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2.1 Situation of Capture Fisheries

2.1.1 Natural Resources and Fisheries Potential

The seasonal variations in Ethiopia are under the influence of the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), the main rainy season occurring between June and August. Around March, a high pressure system develops over the region and brings moist, easterly winds ascending over the Highlands and producing the "small rains". Rainfall is subject to important variability according to altitude. In general, plateaux over 2 500m receive 1 400 - 1 800 mm/year, mid-altitude regions (600 - 2 500m) receive 1 000-1 400mm/year, and coastal lowlands get less than 200mm/year.

Air temperature conditions are function of altitude and determine five agro-climatic zones, ranging from alpine-type to desert. There can be considerable amplitude between average and extreme temperatures of various regions. For instance, the average temperature in Addis Ababa is 16,3° C, meanwhile temperatures below O° C can often occur in December-January.

Hydrological system derives from six major drainage basins. The water area includes about 7 400 Kmē of lakes and reservoirs, and 7 000 Km of rivers. Most of fishing areas are found in natural lakes, of which Lake Tana is the largest one. The average altitude of water bodies is 1 750m, while surface-water temperature range between 22 and 26° C. The Rift Valley south of Addis Ababa contains a system of small to medium-sized lakes, some of which are saline. The most fished lakes are Ziway, Langano, Awassa, Chamo and Abaya. Also exploited for fishing are the two largest reservoirs, Fincha and Koka.

Riverine fishing activities are performed mostly on two of the rivers, the Baro near Gambela in the western part of the country and the Omo in the southern area near the border with Kenya.

A hundred local fish species have been identified, while the bulk of the production is made of Tilapia, Lates, Barbus, Bagrus, Clarias and Labeo species. Approximately 80% of the catch is tilapia, although Nile perch is caught in large quantities on Lakes Chamo and Abaya, as well as in major riverine fisheries. Most of the remainder of the lake catches consists of catfish and barbus.

Estimates of the potential yield have been calculated from different methods on individual lakes (surface area, mean depth, and conductivity). According to the method used, differences are large. It is believed that in Ethiopia, conservative estimates depending on experimental fishing - as recently initiated by the Lake Fisheries Development Project (LFDP) - would reflect more the reality than the empirical formulae because of the high turbidity of most of the water bodies. In the face of such uncertainty, fish potential yield can be conservatively estimated at between 30 000t and 40 000t/year for the main water bodies (FAO, 1993). Furthermore, the riverine fishery potential is roughly estimated at about 5 000t/year (Aubray, 1975).

Table2 gives estimates of fish potential and landings by area. Present production in most water bodies, which is conservatively estimated at about 5 500t/year, is far below the estimated potential yields, i.e. about 20% in total. However, based on field survey, it is possible that Lakes Awasa and Ziway are near to being heavily exploited (small size of the catch, declines in landings, ...). But in general, most of fisheries, although requiring resource monitoring, leave considerable room for further expansion of the production.

Table 2: Empirically predicted potential yield and production for the main water bodies





Mean depth (m)

Potential annual yield (mt)



Rift Valley

1 280



3 500 a/

1 350 c/


1 285

1 160


9 800 a/


1 710



600 a/

660 c/


1 570



1 100 a/



1 585



1 300 a/

320 c/


1 575



1 700 a/



1 850



4 500 b/

2 000 d/





2 400 b/

100 c/

Other areas

1 830

3 500


24 900 b/

1 000 d/


2 160



1 700 b/




7 005


51 500

5 430

a/ Method used to predict potential yields is based on mean depth

b/ Method used to predict potential yields is based on area

c/ Production estimated in 1990

d/ Production estimated in 1992/93

Source: Vanden Bossche and Bernacsek (FAO 1991), Allix (1987)


2.1.2 Fisheries and Environment

The source of major pollutants affecting Ethiopian lakes and rivers are factories, agriculture and sewage. Mineral extraction from Lake Abijata could affect the fish stock in some way. It is also claimed that effluents from the tannery at Koka Reservoir and the textile industries in Awassa and Arba Minch have affected the concerned fisheries. However, in the absence of a data collection system, it is difficult to estimate any consequential economic loss for the fisheries industry. The same applies to the possibility of adverse effects to fisheries from the use of agricultural fertilisers.

