January 2001


The DRC is endowed with extensive fisheries resources, found mostly in the eastern Rift Valley lakes and in the riverine and swamp fisheries of the vast Congo Basin. FAO Food Balance Sheet estimates for 1997 put national fisheries production at 162 961 mt, and report that fish products contributed nearly one third of the total national animal protein supply for that year. However, following years of political and economic collapse leading up to the civil war of 1996-97 and the subsequent period of instability, it is not possible to construct a reliable picture of the current state of the DRC fisheries sector. Fisheries administration in the country effectively does not exist, and statistical and other information on specific water bodies is either lacking or very outdated.

Marine fisheries

The DRC has a very small Atlantic Ocean coastline and marine production is very modest, accounting in the 1980s only for an estimated 2% of total national fish harvests. Almost all of the marine production reportedly derives from artisanal units using canoes and beach seines.

Inland fisheries

The DRC holds some 59 000 km2 of inland waters, nearly 34 000 km2 or 58% of which is contained in the Congo River Basin. DRC's share of the Rift Valley lakes found on its eastern border amounts to an additional 25 000 km2 of additional inland water area.

Lake Mweru Luapula (4 650 km2) lies between the DRC and Zambia, and has historically served as an important commercial fishing area because of the strong markets for fish in the nearby Copperbelt and Shaba Province (DRC) mining districts. The DRC sector of Mweru Luapula extends over 1 953 km2 or 42% of the total lake area. A large swamp/floodplain in the south, formed by the inflowing Luapula River, combines with the lake to form the basis of a fishery complex involving many species, gear types, and local operators. Small pelagic 'chisense' fishing has expanded rapidly since the early 1980s, to the extent that it is thought to constitute the most important element of the entire complex. There are no reliable figures tracing the evolution of catch and effort for the DRC side, though it may very roughly be estimated that some 4 500 smallcraft are operated by some 5 500 fishers in that sector of the lake. It is known that harvests declined considerably from the early 1970s, following nationalisation of several industrial fishing operations. Global production for the lake in recent decades is estimated to be at or around 13 000 mt per annum.

Lake Tanganyika covers some 32,900 km2 shared between the DRC (45%), Tanzania (41%), Burundi (8%), and Zambia (6%). Fishing has intensified considerably over the course of the 20th century in association with the dramatic expansion of human population and settlements around the lake and the introduction of various technological innovations, such as paraffin oil (kerosene) pressure lamps for night-fishing, synthetic netting material, and motorised craft. Modern harvest operations primarily exploit six endemic non-cichlid pelagic species, the most important of which are the two schooling clupeid 'sardines' (locally known as 'dagaa'), Limnothrissa miodon and Stolothrissa tanganicae (together ca. 65% by weight of the global annual catch), and their major predator, Lates stappersii (ca. 30% by weight of the global annual catch). Lakewide annual harvest levels in recent years have been estimated to vary in the range of 165,000 - 200,000 mt -- volumes that translate into annual earnings on the order of tens of millions of US dollars. The DRC estimated catch for 1995 is about 90,000 tonnes, based on extrapolated fishing effort counts. This represents around half of the estimated total lakewide catch for that year. According to 1995 Frame Survey results, there are 417 landing sites along the DRC coastline, hosting a total of about 26 300 fishers and 10 650 fishing craft.

Lake Kivu. Situated between the DRC and Rwanda and effluent to Lake Tanganyika via the Ruzizi River, Kivu has a total area of about 2 370 km2. Some 1 370 km2 or 58% of its waters lie within DRC borders. Endemic fish include species of Barbus and Clarias, Haplochromis, and Oreochromis niloticus. Establishment and expansion of the L. Limnothrissa miodon stock introduced from Lake Tanganyika in 1959 provided for the development of a pelagic liftnet fishery beginning in the late 1970s. This fishery initially developed in the DRC, based on the use of catamarans, and later expanded into Rwandan waters. Since the mid-1980s there has been a switch to more efficient trimaran units. By the early 1990s, following a period of extensive technical assistance provided to the Rwanda sector, around 240 units were active in the liftnet fishery lakewide. Seventy of these units were reported to be operating within the DRC sector. 'Traditional' (non-liftnet) canoes operating in the beach seine, gillnet, and handline fisheries are far more numerous in DRC waters. Of the some 2 117 active units reported for the whole lake in the early 1990s, 1 306 were counted for the DRC. Lakewide total fisher numbers at this time were estimated at 6 563, of which 3 027 were associated with the pelagic fishery and 3 536 with the traditional fishery. Total small pelagic landings were estimated at around 3 200 mt, and those of other species at around 4 300 mt. Fishing activity has been heavily affected by regional civil turmoil and warfare over the past decade, and harvest levels have fallen off accordingly.

