February 2004


The main goal of the previous government toward developing fisheries was to improve the nutrition standard of the population. This goal involves development and management of the various resources of marine, inland fisheries and aquaculture. The change of Government in Iraq in 2003 has resulted in a hiatus in fisheries management strategies and objectives and it may be some time before these strategies and objectives are clarified.

In the meantime, there have been major environmental changes to Iraq's coastal habitat as a result of (a) a long term trend of damming of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, with a consequent reduction in the downstream flows and (b) the draining of the extensive marshes in southern Iraq by diversion of major rivers around the marsh areas. These marshes, which have been reduced in extent by over 90% to an area of around 1,700 Km2, supported significant fisheries in the past (up to 60% of landings) as well as providing a nursery area for some commercial species that are captured in the Gulf.
The impact of these major changes has been a dramatic decline in marine fish landings (probably more than 50%) as well as inland fisheries from the area although these changes are yet to be reflected in national statistics.

Consequently, addressing these major environmental issues (including the rehabilitation of the marsh areas) will very likely be a major strategy for the improvement of fisheries resources and the fishing industry in Iraq.


Management objectives for capture fisheries (both inland and marine) in Iraq are unclear at the time of writing because of the transitional nature of the present Government. As noted above, a major objective is likely to be the rehabilitation of the marshes of southern Iraq, which will have beneficial impacts on both the freshwater and marine commercial fish stocks of the immediate area and the northern Gulf. The management objectives of the previous Government were orientated towards the development of aquaculture and were:

  • Supporting private sector activities in field of marine fisheries (catch) and encouraging investment in marine aquaculture;

  • Intensification of fish culture in earth ponds by exploiting the entire existing pond area of farms of about 7500 Hectares. It is estimated that only 25% of this area is exploited in 2003. With the lifting of economic sanctions on Iraq, the availability of equipment and materials for re-habilitation of these farm ponds should improve;

  • Introducing fish culture technologies such as floating cages to exploit inland water bodies (lakes and reservoirs) is the best technology for this purpose;

  • Developing fish culture in high salinity lakes of high salinity such as Razzaza lake by introducing suitable species of fish;

  • Production of fish seed of common carp, grass crap and silver carp in quantities required to cover the needs of fish farms when utilized by full potentials using polyculture techniques;

  • Production of Iraqi indigenous fishes (Cyprinidae) such as Bunni, Shabbot and Gattan by artificial reproduction for restocking purpose.


Law no. 48 for 1976 regulates the whole activities of fisheries. The Ministry of Agriculture issues regulations under this Law, according to the need. The following management measures have been implemented by law and regulations:

  • Issuing of licenses for fishing or aquaculture is unrestricted and, after fulfilling minor conditions, the number of licenses on issue for inland water fisheries in 2001 was 15960. In addition, approximately 1,210 licenses were on issue for marine fisheries and 1893 licenses for fish farming;

  • Closed seasons have been implemented for inland fishing in various areas of Iraq. These periods are as follows:
    1. In Southern areas: February 15 to May 1;
    2. In Central areas: March 1 to May 15;
    3. In Northern areas: April 1 to June 15;

  • Mesh size regulations are in place for inland fisheries and for marine gill net fisheries. For both inland and marine waters, the minimum mesh size was 50 mm stretched mesh.

Enforcement of regulations is weak, particularly after the change of Government in Iraq in 2003. In addition, fishing infrastructure within both the industry (vessels, nets, equipment, transport vehicles etc) and Government regulatory authorities (personnel, equipment etc) has deteriorated significantly during a period of economic sanctions imposed on Iraq. As a result, although simple management and administrative systems are in place, they are widely ignored and are seldom able to be implemented or enforced. Local communities have often adopted management arrangements that suit their particular needs.


The previous Government in Iraq subsidized the fishing and aquaculture industries through State-funded initiatives such as supplying fingerlings for aquaculture production, providing and repairing boat engines and net material and supplying limited operational supplies such as fish feed.

In addition, the public sector (through the General Authority for Animal Resources Development, Fisheries Department) was responsible for fisheries and aquaculture development and management policy and worked through their various offices in each Governorate.

Catches, production and marketing of fisheries products are exclusively done by the private sector.

The private sector (companies and individuals, and often through co-operatives) also owns the vessels for inland and marine fisheries. Fish farms are owned by private sector as well.

Fish are freely traded with prices being set according to the condition of the local markets. No foreign trade in fish are has occurred since 1991 as a result of economic sanctions and per capita supply is low and has been declining.


In the previous Government, the principal responsibility for fisheries lay with the Ministry of Agriculture, through the General Authority for Animal Resources Development, Fisheries Department. This general Authority was established in 1989. Before that the General Authority for Fish Resources Development was responsible for this activity.
In the 18 provinces of Iraq there are sections (divisions) for fish resources that are part of the Ministry of Agriculture and these operate through the local agriculture authority in each province.

Since the change in Government in Iraq in 2003, it is not yet clear whether these arrangements will be maintained or whether new arrangements for a national fisheries authority will be implemented.