The main reason for the ecological degradation in the country is likely to be in close relation with the increasing degree of deforestation which accelerates the drying up of water bodies and increases the turbidity of waters. However, large reforestation programmes for the Rift Valley are envisaged in the near future. In this context, the introduction of fish smoking technology should be discouraged.

Multipurpose dam projects can also have adverse economic consequences on the sector. It has been suggested that the dam construction on River Omo has adversely affected the anadromous fish which migrate from Lake Turkana to spawn in the river. Furthermore, Valley dwellers displaced to uplands increase population and farming pressure on marginal and steep sloping land, increasing soil erosion together with silt and chemical pollution of streams. It can also be noted that Reservoir Fincha is faced with problems of floating grass, which hamper gillnetting.

2.1.3 Fishing Technology and Socio-Economic Characteristics of the Industry

Ethiopian fishery is entirely artisanal. Most of fishing vessels, whose number is about 600, are made of papyrus or scirpus and are not motorized with the exception of about 30 boats on Lake Tana.

In the Rift Valley, canoes tend to be gradually replaced in some of the lakes by wooden punts with oars (4m x 1.7m x 0.55m). Fishermen mostly use one-man rafts, whose carrying capacity is extremely limited. However, the vessels give fishermen access to the entire surface of the Rift Valley lakes, at minimum cost, a punt costing Br450 with a life of 3 to 5 years while a raft costs about Br30 and lasts for 3months.

On Lake Tana, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church/Development and Inter-Church Aid Department (EOC/DICAD) project has introduced five GRP and 25metal boats with outboard and inboard motors. All the motorized boats have been provided to fishermen almost free of charge. The technology allows fishermen to operate on the entire surface of the lake, but producers can not afford its high running costs when compared with economic conditions.

Gillnets are by far the most popular gear used, with the largest mesh sizes on Lakes Abaya and Chamo (up to 32 cm), where fish is bigger. Gillnets are mostly operated with rafts on the exception of Lake Awassa where fishermen use wooden rowing boats. Beach seines of about 150-200 m long are used on Lakes Langano and Ziway (in Ziway during fasting periods only). The cost of one 150m beach seine in Ziway is about Br2,800. Taking into account its relatively high cost a large number of fishermen is engaged as crew members. Castnets are also used by traditional fishermen on Lake Tana, while hook and lines and long lines are operated for catching Nile perch on Lake Chamo.

In the near future, the LFDP (Phase 2) is expected to conduct exploratory commercial fishing operations with a view to identifying improved vessels and gear.

Some repair and maintenance facilities have been provided on Lake Tana by the EOC/DICAD project which has organised a net manufacturing unit with trained women. In the Rift Valley, the LFDP (Phase2) operates a boat-building yard at Ziway and is also expected to construct workshops and net-making/repair facilities.

Apart from Lakes Ziway, Abaya, and Tana/Bahir dahr where the FPMC hold basic jetties, there is a general lack of landing facilities on Ethiopian fisheries. Only two landing points, under the control of the FPMC, are equipped with electricity and fresh water supplies for fish handling and preservation. The main installations are at Ziway (chill store, ice) and Arba Minch (freezing, cold store), with more limited facilities at Bahir Dar (cold store).

In the near future, it is foreseen that the LFDP (Phase 2) will construct jetties in Ziway, Abaya, Chamo, Tana/Gorgora and Tana/Bahir Dar, as well as fish cleaning and market shed at Gorgora, Bahir Dahr, Ziway and Awassa.

The fishery sector employs about 2 250 persons in the primary sector, including registered and "informal". Furthermore, about 46 000immigrants would fish daily on River Baro for their subsistence (FRDD).

Until recently, the majority of fishermen used to be organised into fishermen's association (Service Cooperative), in line with the previous policy of the Government. The Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) has granted commercial fishing rights only to fishermen's associations, each of which has to pay a royalty in return for the privilege of exploiting a given water body.