Lake Edward. The 2,300 km2 area of Lake Edward is shared between the DRC (1 630 km2 or 71%) and Uganda (670 km2 or 29%). The lake drains into the Semliki River, which flows northwards through the DRC below the western walls of the Ruwenzori Mountains to discharge into Lake Albert. Edward has provided important fisheries in the past, with harvests composed primarily of tilapia, catfishes (Bagrus and Clarias spp.), and lungfish (Protopterus aethiopicus). Recent catch returns for the DRC sector are not available. Information collected in the early 1990s puts the number of canoes working the DRC side of the lake at 1 041, of which around one third were said to be fishing illegally in closed zones (spawning areas). Production from the DRC sector of the lake within this same period was estimated at 11 400 mt per annum.

Lake Albert. Shared between Uganda (54%) and the DRC (46%), the broad waters of Albert (5 270 km2) are fed by the Semliki River from the south and the River Nile, which loops in and out of the northern tip of the lake. As with the other great lakes of the Western Rift Valley, Lake Albert contains a great variety of fish. However, the commercial catch is largely comprised of three species - viz.: Alestes baremose, Hydrocynus forskahli, and Lates niloticus. The statistical record for the period from the early 1980s to the late 1980s indicates that lakewide annual catches have fluctuated rather substantially, from lows of around 7,000 mt to highs of over 20,000 mt. Data on fleet size and numbers of operators are sparse. In the early 1990s it was estimated that around 5 700 canoes were operating lakewide, and that of these some 3 200 were in the DRC. Of the several industrial units that were active in DRC waters in the early 1970s, only one is reported still to be in operation. Primary sector employment in the early 1990s was estimated to be around 20 000 for the whole lake.

Congo River Basin. The approximately 25 000 km2 area of lake waters is augmented by the Congo River and its several tributaries, including the Uganga, Lualava, Luapula, Lulonga, and Tschuapa. The Congo basin contains some 33 000 km of river channels, amounting to about 34 000 km2. During periods of high water, floodplains and swamps may expand to cover tens of thousands of additional square kilometres. No exact measurement of flooded areas has been made, and estimates vary from 25 000 to 50 000 km2. FAO reports from the mid-1980s indicate: widespread use of traditional methods of fishing using non-motorised canoes, gillnets, seine nets, and handlines; very dispersed effort with groups of fishers operating from small villages or temporary camps; unknown yields but up to 20 000 mt (fresh weight equivalent) reaching markets in Kinshasa in 1984; and a potential annual yield of 90 000 mt or more.

Luapula Floodplain/Kifakula Depression. (See Lake Mweru Luapula above.)

Lualaba Floodplain/Lakes Complex. The Upper Lualaba floodplain, also known as the Kamolondo Depression, is about 250km long by 40 km wide. It contains more than 50 lakes of all sizes, including L. Upemba (530 km2). There are 37 species of fish in all, with main catches comprised of Momyrus, Hydrocynus, Alestes, Distichodus, Clarias, Synodontis, Lates niloticus, and various tilapia. No recent catch/effort data are available. Early 1980s estimates put annual catches in the 10 - 16 000 mt range.

Flooded forests in Central Congo Basin. In the Mbandaka region of confluence between the Ubangi and Congo streams there are immense areas of flooded forests that cover nearly 38 000 km2, with fluctuations depending on rainfall and seasonal changes in the Congo River level. The flooded forests are characterised by brown humic waters with low pH, produced by plant fragments suspended in anaerobic and reducing conditions. Of the some 400 species of fish associated with the Congo River Basin, some are endemic and/or specialised to brown waters. Specialised families of fish include those of Protopteridae, Polypteridae, Notopteridae, Clariidae, Anabantidae, and Channidae. Catch and effort data for the flooded forest region are not available. Potential annual yield estimates for the region vary widely and range as high as 100 000 - 120 000 mt.

Lake Tumba. Associated with the Mbandaka flooded forest region, Lake Tumba is a shallow water body with an area of 765 km2 (variable) that communicates with the Congo River through the Irebu channel, inflowing or outflowing depending on the floods. Tumba hosts 114 species of fish. No recent catch and effort data are available. Potential annual yield has been estimated in the range of 2 000 - 3 500 mt by various observers.

