Declines in fish yields and shifts in species composition are serious concerns in the African Great lakes of Tanganyika, Malawi (Nyasa/Niassa) and Victoria. Despite management and regulatory structures, all the lakes remain open‐access fisheries, severely depressing yields, economic returns and threatening biodiversity. While the lakes require an ecosystem‐based approach to management, this has not been realised because of a lack of institutional capacities, insufficient political will or simply being overwhelmed by the scale of the endeavour. Sustainable fisheries management can only be achieved through a refocus towards a stronger socio‐ecological approach and re‐evaluating how to realistically improve fish yield and environmental protection. This requires a combination of the following: (1) acceptance of suboptimal fish yields; (2) community‐enforced regulations that restrict access to fisheries and destruction of inshore habitats; (3) enhanced national and local institutional capacities and collaboration among the riparian states; and (4) major awareness and educational efforts that demonstrate the national and international importance of these lakes for food supply and biodiversity in pursuance of the Sustainable Development Goals. Without such actions, the prognosis for long‐term sustainable fisheries is bleak, and international projects and conferences will merely bear witness to further degradation of resources and the livelihoods they support.
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