Of the 16 fishermen's associations formed (13 on lakes/reservoirs and 3 on river) and the 30 units (informal associations), none of them have ever achieved the legal status of cooperative. Associations have essentially limited their role in the distribution of subsidized gear as well as in tax collection from members (registration fee, annual subscription, ad valorem charge on sales of fish). Under the new economic policy, a new status for cooperatives is being drafted through the Cooperative Promotion and Agricultural Development Department (CPAD) of the MOA. This might allow members to acquire required capital and to refund profits, as in any private firm.

In addition to registered producers, an increasing number of informal fishermen tends to join the fisheries sector, mostly on a part-time basis. These fishermen are not organised at all, although some of them have been supplied with gear through NGOs.

Large differences in costs and earnings of fishermen exist between the various water bodies, according to the availability of marketing outlets. In 1990, the annual net income per fisherman was calculated from Br2 800 at Arba Minch (Lake Chamo) to Br800 on Lake Ziway (FAO, 1990). According to the same survey, the average net benefit per member of fishermen's associations provided his family with grossly the national average income. Furthermore, fishermen generally find time to farm and breed animals at a subsistence level.

The purchasing power of fishermen has globally decreased over the last decade, with producer's prices fixed by the FPMC remaining unchanged until 1992, while inflation was about 5% per annum. Of particular interest to fishermen was the price of their inputs, which increased at an annual rate of 19% from 1980 to 1990. It therefore became more difficult for fishermen to purchase twine than beef or basic cereal commodity (e.g. the teff rose at an annual average of 10%). This trend was of particular significance in production areas where the FPMC was the only buyer. For example, an informal fisherman selling tilapia ten years ago for 45 cents/kg and now selling at Br1.20/kg would have maintained an average price increase of 10% per annum.

The situation is now improving as a result of an increase in FPMC purchasing price since 1992 of about 50% for the major commercial species.

2.1.4 Fish Processing and Marketing

Although Ethiopian consumers have preference to whole fresh fish, traditional drying of fish is performed on remote fishing sites. Smoking is not a traditional method and only some trials have been carried out at the FPMC receiving station at Ziway, for the expatriate market.

Dried fish, known as "kuanta", is mostly produced in the Arba Minch area. Fish is filleted, cut into large strips and hung up to dry on strings for two to three days. Kuanta is packed into sacks for storage on the ground for several weeks if necessary. Provided storage in this way does not exceed a month, spoilage is only slight. Although there is no similar long tradition in eating kuanta further north, seasonal processing during fasting periods do exist in Lake Ziway area.

Over the last three years, dried fish has been made more and more available in big consumption centres. This would tend to show that although fresh fish is more lucrative for producers, drying has become a method frequently used to preserve excess catches.

Apart from traditional methods of processing occurring on the Rift Valley lakes, canning has recently started with Ethiopian Meat Concentrates, a small subsidiary of the State-run Ethiopian Meat Corporation (EMC). Trials began in 1989 in collaboration with the FPMC and the Ethiopian Nutritional Institute (ENI). By late November 1990, about 10 000cans of fish with beans were produced. The factory's maximum capacity was 50 000cans/day with single shift working, or 100 000 cans/day for two shifts. At present, as a result of the increase in the prices of fresh fish, canning industry is attempting to process low valued fish like catfish to be profitable.

Concerning fresh fish handling and distribution, most of private traders do not use even basic cold chains because of the lack of ice and insulated containers. Fish is distributed without any particular processing, except in Bahir Dahr area on Lake Tana. As a result, storage of fresh fish can not exceed two days leading traders to concentrate their activity during fasting periods, when the demand is active. This situation is likely to hamper the development of a steady fish market throughout the country.

The FPMC purchased fish only from fishermen's associations, collected by boat or truck as appropriate. Fish from the northern Rift Valley is processed before transportation to Addis Ababa. It is gutted and chilled at the Ziway receiving station, while at Arba Minch, fish is filleted at the lake side by fishermen and frozen at the receiving station. At Bahir Dar, fish is filleted at the station before storage in a cold room.

