Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations


October 2000


Organisation des Nations Unies pour l'alimentation et l'agriculture


Organización de las Naciones Unidas para la Agricultura y la Alimentación





Land Area:

108 889 km2

Pacific Continental Shelf (up to 200 m): Atlantic Continental Shelf (up to 140 m):

14 700 km2
2 100 km

Length of Coastline:

403 km

Population (1998):

10 562 293

Gross Domestic Product (1998):

US$ 1 761.9

Agriculture GDP (1998):

US$ 3 107 million

Private consumption per inhabitant (1998):

US$ 945.15


Commodity balance (1999):





Total Supply

Per Caput Supply


'000 tonnes liveweight equivalent


Fish for direct human consumption






Fish for animal feed and other purposes







Estimated employment (1999):

(i) Primary sector:

15 000

(ii) Secondary sector:

5 500 approx.



Gross value of the artisanal fisheries output (landing estimated nominal value):
Gross value of the industrial fisheries output:

US $ 45.6 million

US $ 17.6 million

Trade (1999):

Value of imports

US $ 7.2 million

Value of exports

US $ 36.3 million


General aspects

The marine fisheries activity is carried out in the Pacific and Atlantic Continental shelfs, 14,700 km2 and 2,100 km2 respectively, and, in the last 3 years, in all the jurisdictional area of the Pacific Ocean (92,000 km2) and partially, of the Atlantic Ocean (31,000 km2). The small scale fisheries (specialised artisanal fisheries) and the artisanal fisheries itself are carried out in the Atlantic ocean; the industrial fisheries is not allowed in the bay of Amatique. The small scale and industrial fisheries are carried out in the Pacific ocean (big and medium scale), while in inland waters (lakes, lagoons and rivers) predominates the subsistence artisanal fisheries (110,000 ha).

In Guatemala, the main categories of the fishing activity in the Pacific ocean, include: the industrial fishery of shrimp (great and medium scale) with 61 vessels; tuna fishing (great scale) with 4 vessels; the fisheries of sharks, pompano dolphin fish, snappers, etc. (big and medium scale) with 15 vessels; the meaningless squat lobster fishery (big and medium scale) with 2 vessels . The categories of the fishing activity in the Atlantic ocean, include : the shrimp fishery (small scale or specialised artisanal fishery and artisanal fishery) with 35 vessels; the fish fishery (small scale and artisanal) with 1500 small boats; the manjúa fishery (artisanal fishing) with 350 small boats; the lobster fishery (small scale) with 15 small boats.

In inland waters, the categories of the fishing activity include: fishing of species in general (90% for artisanal fisheries and 10% for the small scale fisheries) with about 35,000 small motor boats. The main hydro-biological resources are composed by tunas, fishes (sharks, pompano dolphin fishes, snappers, dusky grouper, wreck fishes, etc.); crustaceans (shrimps, Pacific seabobs and lobsters)

An important characteristic that has to be stressed out is that all the industrial fleet (big, medium and small scale) has the national flag, that is, there is not, at the present moment, any vessel operating with a foreign flag.

Industrial fisheries

The industrial fleet is composed by two different categories : one of great scale (only in the Pacific) with vessels with a GRT bigger than 30 and motors bigger than 200 HP and another one of medium scale with vessels with a GRT up to 30 and motors up to 200 HP. They operate in the coast of the Pacific and in the coast of the Atlantic outside the bay of Amatique; its operational bases are in Champerico, San José, Iztapa, and Las Lisas in the Pacific coast and Puerto Barrios and Livingston in the Atlantic coast.

The "big scale" industrial vessels are built with a steel or fibber glass hull, a length between 15 and 45 meters, with an engine potency between 200 and 500 HP, have isolated holds and freezing equipment, use bottom and mid water trawl nets with "wings" as fishing methods, have automatic longlines, purseseine nets, present a good state of maintenance and appropriate teams for sailing and for fish schools detection.

The tuna fishery, which is also considered a great scale marine fishery, started officially in Guatemala in 1999. The tuna fishery always happened accidentally.

There are 4 tuna vessels operating in the Pacific ocean, with NRT of 1200 and internal engines bigger than 450 HP. There are 2 enterprises with 29 more vessels which are about to start operating. All this interest was risen in the fishing industry due to the future activity of a tuna industrial complex with 2 floors factories for fish processing with a capacity to process a total of 150,000 tons per year and for all the subsequent benefits that the operation of this industry represents.

