The University of Arizona

Socializing the rain: human adaptation to ecological variability in a fishery, Mweru-Luapula, Zambia

Christopher M. Annear, Peter R. Waylen



Rainfall drives fishery fertility in Mweru-Luapula, thus rainfall variability contributes to frequent changes in fishing catches. Fishers and traders have adapted their institutions to this variable ecology in a variety of ways, including learning to read the fishery for productive periods and practicing multiple modes of income procurement. By accurately identifying inter-annual, inter-decadal, and longer spans of rainfall trends, future high and low yields can be forecast. This article presents and analyzes annual rainfall in the fishery from 1916-1992 and quantitative fish market data comprised of observed fish catch numbers by species in three markets from September 2004 to September 2005. It uses political ecology to better understand fish production, trade, and subsistence in this South-Central African freshwater fishery. We combine qualitative analysis of fisher and marketer perceptions of the fishery and knowledge of rainfall patterns to show how human behavior is not "tragically" driven, but instead based on the state of the ecological, sociocultural, and socioeconomic environment at a given time.

Keywords: African freshwater fisheries, rainfall modeling, political ecology, Mweru-Luapula, Zambia, climate change

Full Text:



Aarnink, B.H.M., C.K. Kapasa and, P.A.M. van Zwieten. 1993. "Our children will suffer": present status and problems of Mweru-Luapula fisheries and the need for a conservation and management action plan. Bujumbura: UNDP/FAO Regional Project for Inland Fisheries Planning Development and Management in Easter/Central/Southern Africa.

Acheson, J.M. 1988. Patterns of gear change in the Maine fishing industry: some implications for management. Maritime Anthropological Studies 1: 49-65.

Acheson, J.M. 2003. Capturing the commons: devising institutions to manage the main lobster industry. Hanover and London: University Press of New England.

Acheson, J.M. and J.A. Wilson. 1980. A model of adaptive behavior in the New England fishing industry. University of Rhode Island/University of Maine Study of Social and Cultural Aspects of Fisheries Management in New England Under Extended Jurisdiction, Volume III. National Science Foundation.

Acheson, J.M. and J.A. Wilson. 1996. Order out of chaos: the case for parametric fisheries management. American Anthropologist 98(3): 979-994.

Annear, C.M. 2006. Legislating 'Liverpool': the role of law in the development and conservation of the Mweru-Luapula Fishery, Zambia. In Seidman, A., R.B. Seidman, P. Mbana and H. Hu Li (eds.). Africa's challenge: using law for good governance and development. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press.

Annear, C.M. 2009. Navigating constricted channels: local cooption, coercion, and concentration under co-management, Mweru-Luapula fishery. Journal of Political Ecology 16: 34-48.

Annear, C.M. God's closed season: fishing under divine and secular authority in Mweru-Luapula Fishery, Zambia. Under review with Culture, Agriculture, Food and Environment (CAFE).

Beverton, R. and S.J. Holt. 1957. On the dynamics of exploited fish populations. London: HMSO.

Bos, A.R., C.K. Kapasa and P.A.M. van Zwieten. 2006. Update on the bathymetry of Lake Mweru (Zambia), with notes on water level fluctuations. African Journal of Aquatic Science 31(1): 145-150.

Camberlin, P. and N. Philippon. 2002. The East African March-May rainy season: associated atmospheric dynamics and predictability over the 1968-97 period. Journal of Climate 15(9): 1002-1019.

Carey, T.G. 1965. Lake Mweru-Luapula. In M.A.E. Mortimer (ed.). The fish and fisheries of Zambia. Lusaka: The Government Printer.

Chikwampu, P. 2005. US economist hails state over fish ban. Zambia Daily Mail, June 28.

Chisupa, K. 2004. Lake Mweru fish plunder worries fisheries official. Zambia Daily Mail, October 16.

Cunnison, I.G. 1959. The Luapula peoples of Northern Rhodesia: custom and history in tribal politics. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Dezfuli, A.K. and S.E. Nicholson. 2013. The relationship of rainfall variability to western equatorial Africa to the tropical oceans and atmospheric circulation. Part II: the boreal autumn. Journal of Climate 26(1): 66-84.