At the FPMC headquarters in Addis Ababa, further processing may be carried out. About 40% of fish collected is processed in order to build up stocks of frozen fillets. Nile perch fillets from Arba Minch are sold almost as soon as they arrive with no further processing. Other fish is distributed to the FPMC's 13 retail shops in the capital. During filleting, about 30% of the fish was discarded in 1990, representing at least 300t of physical losses and inducing rather high costs.

Post-harvest losses for fresh fish handling are negligible during fasting periods due to the rapidity of transactions which rarely exceed 24 hours. Out of fasting periods, fishers and retailers are often faced with problems of storage because of the lack of basic cold chain with ice. Kuanta may present physical losses since it is mostly prepared in poor hygienic standards, insufficiently dried and stored directly on the ground leading to significant depreciation in quality.

The Ethiopian Authority for Standardisation (EAS) has drawn up standards associated with fisheries in consultation with the FRDD and with reference to standards already set by the Codex Alimentarius. Ethiopian Standards include among others: codes of practice for handling fish on shore, on board and in transport; codes of practice for handling fillets; hygienic requirements for fish processing and canning factories; and specifications for fish quality at retail level.

The FPMC has dominated fish marketing over the last 15 years, benefitting from a monopolistic situation in the post-harvest sector and fixed price policy. However, in practice FPMC's intended monopoly materialised mainly in Addis Ababa, with fish coming from Ziway, Langano, Arba Minch and to a less extent from Bahir Dahr. The private traders, which now handle about half total fish harvest, have developed rapidly, although their status is still not legally recognized.

The FPMC was established as a semi-autonomous body in 1978 by the MOA, with the main objective of setting up a marketing network between production centres and urban consumption areas. In 1989 the FPMC obtained a legal status through the "FPMC Establishment Council of State Special Decree 13/1989". From its inception, the FPMC has tried to supply Addis Ababa with fish from the Rift Valley lakes, with financial support from the Agricultural and Industrial Development Bank (AIDB), and subsequently from the LFDP (Phase1) started in 1981.

The FPMC's domestic marketing policy was to satisfy the bulk of the fish demand during the fasting periods by filling the central cold store at Addis Ababa so that the stock constituted can be released for supplying consumers. For months before fasting begins, the FPMC gave priority to filleting Tilapia, in spite of the consumers' preference for whole fresh products. Despite bad financial performance over the last decade, the FPMC remained in business with the help of additional funds regularly transferred from the MOA. The FPMC had however contributed greatly to the propagation of fish consumption to the Highlands.

According to the new economic policy the Corporation is expected to operate in a competitive environment with private traders, as a pure commercially-oriented company. Since March 1992, the FPMC has obtained a tacit semi-autonomous status under the MOA, and procedures for changing pricing policy have became much more flexible than before. Furthermore, at the beginning of 1993, the FPMC has received credit under the LFDP (Phase2) for spare parts, trucks and 4WD vehicles. The FPMC has also given thought to rationalising its activities to improve profitability. In view of this, some of its retail shops may be sold off to private traders.

Private traders presently handle about 3 000t of fish, i.e. more than 50 percent of the total fish production, through informal marketing channels.

In production areas, free-auctioned markets have developed, due to a very strong local demand resulting from the availability of fish on the market places. The fixed low prices paid by the FPMC also have encouraged the development of a thriving parallel market. In general it can be argued that where fishermen were not depending on the FPMC outlets, a more lucrative local market had developed, as shown by the producer prices given in table 3. In the near future, the LFDP (Phase2) is expected to support the construction of improved fish market places at Arba Minch and Gonder, to be managed by the municipalities.

Private traders to the Highlands are now allowed to carry on fish business activity all the year long, whereas in the recent past they were tolerated during fasting periods only. At Addis Ababa, 15 traders have recently obtained a licence under the FRDD, according to criteria of sufficient handling and cold storing capacities. They purchase fish either directly from Lakes Koka and Ziway, or from the central FPMC station. Some of them use their own car or open truck to transport fish, while others are organized during fasting periods to jointly rent an open truck.