The "medium scale" fleet is composed by vessels with fibre glass or steel hull, with a length between 9 and 17 meters, with an engine power from 80 to 200 HP, have isolated holds using bottom and mid water trawl nets as fishing gears with "wings", present an acceptable state of maintenance and have appropriate teams for sailing and fish schools detection. These vessels are integrated in an FAO project for technical assistance and with the official financing, due to the technical adaptation of the vessels to the local fisheries and organised in accordance with the characteristics of the local fishing activity; from the original vessels, 12 are operating in the Pacific and 1 in the Atlantic.

There are 35 medium scale vessels (specialised artisanal fishery) operating in the Atlantic coast in the bay of Amatique, catching shrimps with boats with 34 to 42 feet of length, and internal engines of 125 HP.

The industrial fisheries generates direct employment both in land and on board, which include different professions (fishermen, mechanics, carpenters, factories personnel, etc.) which leads to an estimation of direct employment for 15 000 persons, not including the indirect occupation. The ownership of the shrimp fleet is strongly concentrated once 81 per cent (of 61 vessels) belongs to 3 enterprises, all of them integrated vertically from the catch to commercialisation. Only 2 enterprises own the tuna fleet with an equal number of vessels with the national flag.

Due to the lack of specific fishing harbours in Guatemala, the fishing industry uses about 80 per cent of the installations of Dársena in the Naval Base of the Pacific as an operational base for the movements of the fleet and the landings of the hydro-biological products as well as the commercial harbours of San José and Champerico which are in very bad conditions. However, there are some wharves built by private enterprises dedicated to shrimp and fish (at industrial level) and one belonging to FEDEPESCA


It is composed by boats and canoes with a length between 3.6 and 10 meters made of wood and fibre glass. The bigger boats with a length of 7 m are equiped with engines up to 75 HP and an auxiliary engine of 45 HP. They catch sharks, pompano dolphin fishes, snappers, etc. They operate mainly in the continental shelf but also outside it. The boats with a smaller length, with outside motors up to 25 HP operate in the continental shelf and in the estuaries of both coasts. The data obtained in he recent fishing census (PRADEPESCA/UE, UNIPESCA/MAGA, MDN, 1998-1999) show that, in the Pacific coast operate 3 892 small scale and artisanal vessels; in the Atlantic coast operate 1 323 small scale and artisanal vessels. Most of them do not have a sailing and detection team except those fishing sharks, snappers and pompano dolphin fishes. They have a relatively high utilization of manpower, but low per capita and have a low level of technological development. In general, life conditions in the fishing communities are very rudimentary due to the lack of basic services for its operation (fishing infrastructure).

They catch species in general, mainly shrimp, sharks, pompano dolphin fishes, snappers, wreck fishes, using different fishing gears, casting nets, hand lines, gillnets, trawl and beachnets and traps, according to the species. (see table)

The recent fishing census (1998-1999) with the assistance of the regional program PRADEPESCA/UE has shown the following results (Table No.1)

Table No.1


No of communities

No of vessels

No of fishermen



3 892

7 652



1 323

2 617

Due to the lack of attention given by all the governments, the artisanal fisheries reinforced its own characteristics of individualism and dispersion, and, for such reason, they make their landings in any part of the coast which makes the control more difficult, while a minority makes their landings in the old instalations of the commercial harbours like Champerico and San José, in a place called El Ranchón in San José which does not have the minimum operational and services conditions.

A good part of small scale and artisanal fishermen from both coasts have other complementary activities as a way of subsistence.

Continental artisanal fishing

Guatemala has more than 327 continental bodies of water, of which 227 stay during the whole year, with an extension of 110 thousand hectares and a minimum of 10 ha by body of water; besides that, it has 198 smaller bodies of water of 10 ha and an extension of 1 350 hectares and 4 000 Km of longitud in rivers and water streams. The main species exploited are native mojarras, tilapias, common carps, sea basses, shrimps, crabs, molluscs.

The technology used for fishing is mainly manual. Most of the vessels operate with rows or pole and only some of them have an outside engine up to 15 HP. The fishing gears used are traps, gillnets, hooks and casting nets. Fishing takes place in lakes, rivers, estuaries, lagoons and weirs and it is, in most cases, a complementary activity of agriculture.

The recent fishing census (1998-1999) for five inland water bodies has shown the following results (Table No.2):

Table No.2


No of communities

No of vessels

No of fishermen

inland water bodies (five lakes)




2 725


4 569


The rural or extensive aquaculture cultivates the following fishes: tilapia, common carp, guapote in waters for the agriculture, in order to improve the peasant's diet and to complement their incomes. Its results, under an economical point of view, have not been profitable. This type of activity has been supported by the different governments or by International organizations, with a great investment and maintenance costs but without a sequence; that is the reason why in most cases, the subsistence aquaculture paralises once again, once the dependency between the fish farmer and the state ends.

