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[LILONGWE] A new African network is aiming to increase the number of aquaculture and fisheries scientists on the continent and boost its dwindling fish stocks.

The Fisheries University Network (FishNet), led by the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD), was launched at the Bunda College of Agriculture in Malawi this month (15 February).

It will recruit and train scientists on fisheries at member universities, in line with both national and pan-African development agendas.

"It is widely [known] that Africa lacks critical mass of fisheries scientists to adequately undertake various important functions along the value chain of fisheries and aquaculture from production to marketing and trade," Emmanuel Kaunda, regional technical coordinator for fisheries in the Aquaculture Department at the University of Malawi, told SciDev.Net.

Kaunda quoted Food and Agriculture Organization figures that fish supplies have dropped from about 17 kilograms per capita in the 1970s to less than seven kilograms per capita in 2006 for most African countries.

FishNet will facilitate information and resource sharing; policy dialogue; networking with strategic partners and mobilisation of resources, to address challenges holding back aquaculture and fisheries research in Africa.

As well as conducting research into inland fisheries and aquaculture development, FishNet will ensure that research findings find their way to fish farmers and fishermen on the continent.

The network is expected to work with the Partnership for African Fisheries (PAF), a programme for developing fisheries reforms in Africa. It will also receive around US$10.7 million from the UK Department for International Development (DFID), said Tim Bostock, a senior fisheries advisor at DFID.

The Malawi meeting also saw the launch of postgraduate degree programmes in aquaculture and fisheries by the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture, a consortium of 25 universities in Eastern and Southern Africa established in 2004 and hosted by the University of Malawi.

Kaunda said this was a major step in training African scientists and practitioners to respond to Africa's needs in fisheries and aquaculture production.

Sloans Chimatiro, senior fisheries adviser to NEPAD, said that fisheries research conducted by academics and students must include studies of farms and fishing communities to ensure that the research meets people's needs.

The initiatives follow NEPAD's action plan for fisheries and aquaculture development endorsed by African heads of state at the Fish for All Summit in 2005 in Abuja, Nigeria.