Table3: Fish Prices Ex-Vessel in Br/Kg

FPMC fresh (1990)

FPMC fresh (1993)

Informal fresh (1990)

Informal drieda/ (1990)



Nile perch fil.

Other fillets
















































a/ Fresh equivalent weight

Source: FRDD, FPMC, FAO (1990)

Regarding the access to landing points, systems of collecting boats are sometimes operated by the FPMC (islands on Lake Ziway and fishermen's camps around Lake Chamo). The other water bodies have at least one basic access point by road to the shore, although more feeder roads are needed for further fisheries development. Road networks from fishing towns/villages to main consumption centres are in rather good conditions, with the exception of Arba Minch during the rainy season, and to a less extent Gonder in the north of Lake Tana. Nevertheless, despite the recent abolishment of the curfew, roads at night are not considered safe for the time being.

2.1.5 Fish Consumption and demand

Historically, Ethiopians are meat eaters, with an average annual meat consumption of about 10kg per caput. This is due to cultural patterns and, to a significant extent, to fertile central highlands which allowed considerable expansion of cattle breeding. In addition, the dominant Ethiopian Orthodox Church which encourages the eating of fish during fasting seasons, has served to concentrate domestic fish demand within two short periods of the year totalizing about 80 days: two months between February and April and two weeks in August.

The estimated average national per caput consumption, in spite of an increase by 20% for the last 4 years, is still the lowest in Africa. It is currently estimated at 0.107kg/year. The most popular species is tilapia due to its predominance in the catch and its relatively low price when compared to meat prices, while dried fish would now benefit from a growing demand in the Highlands, as a result of its deflated price.

However, extreme regional variations in fish consumption suggest that the seasonal peaks and troughs in demand, ascribed to the fasting habit only, have to be reconsidered.

At Addis Ababa, the estimated per caput consumption of fish provided by the FPMC only was about 0.81kg in 1989/90. Extra fish from Langano, Ziway and Koka sold by private traders could easily add ten per cent to the consumption attributable to the FPMC. The total per caput consumption of fresh fish at Addis Ababa is therefore about 0.9kg/year, or about ten times the national average.

In production areas (Arba Minch and Sodo areas, as well as at Awassa), local per caput fish consumption is estimated at 8.5kg/year, or about one hundred times the national average (FAO, 1990). More recently, the FRDD placed the fish consumption in Gambella, close to River Baro, at about 10kg/year.

In production areas, fish demand has been stimulated by regular supply of good quality product at an acceptable price, when compared to the prices of meat. In 1986, a market survey conducted at Addis Ababa already underlined this tendency in fish demand (Tiffney, 1986). Consumers interviewed in retail fish shops said they would eat more fish if supplies were more regular throughout the year (58%), if fish shops were located closer to their homes (43%), and if fish prices were lower (38%).

In the recent past, meat and fish prices were strongly regulated by the Government, with a view to facilitating consumption of animal proteins in big towns. At that time, differences in the prices were not so much and consumers were not encouraged to buy fish out of fasting. In the course of the changes in economic policy, beef prices increased by 80% between 1987 and 1990, and by 70% between 1990 and 1993, while fish prices in FPMC shops increased only by 30% in 1992. In june 1993, meat price was about 15 Br/Kg, against a fish price of about 5 Br/Kg for the bulk of the production (gutted tilapia: 3.20Br/Kg; filleted Nile perch: 9.50 Br/Kg; others fillets: 5.35 Br/Kg).

The repeated changes in the prices of animal products have had a significant impact on Ethiopians' food habits, who are now encouraged to substitute more meat for fish. For instance, fish has become more and more available in most of the private restaurants and hotels of the capital.