The commercial aquaculture is mainly based on the production of marine shrimp (Penaeus spp), although it has suffered a considerable decrease in the last 5 years, due to viruses. However, in fresh water there is a very small amount of fresh water shrimp (Machrobrachium rosembergii) due to the lack of seeds and the production of tilapia (Oreochromis spp) constantly increasing (tanks and cages).

The state started the research for technology validation and transference and later on the private sector started participating too, atracted by the economical benefits and advantages resulting from its exportation; in every case, imported technology is used and promptly adapted to the region where it has been successful. (see attached table)

The only monitoring centre for specialized personnel in fisheries and aquaculture CEMA, did not accomplish its purpose of "go and teach everybody"; it is necessary that this centre adequates and orientates its objectives in educating and preparing professionals, once they do not have a modern practical experience and they do not bring much for the benefit of the country's development in the fishing and aquaculture sectors.

In 1995, Guatemala managed to have a total area for marine shrimp of 2 310 hectares from a total of 52 shrimp farms and an annual production of 3 200 tons; the source of the seeds is 100 per cent obtained from the estuaries of the south coast, specifically in the areas of El Ahumado and Tilapa. The annual demand of seeds was calculated in 1 600 millions of post larvae. The studies made on the seasonal and temporal abundance of shrimp peneidae post larvae natural populations allowed to know the natural overabundance of this biological resource and ensured the permanent supply of the industry and showed that the scarsity that some people foresaw, did not exist.

At the present moment, due to the viruses in the marine shrimps cultivated in all the Pacific area, from Equador to the United States, the industry of shrimp culture suffered a considerable decrease both of the area and of the production; only 15 shrimp farms with an area of 1 275 hectares operate in Guatemala. The natural seeds due to the viruses, have been leaving space, to incorporate, in its place, genetically improved seeds, resistent to the illnesses which come from certified laboratories abroad. (see attached table)

Fish culture in floating cages is an activity promoted by the fisheries administration and financed by La Misión Técnica Agrícola de China and the regional program PRADEPESCA, oriented to groups of artisanal fishermen and that has been growing in the continental bodies of water; there are 16 modules in all the country with four cages each with a total cultivated volume of 2 560 m3 ; the seed densities have 85 fishes by cubic meter and a total annual production of 620 tons. The seeds used for this activity are bought in the state production centres as well as in the private fish nurseries.

Fish culture (tilapia) in tanks is also an activity that has been strongly developped; there are 18 fish farms which produce 820 tons a year. The production of the shrimp culture is for the external market, while all the production of the fish culture is for the internal market. (see attached table)

Utilization of the catches

The production of the medium and big scale vessels is mainly for the external market (shrimp, common squids, lobster, sharks, snappers, common sole, pompano dolphin fish, tunas) and only the rejections are for the national market; the production of the small scale and artisanal fisheries is almost all to supply the national market.

The processing factories classify all the shrimp caught and cultivated in the country as well as the fish caught for exportation. The so called "fine" or 1st class species like snappers, meagre, guabinas, wreck fish, dusky grouper, pompano dolphin fish, represent 78 per cent of the fish landed by the big, medium and small scale fishing fleets.

The shrimps, Pacific seabobs, snappers, pompano dolphin fishes and other fishes, are landed by the industrial fleet and are processed to export mainly to the USA and several countries in Europe and Asia like: Japan, Taiwan, France and Spain, from which were adopted the quality and processing norms.

The catches of the small scale fleet (fishes, crustaceans and molluscs) supply the internal market. They are transported to the distribution and consumption centres by the intermediaries who buy them at the landing places.

Due to the lack of adequate installations (Storage Centres), the artisanal and small scale fisheries take place in areas close to the zones of landings and processing of the products caught without any sanitary control and using familiar manpower. In the last 4 years and with the support of the regional program PRADEPESCA and the National Fishing Administration -UNIPESCA-, the artisanal and small scale sector participated in a technological development program aiming the consolidation of its national organization through the technical assistance and the monitoring of fishermen groups and/or associations.

As a result of this support and participation of the artisanal and small scale sectors, there are 24 associations of artisanal fishermen legally registered in the Federación Nacional de Pescadores Artesanales de Guatemala -FENAPESCA- (Artisanal Fishermen National Federation); 12 of these associations process already their production in areas with the minimum health conditions demanded by MAGA, they have a better quality production and have an aggregated value which has brought great benefits to the fishermen and to the fishing communities.

