation research project will examine efforts at participatory management within the artisanal fishing sector, which uses small-scale equipment, which uses some or all of the catch for subsistence, and which trades through local market-distribution networks. The project will emphasize the collection of sociological and fisheries data. Interviews and discussions during group meetings with members of various stakeholder groups in fishing communities around the lake will provide information about the roles of fishing in the local village economy, change in fish stocks and fishing methods, and traditional methods of fisheries regulation. The project also will include an assessment of community perceptions of the status of the fishery and of the capacity for community management of aquatic resources. Fishing grounds used by each village will be mapped for each gear type or fishing method. A detailed analysis of catch composition will be conducted in order to describe which species are being caught where, when, and by which gear. A focused comparison of fish habitats and distributions will be undertaken both at a publicly accessible beach and at a nearby privately owned beach where fishing effort is much lower. This project will provide valuable new insights into the geography of catch composition and other aspects of fishing activity, thereby providing an analysis of the relationship between the use of fish resources and biodiversity. This will enhance both fundamental understandings and provide valuable new insights for those seeking to develop sustainable fisheries-management strategies. As a Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement award, this award also will provide support to enable a promising student to establish a strong independent research career.

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