Fauchereau, N., S. Trzaska, M. Rouault and Y. Richard. 2003. Rainfall variability and changes in Southern Africa during the 20th century in the global warming context. Natural Hazards 29(2): 139-154.

Feeny, D., F, Berkes, B.J. McCay and J.M. Acheson. 1990. The tragedy of the commons: twenty years later. Human Ecology 18(1): 1-19.

Gettleman, J. 2015. Meant to keep malaria out, mosquito nets are used to haul fish in. New York Times, January 24.

Gleick, J. 1997. Chaos: making a new science. New York: Penguin.

Gordon, D.M. 2005. Growth without capital: a renascent fishery in Zambia and Katanga, 1960s to recent times. Journal of Southern African Studies 31(3): 495-511.

Gordon, D.M. 2006. Nachituti's gift: economy, society, and environment in Central Africa. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.

Goudswaard, K. 1999. A dynamic fishery in Zambia: a case of change in the Mweru Luapula Fishery, Report of a frame survey in 1997. Nchelenge: Department of Fisheries.

Grimes, D., E. Coppola, M. Verdecchia and G. Visconti. 2003. A neural network approach to real-time rainfall estimation for Africa using satellite data. Journal of Hydrometeorology 4: 1119-1133.

Hardin, G.J. 1968. The tragedy of the commons. Science 162(3859): 1243-1248.

Harley, S.J., R.A. Myers and A. Dunn. 2001. Is catch-per-unit-effort proportional to abundance? Canadian Journal of Aquatic Science 58: 1760-1772.

Holling, C.S. 1986. The resilience of terrestrial ecosystems: local surprise and global change. In W.C. Clark and R.E. Munn (eds.). Sustainable development of the biosphere. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hulme, M., R. Doherty, T. Ngara, M. New and D. Lister. 2001. African climate change: 1900-2100. Climate Research 17(2): 145-168.

Jackson, P.B. 1961. The fishes of Northern Rhodesia: a check list of indigenous species. Lusaka: The Government Printer.

Jul-Larsen, E., J. Kolding, R. Overå, J.R. Nielsen and P.A.M. van Zwieten. 2003a. Management, co-management or no management in southern African freshwater fisheries? In Jul-Larsen, E., J. Kolding, R. Overå, J.R. Nielsen and P.A.M. van Zwieten (eds.). Major dilemmas in southern African freshwater fisheries 1. Synthesis report. Rome: FAO.

Jul-Larsen, E., J. Kolding, R. Overå, J.R. Nielsen and P.A.M. van Zwieten. 2003b. Management, co-managment or no management? Major dilemmas in southern African freshwater fisheries: case studies. Rome: FAO.

Jury, M., R.E. Matari and M. Matitu. 2009. Equatorial African climate teleconnections. Theoretical and Applied Climatology 95: 407-416.

Kaswende, K. 2005. Kalifungwa explains low catches of fish in Luapula. The Post, April 10.

Kolding, J. 1994. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose: on ecology and exploitation of fish in fluctuating tropical environments. Dr. Scient. Bergen: University of Bergen.

Kolding, J. and P.A.M. van Zwieten. 2011. The tragedy of our legacy: how do global management discourses affect small-scale fisheries in the south? Forum for Development Studies 38(3): 267-297.

Maboshe, S. 2004. Fish-ban enforcement and sensitization meetings tour report, 16th-21st June 2004. Mansa: Department of Fisheries.

Malama, B. 2004. State fears fish depletion in Luapula lakes, rivers. Zambia Daily Mail, July 2.

Marchant, R., C. Mumbi, S. Behera and T. Yamagata. 2007. The Indian Ocean dipole—the unsung driver of climatic variability in East Africa. African Journal of Ecology 45(1): 4-16.

McCay, B.J. and J.M. Acheson (eds.). 1987. The question of the commons: the culture and ecology of communal resources. Tuscon: University of Arizona Press.

McLean, K., A. Byanaku, A. Kubikonse, V. Tshowe, S. Katensi and A.G. Lehman. 2014. Fishing with bed nets on Lake Tanganyika: a randomized survey. Malaria Journal 13(1): 395-400.

Minakawa, N., G.O. Dida, G.O. Sonye, K. Futami and K. Satoshi. 2008. Unforeseen misuses of bed nets in fishing villages along Lake Victoria. Malaria Journal 7(1): 165-171.