The areas where the artisanal organizations are more consolidated and where the fishing products are treated in a more aseptic way are: Champerico, Tahuexco, El Semillero, Tecojate, Sipacate, San José, Buena Vista, Iztapa, Las Lisas.

In 1991 Guatemala had 8 processing factories of fishing products, located in different places of the south coast and the capital city; all of them have private capital and are organised as anonymous societies (2) and individuals (13). There are (9) vertically integrated enterprises from the extraction for exportation. They have adequate capture means, well trained personnel on board, infrastructures in land, freezing transportation, docks for the maintenance and repairs and spare parts stores.

It is considered that the installed capacity is superior to the one used; this represents a great advantage for the fishing industry which is constantly growing and has the technical capacity to offer services to the producers of cultivated shrimp and get the landings of the fishing co-operatives and of the artisanal and small scale sectors.

Present situation of the fishing industry

The fishing development in Guatemala is based on the exploitation of shrimp, sharks, pompano dolphin fishes, tunas, snappers, lobster, meagre, guabina, common sole and common squids with the purpose of being processed for exportation.

There are different hydro-biological species in the country's Exclusive Economic Zone -EEZ - which are not being exploited yet and others which are under exploited, like common squids, tunas, squat lobster, sardines and other migratory pelagic fishes.

In 1999 the tuna fishing begins and consolidates in Guatemala with 2 new enterprises having 2 fishing vessels each, which use partially the quota assigned to Guatemala by CIAT which represents 5 050 tons. At the present moment only 4 800 tons are used. Soon will begin the construction of a tuna industrial complex which will have 2 processing factories with a capacity to process up to 150 000 tons a year.

The artisanal and small scale fishing plays an important role within the national productive activity satisfying 85 per cent of the fishing products internal consumption (marine and continental). Undoubtedly, the sector still presents, in some communities, a low level of development due to a number of factors (lack of assistance, credits, organization, technological deficiencies, productive infrastructure, etc.).

It is considered that the productive potential of the artisanal and small scale sector of the south coast (Pacific), could generate an aggregated value of about US$ 97 millions of the 38,000 tons production processed in the docks, which would improve the present socio-economic conditions of the sector at a national level.

On the other hand, there are, in Guatemala, more than 300 lakes which represent an area of 110 thousand hectares with fishing potential, which, in its majority, is being exploited without fishing scientific basis, with the danger of causing an over exploitation with the consequent depletion of the resources, many of them composed by native species.

Since 1998, the centres are being administrated by administrative private groups, scarcely producing seeds and with a bad genetic quality. Many fish farmers faced with the lack of an adequate technical assistance and lack of seeds do not use the correct techniques within its fish culture activity, and consequently, abandon the tanks and floating cages to produce fishes, mainly in the program of repopulating the bodies of lagoons.

Guatemala has a good technological level in the marine shrimps and tilapia culture in tanks as well as in the fish culture in the floating cages which is recognised abroad, being the fishing administration constantly asked for technical assistance and technology transference.

There are different levels of vertical integration from the extraction and the culture to the exportation. It allows better economical benefits, despite the tremendous concentration of capital in the extractive activity (fleet and factories) and in the cultures.

Economical function of the fishing industry

In Guatemala, fishing and aquaculture are very important for the economy. The increasing income of currency ( US$ 35 to 52 millions) is represented by the exports of high commercial value products (shrimp, sharks, pompano dolphin fish, common squids, lobster, snappers, tunas, etc) and by the significant social importance of the different activities like the full occupation in some regions of the country or another subsistence alternative in other regions.

The contribution of fishing and aquaculture to the GDP is not significant (0.045 in 1998), although it presents a slight positive tendency (0.037 in 1997). However, both activities generate employment to an important part of the population, being the basis of occupation in the sectors of agriculture, hunting and fishing of 1,987,633 jobs, of which, it is estimated, based on the few available information, 9.96 per cent corresponds to the fishing sector, that is, 198,000 families of 5 persons each. The commercial balance is positive and increasing. The rural aquaculture brings significant incomes to the rural socio-economy and the payment balance respectively.


Fishing and aquaculture products do not represent a significant part of food consumption although, in the last 5 years the consumption per capita reached 3.24 Kg (INE, 1999). The internal market of fishing products presents a series of obstacles that delay its normal development, being the most important : the lack of consumption habits, the non supply of the markets, the lack of knowledge in how to prepare the fishing food, a limited way of presenting the products in the market, quality, sanity and competitive prices.