Lake Maji Ndombe is a large, shallow mid-Congo Basin lake of 2 300 km2 with associated flooded forests and swamps. It discharges via rivers Fimi and Kwa to the Congo. No recent fisheries data are available. Mid-1980s estimates put the number of fishers at around 4 600, and annual catches at around 1 000 mt.

Pool Malebo (=Stanley Pool) is a large riverine lake (550km2) shared by Congo Brazaville (330 km2 and the DRC (220 km2) formed by the widening of the Congo River. (The cities of Kinshasa and Brazaville lie respectively on the southern and northern banks of the pool, just before the river enters a 350 km stretch of gorge and cataracts that block all navigation and drops the channel from the interior basin plateau elevation of 350 m to near sea level. The Atlantic Ocean at the river's mouth lies some 400 km to the west of Kinshasa.) There are some 165 species reported for the pool. No recent catch/effort data are available. Mid-1980s estimates for the DRC side put the number of fishers at about 5 000, and the total annual catch in a range of 3 000 - 3 500 mt.


Overall strategy

Congolese fisheries policy emphasizes the need to increase fish production to provide animal protein for local populations and thus ensure food security.

Management objectives, measures, and institutional arrangements for major fisheries

Fisheries administration at all levels has for some years been moribund due to civil strife and national economic collapse.Specifically, SENADEPís various offices cannot function due to: isolation between stations and central establishment (remote areas, deteteriorated infrastructure, and civil war zones); insufficient or nonexistent budget; low staff motivation (poor or nonexistent pay); inadequate staffing and training at all levels of administration; lack of basic office and field equipment and facilities; inability to enforce regulations; and absence of reliable data.

The main fisheries regulations include the following:

         1932 Decree on Exclusive Fishing Rights

         1937 Decree on Fishing and Hunting

         Ordinance No. 432/Agri. of 26 December 1947

         1981 regulation of fishing devices

         1979 ordinance (amended 1983) on fees and license categories

The basic legislation on fisheries remains the 1937 Decree on Fishing and Hunting (as amended for its fisheries provisions by a decree of 17 January 1957, a legislative ordinance No. 52/273 of 24 June 1958 and a decree of 27 June 1960). This decree applied throughout the territories then administered by Belgium (Ruanda-Urundi and Belgian Congo).

The 1932 Decree on Exclusive Fishing Rights (also applicable in Burundi) enables competent authorities to grant exclusive fishing rights in a designated area to any person. The decree outlines the general terms and conditions governing the agreement to be entered into and spells out the rights and obligations of each contracting party. Where the existence of traditional fishing rights has been clearly established in the area to be designated, the grant of exclusive fishing rights may be denied or subject to certain conditions designed to ensure the protection of such rights.

The Ordinance No. 432/Agri. of 26 December 1947 (as amended in 1952 and 1954) provides for the status and powers of fish controllers.

A regulation of 1981 prohibits fishing by means of electrical devices, explosives or toxic substances throughout the then Zairian territory and provides for the seizure by the authorities of any such articles and any catch caught by such means.

A 1979 ordinance (as amended by a regulation of 1983) provides for the rate of fishing permits fees and determines the various issuing authorities.It sets out four categories of fishing permits.

  • industrial fishing permits are issued by the State Commissioner in charge of environmental affairs to any person undertaking commercial fishing operations, involving the use of traditional or other fishing gear, whose annual production exceeds 300t;

  • artisanal fishing permits are issued by regional Governors to any person fishing for the purpose of providing food for local consumption and using boats or pirogues that are not engine-powered;

  • traditional fishing permits are issued by local Commissioners to any person fishing for the purpose of providing food for local consumption and using boats or pirogues that are not engine-powered;

  • sport fishing permits are issued by local Commissioners to any person fishing, with or without a boat, for recreational purposes, that is fishing with no intent to sell the catch or any part thereof.

An array of subsidiary regulations have been created at regional levels. In the Shaba region (southern Lake Tanganyika), for instance, a 1958 regulation on net fishing identifies and controls three categories of fishing unit. Thus:

  • an industrial fishing unit is one or several boats, engine powered or not, using a seine net, one orseveral set nets whose total length or total combined length is more than 2,500 m, or lift nets;

  • an artisanal fishing unit is one or several boats, engine powered or not, using either a lift net or set netswhose total combined length is more than 1,000 m but less than 2,500 m; and

  • an individual fishing unit is a pirogue or dugout using traditional fishing gear including a beach seine, set nets whose total combined length is less than 1,000 m or a lusenga (traditional scoop net).