Under the new economic environment, the fishery sector is now benefitting from an active fish demand, in particular in big consumption centres. A conservative figure of fish demand for the year 2000 can be placed at about 10 000t/year, corresponding to doubling the present fish production, or about a third of the estimated fish potential. However, it is likely that the lack of tradition in marketing fresh fish with ice and insulated containers will have to be removed to reach this objective.

2.2 Aquaculture

Aquaculture is still virtually non-existent in Ethiopia, despite favourable physical conditions.

The high central Plateau above 2 500 m (11% of total area) could be appropriate for all year round farming of cold water species. The surrounding and central Highlands present temperature characteristics favourable to the breeding of a large number of species, from cold water to warm water fish. In addition, the temperature conditions are remarkably stable as compared to European so-called "temperate climates" and give a great scope for cultivating a large range of species in very good conditions.

The lowlands (33% of total area) offer ideal temperature conditions for warm water species such as tilapine, but are unfortunately water-deficient zones, with a long dry season susceptible to drought. Soils are also generally sandy and not germane for pond construction. Water storage microdams could however be employed for fish breeding.

Among local species found in the country, species known as having a good breeding potential are Oreochromis niloticus, Sarotherodon gallileus, Heterotis niloticus, Clarias lazera and Clarias mossambicus. As from 1936, non-indigenous fish species were also introduced for game fishing, improvement of local stocks and control of weeds and disease vectors. Rainbow trout was introduced in 1973-1974 into the rivers Sibilo, Chacha, Beressa and Mugar and into the lake Wonchi, while common carp (Cyprinus carpio), crucian carp (Carassius carassius) and Tilapia zillii have been introduced into lakes for stock improvement.

The management of trout populations, whenever included in the national parks, falls however under the responsibility of the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Organisation (EWCO).

Apart from a few small fish ponds, the only aquaculture activities are mainly the culture-based stock enhancement operations carried out by the Sebeta Fish Culture Station (SFCS) of the FRDD. The station, built in 1975, has a research, training and extension vocation. The SFCS has a total area of 2 ha and consists of building (offices, laboratory, hatchery and stores) and outdoor ponds made of 18 units. The theoretical production capacity of the hatchery could reach up to 2 to 3million fingerlings per year.

The SFCS has maintained and propagated brood stocks of common carp, crucian carp, Tilapia zillii, Oreochromis niloticus (collected from natural water bodies) and goldfish. From the beginning, the station has introduced about one million fingerlings into lakes, reservoirs, dams and ponds. The introductions were made either into newly-created water bodies (reservoirs, dams and ponds) or into natural lakes. During the last two years (1991/92-1992/93), the SFCS introduced about 50 000 fingerlings both from artificial propagation and wild collection, and surveyed about 20 new water bodies.

Since 1975, about 25 small fish ponds were constructed by individuals throughout the country. These ponds, which cover a total area of 11 ha, have been stocked up by the SFCS (about 120 000fingerlings). The Station has also provided free of charge advisory services on the location, size and building procedure for the ponds. Ponds are owned either by NGOs, or by some peasants' associations. They are operated for self-consumption or demonstration purpose only. No commercial-scale fish farming exists.

Furthermore, small crocodile farming activities are carried out at Arba Minch, under the supervision of the EWCO. In the medium term it is planned to produce 4 000skins per year and eventually another 5 000skins per year from a proposed new farm at Debre Zeit.

Aquaculture prospects in Ethiopia are likely to remain very narrow in the short/medium term despite favourable physical environment and availability of agricultural residues which could be used as composting material for fish pond fertilization. The lack of tradition, the competition from capture fisheries and the small purchasing power of local people are the major constraints to the development of fish farming activities. The lack of training and extension support also hampers the development of small-scale commercial aquaculture.

In the near future, a few artisanal units (2t to 100t per year), aimed at quickly providing first-quality fresh fish, could be envisaged in suburban areas, assuming that market and feasibility surveys have demonstrated it profitable. This type of extensive aquaculture, in a country frequently faced with deficit in animal proteins, could be an alternative to capture fishery, in particular during fasting periods. Such development would however require significant technical support in terms of provision of fingerlings, demonstration and extension services.

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