Several programs of promotion for the consumption of fishing products as well as the distribution in less supplied zones, supported by different organizations and the UNIPESCA, start showing results when fresh products can be seen in areas where it was impossible to find them only 2 years ago.


As a consequence of the population growth and their need of food consumption, one of the main goals of the new governments is to guarantee the nourishing security of the most poor rural communities. Consequently, it will integrate the agriculture and livestock activities already existent in the aquaculture, in order to create new alternatives of consumption and of additional incomes.

With its hydro potential, Guatemala can guarantee the permanent supply of fishing products at national level and for exportation. In order to reach this objective, plans of reactivation and impulse for the aquaculture, of repopulating continental bodies, of promotion for the distribution and consumption of marine fishing products and of utilization and transformation of the Shrimp by Catch are being elaborated.

The project "Diagnóstico Pesquero para el Repoblamiento de las Aguas Continentales de Guatemala" (Fishing Diagnosis for Repopulating the Continental Waters in Guatemala) will be implemented in order to obtain the information that will allow the elaboration of a development sustained program of the continental fisheries and for which FAO assistance is being requested.

Concerning the present state of the exploitation and potentiality of the marine resources, the state has been doing, for 5 years, the diagnosis and evaluations of the main fisheries as well as the potential of the hydro-biological resource which is still under-used, through UNIPESCA/MAGA, and with the support of several organizations (PRADEPESCA, JICA, OLDEPESCA/NORAD, FAO, BINACIONAL GUATEMALA/MEXICO), in order to offer new alternatives to the fishing sector guarantying a sustainable fishing activity.

Through the program OLDEPESCA/NORAD/FAO, the Strategies for the Development and Control of Fisheries and Aquaculture have been elaborated at a regional level for the period 1995 - 2000 in each of the countries and, in the particular case of Guatemala, all the research programs have been accomplished during that period and are still being executed.

At the present moment, the problem that has been affecting more the national development and control of the fisheries is the open access that the artisanal and small scale fishing sector has on them. Undoubtedly, actions for its organization, mainly the legal one, have already been taken, from which depend the approval, by the state, of the modifications of its regulamentations.

Institutionally and by recommendation of several organizations, including FAO, the Fisheries Administration-UNIPESCA- is strengthening its technical and professional capacity; at the present it depends exclusively on the Ministry dispatch which gave it more strength and hierarchy and has a greater power of decision, indispensable elements to give an impulse and to co-ordinate the development of the fishing sector.


The research has become indispensable to the activities of the Fisheries Administration (UNIPESCA/MAGA), once it gives the necessary technical and scientific evidence to adopt immediate measures of control and organization of the hydro-biological resources. In that sense, under the co-ordination of UNIPESCA/MAGA, research studies of the fishing area are being done in order to update the information on the situation of the marine and continental fisheries, abundance and distribution of the under exploited potential resources, together with national and foreign universities, private sector and international organizations. In the aquaculture area, the promotion, validation and transference of technology of the native species with potential for culture and repopulating of continental bodies is also being done. UNIPESCA has also initiated studies to plan and control the artisanal and small fishing sectors that have free access to fishing.


Concerning the financial and technical assistance, Guatemala had the support, through bi-national and bilateral agreements of friendly governments, of national and international research organizations to execute projects and mainly for technical qualification. Among the institutions and sponsors are: the governments of Mexico, Peru, Chile, Egypt, Israel, Spain, Brazil, JICA, MITACH, FAO, OLDEPESCA/NORAD, PRADEPESCA/UE.


The future needs are mainly to consolidate the strengthening of the Fisheries Administration, UNIPESCA through the updating and approval of the new Fishing Law, to increase the institutional presence in both coasts and continental waters for an effective control of the fishing activity, that guarantees a development and sustained management of the fisheries; to organize the artisanal and small scale fishing sector, research on the abundance and distribution of the hydro biological resources, to improve techniques of the artisanal and small scale fishing sector in order to improve the process and commercialisation of its production (aggregated value), to strengthen the Statistical Area and the capacity of the technical and professional personnel. FAO has also been asked to advise Guatemala in the reproduction of native species for the repopulating of continental bodies of water.






Centro de Investigaciones Pesqueras de Cuba


Dirección General Recursos Marinos de Panamá

ICCAT (Berta Juárez)

OLDEPESCA (Carlos Mazal)

Centro Estudios del Mar Guatemala (CEMA)

Centro Regional de Pesquerías México

IFREMER (Christophe Macabiau)


INIDEP (Argentina)







Aquatic Animal Health Specialist

Instituto Nacional de la Pesca México