Authorization to fish is required for all types of fishing operations and is subject to the payment of a prescribed fee. Conditions to a fishing permit include the prohibition of discarding any fish or part thereof. Industrial fishing permits are issued by the Governor of the Province on the advice of a consultative commission. Fishing in the Lake using drag nets or nets of a mesh size less than 4mm is prohibited. The use of beach nets, however, remains lawful. Lastly, industrial fishing is prohibited within a 5 km-wide area measured from the shoreline.

A similar regulation was enacted within Kivu Region (northern Lake Tanganyika), also in 1958. Modifications from the Shaba regulation include industrial fishing unit specifications extending the total length of set nets to 5,000 m. Likewise, the total length of set nets that can be used by an artisanal fishing unit in the northern area of Lake Tanganyika was extended to 4,500 m. A further regulation enacted in 1959 for Kivu Region limits to six the total number of industrial fishing permits that can be issued in respect of the northern portion of the lake (north of Lake Nyanza parallel).

Draft legislation

In 1985, a draft law providing a general legal framework for both marine and inland fisheries was devised with the assistance of FAO (GCP/INT/400/NOR). It is a comprehensive piece of legislation composed of 70 articles primarily directed at regulating inland fisheries. Insofar as is known, however, this law is still in a draft form and has not yet been submitted to Parliament due to ongoing political turmoil.

Aquaculture Management

There is no recent information on the state of fish farming in the DRC.Annual aquaculture production was estimated at 700 mt in FAO estimates for the late 1980s.Farmed fish were reported as being mainly Oreochromis niloticus.


Given the paucity and unreliable nature of available data, it is not possible to calculate investment estimates for the national fisheries. These latter must be very substantial, however, if the limited information available for the eastern Rift Valley lakes (Mweru Luapula, Tanganyika, Kivu, Edward, and Albert) can serve as any kind of guide. The total number of fishing and support smallcraft in the eastern fisheries stood roughly at around 20 000 as of the mid-1990s. Of these craft, an estimated 30% represent traditional fishing units (craft, equipment, gear, and crew) and 70% artisanal units.An additional 6 small industrial units (purse seiners) were reportedly in at least occasional operation.Based on indicative capital investment values for the region of US$ 650 for traditional units (typically equipped with gillnets, scoop nets, and longlines and propelled by paddle), US$ 2 500 for artisanal units (typically equipped with large lift nets and kerosene lamp arrays and powered by paddle, sail, and (to a limited extent) outboard engine), and a total figure of US$120 000 for all industrial units, it can be estimated that private investment in the eastern Rift Valley lakes fisheries harvest sector as of the mid-1990s amounted to something in the neighbourhood of US$ 40.6 million.


The DRC currently (1997 figures) hosts a population of some 48 million inhabitants, and has had an average annual growth rate of 3.1% since the early 1990s. Whilst it is not possible to evaluate the present state of fisheries resource exploitation on a countrywide basis, it may be noted that, according to FAO/FIDI Food Balance Sheet data going back to the early 1960s, imports have consistently figured as a substantial share of the total annual supply of fish and fishery products for human consumption.Thus, for whatever reasons, and even during periods of relative political and economic stability, the DRCís capture and culture fisheries sectors have not produced at anywhere near the levels necessary to meet domestic demand.In any event, at its current rate of growth, the national population will more than double within the next 25 years. This means that fish and fishery product supplies will have to increase accordingly, if present per caput levels are to be maintained. If national production/availability from all sources (capture and culture fisheries, and imports) remain at around their present levels, per caput supply will decline from the current 5.7 kg per annum to around 2.6 kg per annum over a 25 year period.


Overall fisheries management responsibility nominally lies with the National Service for Development of Fisheries (SENADEP -- Service National pour le developpement des Peches), under the Ministry of Environment, Nature Conservation and Tourism. SENADEP is represented within each of the country's eight regions by a 'regional coordinator.' At the sub-regional level there are SENADEP 'heads of office,' and at the lower zone level by there are 'supervisors.' Ordinance No. 274/Agri. Of 1945 provides that Governors may create local fisheries committees at the provincial level, each made up of at least four members. Principal committee functions within respective areas of jurisdiction are threefold: advise the competent authority on fisheries regulations; propose creation of fisheries reserves; and assess the state of fisheries. Although this text has not been technically abrogated, it is no longer enforced. A diagram of SENADEP's nominal organisational stracture is shown below.