Dear Friends,

After a hiatus of more than one year I want to update you on the developments regarding the protection of cichlids in lakes Malawi and Tanganyika. There have been some developments at both lakes and those in Lake Malawi have not been very favorable for the wellbeing of fish populations.

A little over a year ago Larry Johnson and seven other participants of his safari on Lake Malawi set out to Taiwanee Reef to release a whopping 700 C. saulosi that David Nkwhazi of Stuart Grant Ltd had bred for reintroduction. Unfortunately the visibility at the reef was very poor and no count of C. saulosi was made prior to the release. However, the video of the release (thank you Pete Barnes) shows that there were no resident C. saulosi visible in the area of release. There have also been reports that wild C. saulosi were offered for sale in Germany and China. Whether these were collected at the reef or captivity raised could not be determined, but I’m afraid that publicizing our reintroduction efforts also informs individuals with no scruples about extracting the last few specimens to make a buck.

2017 Release of Chindongo saulosi at Taiwanee Reef. Video by Pete Barnes.

A similar scenario was met by Mattia Matarrese and his team who, together with Pierre le Roux, visited Chidunga Rocks to prepare for the release of a second batch of Melanochromis chipokae. They couldn’t find a single individual of M. chipokae even though Pierre had released 68 fish in May. Also here I fear that most of these were extracted by collectors. It was decided to not release any more chipokae at Chidunga Rocks till a time when the ornamental fish collectors stop targeting these rare species. We are still breeding these and other species in Malawi and Pierre has been gracious enough to hold stocks of them at his facility.

I have spent the better part of seven months updating the status of all Malawi cichlids for the recently released red list update by the IUCN and at a workshop in Malawi in May this year it became clear that a huge number of species have disappeared. Most significantly for Malawi, the principal food fishes Chambo (Oreochromis species) and Kampango (Bagrus meridionalis) have decreased more than 99% in population density compared with data of 20 years earlier. Still there is no regular collection of data about what fish and in what quantities are being caught around the lake. The Utaka have been heavily overfished and now the lake water is slowly getting turbid as the fish that used to eat the plankton has been all but eliminated. The sole species which showed an increase in population density was the Usipa, the lake sardine, as it now has more food available. However, the commercial trawlers are now targeting this species and it is expected to have declined at the next census.

There is fortunately some good news from Malawi. Ripple Africa, a non-profit organization based in the UK and led by Geoff Furber, managed to convince the government that it would be better for the fish and fishermen to empower the local communities and allow them jurisdiction of the lake’s shoreline. They have established about 200 fish conservation committees and have setup bylaws in Nkhata Bay and Nkhotakota. Now that each village along the lake shore owns the right to fish and is able to arrest and fine fishers from other villages who intrude on their portion of the lake, the fish now appears to slowly return to normal densities. Also illegal nets, such as mosquito nets which were used to catch the tiniest of fish in the very shallow water, have largely been abandoned in the areas which were converted by Ripple Africa. Check out their website and find out the staggering number of confiscated mosquito nets.

Lake Tanganyika

While the authorities in Malawi do little to nothing about the rampant overfishing going on in the lake the situation in Tanzania on Lake Tanganyika is much better. The authorities try hard battling illegal fishing, partly supported by visitors who want to see the cichlids in the lake. The have imposed fees—$50/week/visitor—which are used for a special police force patrolling the entire shoreline of Tanzania and arresting any fisherman with illegal nets or while fishing in forbidden areas. I have just returned from a trip in Tanzania and Zambia and have noticed the difference in fish densities in Tanzania compared to those in Zambia where there is very little oversight, similar to Malawi.

Zambia used to have more than 20 commercial trawlers that targeted the open water fish, Kapenta (Limnothrissa and Stolothrissa), and in the 1990s fisheries was sure that there would be no end to the Kapenta fishing. Huge quantities of Kapenta were caught at night, attracted by lights, frozen in large warehouses, and then shipped to Lusaka or even exported to other countries. More than 10 years ago it became clear that Kapenta was limited and every commercial company has abandoned its collection. Still, Kapenta has not yet returned and the local fishermen are actually poaching in Tanzanian waters to catch some. With the cichlid stocks it is not much different: shallow water sand-dwelling cichlids have basically disappeared in Zambia while any fish that dared to swim out into the open water has been captured. Nowadays fishermen use small-meshed gill nets that are draped near shore and by throwing rocks and by loud splashing on the surface they hope to scare a few fish into the net.

Not only are the food fishes threatened with extinction in Zambia also the ornamental fish collectors have wreaked havoc on the more popular species such as the all-orange Neolamprologus mustax, the yellow and the white Altolamprologus calvus, the so-called Transcriptus Gombe, and various others that are also targeted by the food fishermen. We also visited Toby Veall’s compound and were happy to see that many vats were dedicated to breeding the Maswa Duboisi and all appeared in good health.

Some of the vats with breeding groups of Tropheus duboisi "Maswa" at Toby Veall's Kalambo Lodge.

Chris and Louise Horsfall of the Lakeshore Lodge in Kipili are successfully breeding several threatened species which they will hold till such time they are no longer targeted in the wild. At present more than 80% of the fish collected by the ornamental fish trade is exported to Asia with more than 11 exporters operating in Tanzania alone! We are in this for the long haul.

This year was a great year for our fundraising as we received a little over $12,000! Our total from 2007 till now stands at $98,205! I would like to thank Mattia Matarrese and the Perth Cichlid Society, Steve Edie and the Missouri Aquarium Society, Dick Au, the Nordiska Ciklidsellskapet, Patrick Tawil, Associazione Italiana Ciclidofili, and the Babes in the Cichlid Hobby for their large donations to the Fund. Thank you ALL for your support and concern for our cichlids in the wild.

Remember that a portion of each package of Frozen Cichlid Formula of Omega One supports the Fund!