CNFA’s Dr. Marjatta Eilitta Participates in Study on Invasive Crayfish in Zambia

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Dr. Marjatta Eilitta during her presentation.

On Wednesday, August 16, Dr. Marjatta Eilitta, CNFA’s USAID-funded John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer-to-Farmer Program director, presented the results of research she helped conduct on the invasive Australian red claw crayfish, Cherax quadricarinatus, in Zambia to an audience consisting of Zambia’s Department of Fisheries officials, researchers and development personnel. The crayfish was introduced to Zambia in the early 1990s, and has since spread widely, hurting fishers’ livelihoods through damage to nets and fish, possibly causing unknown ecological impacts and threatening Southern Africa’s regional natural treasures, such as the Okavango Delta in Botswana, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Since 2020, Eilitta has participated in a research project on these invasive species with the USAID-funded Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Fish. Included in this research effort were three co-investigators — Eva Nambeye Kaonga, Bernadette Chimai and Gordon Mudenda from the University of Zambia (UNZA), the host organization in Zambia — who led and hosted the inception and final meeting of the project. Chibwe Katapa, also from UNZA, conducted her M.S. dissertation research based on the project. Finally, the University of Rhode Island was the lead institute for the study, with Michael Rice as the primary investigator.

Researchers and audience members engage in group discussions.

The project involved ecological research on the population structure, growth and abundance of crayfish, as well as diverse socioeconomic studies. During Eilitta’s presentation, she discussed the lead researcher online poll that queried about presence or absence of the crayfish in different locations as well as its population and use. She also supported a survey of 342 fishers on awareness and perceptions of crayfish and focus group discussions with fishers in four locations to further probe on particular issues that came up in the surveys.

The research project showed that crayfish has spread widely in Zambia and is currently present in southern, central, northern, northwestern and western parts of the country. It is well adapted to Kariba and Kafue, where increasing numbers of fishers are selling it and more urban and rural consumers are eating it, although traditionally, crustaceans have not been consumed in Zambia. The online poll, which Eilitta presented, could become a useful tool to continue monitoring its spread.

Working groups in the August 16 workshop also proposed ways forward in dealing with the crayfish, including further research on its ecological adaptation and policy efforts in Zambia to clarify its management and regional efforts in Southern Africa to curb its spread to Okavango Delta in Botswana.

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