Moonze, L. 2004. Fishing industry has collapsed, says Machungwa. The Post, February 26.

Musambachime, M.C. 1981. Development and growth of the fishing industry in Mweru-Luapula 1920-1964. Department of History seminar, University of Wisconsin Madison.

Nawa, K. 2000. Drought monitoring in Zambia using meteosat and NOAA Avhrr data. Asian conference on remote sensing, Taipei.

Nicholson, S.E. and A.K. Dezfuli. 2013. The relationship of rainfall variability in western equatorial Africa to the tropical oceans and atmospheric circulation. Part I: the boreal spring. Journal of Climate 26(1): 45-65.

Paloheimo, J.E. and L.M. Dickie. 1964. Abundance and fishing success. Journal du Conseil (Conseil International pour l'Exploration de la Mer) 155: 152-163.

Plisnier, P-D., S. Serneels and E.F. Lambin. 2000. Impact of ENSO on East African ecosystems: a multivariate analysis based on climate and remote sensing data. Global Ecology and Biogeography 9(6): 481-497.

Roy, M., R.D. Holt and M. Barfield. 2005. Temporal autocorrection can enhance the persistence and abundance of metapopulations comprised of coupled sinks. The American Naturalist 166(2): 246-261.

Scullion, J. 1985. Development of the sardine fishery, Lake Mweru, Zambia. 1985: final report prepared for the States of Jersey Overseas Aid Committee. St. Helier, C.I. Nchelenge, Zambia: Department of Fisheries.

Verelst, B. 2013. Managing inequality: the political equality of a small-scale fishery, Mweru-Luapula, Zambia. Journal of Political Ecology 20(1): 14-36.

Waylen, P.R., C.M. Annear and Y. Qiu. 2011a. Estimating precipitation imputs into Lake Mweru, Zambia. Florida Climate Institute, annual meeting, Gainesville, FL.

Waylen, P.R., C.M. Annear and Y. Qiu. 2011b. Isabi, ilekonka menshi (a fish follows water): estimating annual precipitation inputs to the Lake Mweru basin, Zambia-Congo, and their spatial and temporal variability, 1925-86. Annual meeting of the southeastern division of the American Association of Geographers, Savannah, GA.

Williams, C.A. and N.P. Hanan. 2011. ENSO and IOD teleconnections for African ecosystems: evidence of destructive interference between climate oscillations. Biogeosciences 8: 27-40.

Williams, R. 1972. Relationship between the water levels and the fish catches in Lakes Mweru and Mweru wa Ntipa, Zambia. African Journal of Tropical Hydrobiology and Fisheries 2(1): 21-32.

Wilson, J.A., J. French, P. Kleban, S. McKay and R. Townsend. 1991. The management of chaotic fisheries: a bio-economic model. Proceedings from the symposium on multiple species fisheries, Copenhagen.

Zambia Daily Mail. 2005. Comment [maize prices, supply]. Zambia Daily Mail, August 18.

Zwieten, P.A.M. van, B.H.M. Aarnink and C.K. Kapasa. 1995. How diverse a fishery can be! Structure of the Mweru-Luapula fishery based on an analysis of the frame survey, 1992 and a characterization of the present management strategies. Nchelenge: Department of Fisheries.

Zwieten, P.A.M. van, B.H.M. Aarnink, C.K. Kapasa and P. Ngalande. 1996. The biology, fishery and trade of chisense from Mweru-Luapula: status of present knowledge. Nchelenge: Department of Fisheries.

Zwieten, P.A.M. van, K. Goudswaard and C.K. Kapasa. 2003. Mweru-Luapula is an open exit fishery where a highly dynamic population of fishermen makes use of a resilient resource base. In E. Jul-Larsen, J. Kolding, R. Overå, J. Raakjaer Nielsen and P.A.M. van Zwieten (eds.). Management, co-management or no management: major dilemmas in southern African freshwater fisheries: case studies. Rome: FAO.

Zwieten, P.A.M. van and C.K. Kapasa. 1995. Lake Mweru Luapula. Analysis of the gillnet survey 1994. Nchelenge: Department of Fisheries.