What factors drive fishery yields in the Lower Shire River, Malawi?
The Shire River drains from Lake Malawi to the Lower Zambezi River. Annual flow is dependent mainly on lake level, partially controlled by the operation of a barrage at Liwonde to regulate flows for hydroelectricity generation in the escarpment reaches of the river. Downstream of the escarpment, the floodplains of the Lower Shire River support important subsistence fisheries that yielded on average 5 100 t y−1 between 1977 and 1993. Catches from the major fishery area, the Elephant Marsh, were positively correlated with mean annual flow for the same year. Since the target fish species (mainly clariid catfishes) were mostly caught in their second and third year, improved recruitment through higher breeding success at higher flow levels is less likely to explain interannual variation in catches than is greater upstream migration of fish from the Lower Zambezi River in high-flow years. In 1978 a sudden closure of Liwonde Barrage resulted in rapid drainage of stagnant water from the Elephant Marsh floodplain vegetation into the river, causing a mass fish mortality and thus a marked decline in catches from 1979, followed by gradual recovery by 1981. The delay in recovery contrasts with the annual direct catch/flow relationship, and raises questions about the most important influences on Lower Shire catch rates.
Keywords: annual flow, catch rates, floodplain, Liwonde Barrage, mass mortality, Zambezi