Disentangling the net: the socio-ecological dynamics of mosquito net fishing

Researcher: Rebecca Short

Period: 2014 - 2018

Title of PhD: Disentangling the net: the socio-ecological dynamics of mosquito net fishing

Funder: Imperial College London NERC Doctoral Training Programme

Other Researchers; Prof. E.J. Milner-Gulland (ICCS Oxford); Dr. Marcus Rowcliffe (IoZ); Dr. Nick Hill (ZSL); Dr. Sergio Rosendo (Universidade Nova de Lisboa).

Collaborators: Associação do meio ambiente (AMA)  Our Sea Our Life Project (ZSL); Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter.


PhD Overview:

fishingCoastal regions in the developing world are under ever growing pressure. Expanding human populations along African coastlines are supplied not only by growing local communities, but also significant coastal migration as inland resources become increasingly depleted. In many places fishing is replacing traditional nomadic or agricultural activities as predominant sources of income. New entrants to fisheries often lack experience and capital to operate and purchase technical fishing gear. In many places this is leading to dangerous fishing activities, overexploitation and the use of opportunistic fishing gears. The fight against malaria in many parts of Africa by the World Health Organisation and numerous development NGOs has meant the distribution of millions of insecticide-impregnated mosquito nets (MNs). Since this drive to help eradicate malaria has been underway an increasing number of reports of alternative uses of these nets have been observed including as fishing nets.

Concern over the ecological impacts of using fine-mesh, unselective fishing gear, often over coral reefs or fragile ecosystems, means blanket bans on the activity have been a common response e.g. in Mozambique. However, recent studies have indicated that those using MNs may often be the most vulnerable within their communities; using MNs for subsistence with catches often too poor to sell, and lacking the ability to invest in alternative livelihood strategies.


Outline of research

Our research aims to be the first in-depth investigation of the issue of mosquito net fishing, its ecological impacts and socio-economic importance as an activity, both globally and within the context of the livelihoods and wellbeing of rural coral reef communities in northern Mozambique.



  1. Characterise the current global use of MNs for fishing, from the perspectives of key stakeholders from the health and resource management sectors.
  2. Qualitatively characterise the MN fisheries in a number of case study locations in terms of effort, use and perceptions.
  3. Using the case study of Cabo Delgado, empirically assess the theorised impacts of MN fishing on coastal ecosystems and evaluate how MNs interact with other gear types.
  4. Characterise how mosquito net fishing fits in to overall household livelihood strategies for fishers at the case study location, determining contribution of the activity toward incomes and food security.
  5. Evaluate stakeholder expectations of the potential effects of management intervention strategies using future policy scenarios to then inform management.


Summary of planned activities:

This project aims to look at this issue at a number of scales:

A global review will assess the current extent and prevalence of the issue as well as providing key insights as to variability in characteristics of mosquito net fisheriesmosquito net fishing between regions. This will draw on observational data and expert opinion from the conservation, natural resource management and health communities. Inferences will be made for policy implications across these stakeholders and generate discussion as to what inter-disciplinary research and management may be needed in future.

A detailed case study will utilise the Our Sea Our Life initiative led by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) towards community management of coastal reefs in Cabo Delgado, Northern Mozambique where MN fishing is one of a number of issues requiring management. Here I will investigate the role MN fishing plays in local livelihoods through a household survey, as well how the methods fits in to the wider fishery – comparing MN catch with that of other gears to assess potential impacts on both the fishery and local ecosystems. A key component of this is to try to reverse the current dearth of information regarding catch rates and composition that prohibits true assessment of impacts from MN fishing; designing a protocol for generating useful data from these extremely mixed, often juvenile catches. This detailed case study will be the cornerstone in a number of MSc project case studies that will elucidate localised variability – with one currently completed in Kenya and another planned for Lake Malawi.

An international workshop will bring together all relevant stakeholders in the issue, from local fisheries managers, conservationists and fisheries experts to net distributors, health policy officials and medical professionals. This will be the first meeting of its kind and will aim to characterise the problem from all angles before setting priorities for research and policy directions in an inter-disciplinary manner. Please get in touch if you believe you could contribute to this workshop.


Project outputs:

  • The main outputs will be Rebecca Short’s PhD thesis, as well as three MSc theses and subsequent chapter/thesis publications. Please see below for publications as they become available.
  • A detailed report from the International workshop aims to include a conceptual model of resources, needs and policy options based on our current understanding of the system as well as highlighting research needs across disciplines.
  • We hope to make available a new methodology for assessing inaccessible, poorly understood fisheries such as this where identification of species and access to fishers can be extremely challenging. If we manage to figure it out…


More information: 

For more information please contact Rebecca Short: rebecca.short@zsl.org


Relevant links:

Emma R. Bush, Rebecca E Short.  E.J. Milner-Gulland. Kirao Lennox.  Melita Samoilys. Nicholas Hill. (2016) Mosquito Net Use in An Artisanal East African Fishery. Conservation Letters

Gurung, Rajina, 2015. (MSc thesis). Mosquito Net Fishing: a Global Perspective on an Emerging Issue

The Conversation: Mosquito nets are often used for fishing. A smart response is needed.