In Iraq, fish production relies on inland and marine fisheries because no particular attention was given to aquaculture in the past. In developing this sector, the aquaculture in Iraq depends on the availability of water, as well as, good soil and adequate sites.
The rivers Tigris and Euphrates, including also the country’s tributaries, marshes, dams and reservoirs comprise Iraq’s main water source. Iraq has a limited coastline of approximately 59 km bordering the Gulf with a water surface area of approximately 700 km2.
Despite the availability of water resources, freshwater aquaculture production is limited to pond culture of common carp (Cyprinus carpio carpio). There is also a limited culture of grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idellus) and silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix). In 2007, the total production deriving from freshwater and marine aquaculture was estimated to be approximately 16 000 tonnes.
The aquaculture sector is owned at the public and private level. These two sectors are widely distributed in the middle and southern parts of Iraq.
Freshwater aquaculture and inland fishery have experienced a negative development due to the innovative approaches to inland fisheries production that have not evolved as capacity building initiatives among Iraqi fisheries. Furthermore, aquaculture scientists, extension officers and farmers were hindered, as a result of being isolated from the international scientific community, due to the security situation in Iraq. As a consequence, this led to a lack of diversification of the inland fishery industry during the post international economic embargo period. In addition, progress in freshwater aquaculture development is mainly also hindered by a limited supply of good quality fish seed and feed and a lack of diversity in terms of cultured species and practices. However, there is potential to optimize freshwater aquaculture production through better management and enhancement of the diversity of species through an effective regulatory framework. The sector is managed by the General Board for Fish Resource Development, comprising of technical and administrative divisions, which plans and manages new projects, and the establishment of hatcheries to reproduce local fish within various governorates. with a scientific collaboration between the General Board and the scientific institutions and universities in the country. The aim is to carry out training and build up capacity with a view to developing the aquaculture sector.
In the 1950s, carp species were introduced for the first time in Iraq, but only for scientific research purposes. The main aim was to acclimatize these species in the Iraqi inland waters and to establish whether they would be suitable for rearing in the Iraqi environment without interference and without a negative impact on endemic species. However, at that time, this experience was not channelled into commercial activities.
Later, significant attention was given to the aquaculture sector, initially with the establishment of hatcheries and the construction of fish farms.
The first artificial reproduction was started recently in Iraq, by following up on the experimental phase. However, the reproduction and rearing of local fish species was not carried out sufficiently, due to a lack of knowledge of the biology of the species.
The aquaculture sector developed after 1954, but was not given any importance or particular attention. It was limited by laws, codes and regulations which protected, organized and utilized the existing fishing techniques in inland waters. In 1985, hatcheries, as well as, farms for fish reproduction and rearing were built, but these farms were too small, and not suitable for commercial purposes.
In 1989, the General Board for Fish Resource Development was disbanded and became a branch under the Animal Resource Services Company.
In 2004, the General Board for Fish Resource Development restarted as an independent state institute to assume responsibility as a scientific authority to improve fish production in Iraq, by applying fisheries and aquaculture science methodologies.
A number of developmental projects, assisting directly and indirectly the development of aquaculture and the inland fishery industry in Iraq have been carried out, for example, upgrading the central fish hatchery and laboratory at Wasit, rehabilitating fish farming sites in several areas in the country, building a functional hatchery for local fish species production and the building of operational closed recirculating systems and pilot cages.
There have also been several initiatives to restore the Mesopotamian marshes, which have offered opportunities for intervention to increase fish production by releasing fingerlings of local species, as well as, carp species. Farmers and fishermen have also been supported by means of easy loans or through the establishment of natural protectorates in the Mesopotamian marshes.
Marine aquaculture has not been developed at all due to a lack of competencies in this sub-sector as there is no know-how on reproducing or culturing fish in marine waters. Marine fish have only been caught by private fishing boats located in Basrah.
Manpower employed in the fishery and aquaculture pertain to public and private sectors. Those employed in the private sector are mostly fishing in inland water bodies rather than working in aquaculture, but a few are involved in the basic work on the fish farms. The better educated and more skilled in this field, work with various public organizations. There are about 300 highly educated experts, such as diploma holders or with bachelor degrees and only 15 percent have a master’s degree or PhD which currently work in research centres and universities.
Iraq has diverse water resources which are thought to be suitable for enhancing its fishery resources, especially in inland water bodies which cover around 600 000 to 700 000 hectares, comprising natural lakes (39 percent) dams and reservoirs (13.3 percent) rivers and their branches (3.7 percent) and marshes (44 percent).
The farming system rely mainly on fish farms which are widespread within the middle and southern part of Iraq and are mainly based on extensive and semi-intensive fish ponds culture.
Freshwater fish production consists of pond culture of the common carp (Cyprinus carpio carpio ), as well as the grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idellus) and the silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix). There have been no initiatives to provide opportunities for the development of native fish production due to a limited supply of good quality fish seed, a lack of scientific knowledge and because native species are economically worthless to be produced or cultured in ponds. Such species require 4–5 years to reach marketable size.
As a consequence, this isolation contributed to creating a gap and decline in all aspects, especially in the field of scientific research. As a result of this, fishery and aquaculture studies and research went through a negative development.
Research and studies are currently being carried out in the area of acclimation and artificial reproduction, of the native Barbus sp., exclusively at the Sewera central hatchery. Successful results have previously been achieved from the acclimation of Acanthus purges lotus at al-Razaza Lake, which is an enclosed salty lake.
With the collaboration of various scientific authorities, the General Board for Fish Resource Development is carrying out research and studies on these desirable species in order to reproduce this build up hatchery, especially near al-Razaza Lake.
The graph below illustrates total aquaculture production in Iraq according to FAO reported statistics:
No fish is exported as a result of limited production of seafood from the aquaculture and fishery sector and the increasing demand for fish, however, imports of frozen, live and canned fish are widely in progress.
Seafood is mainly imported from the Islamic Republic of Iran, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Egypt, Morocco, China, Thailand, Myanmar, Pakistan, India and South America.
The aquaculture and fishery sectors only provide a slight contribution to the national economy by providing a limited production, as well as, providing jobs with limited income, resulting from low-scale production both from fish ponds and capture fisheries. Most fish farmers have additional employment other than rearing fish.
The state sector does not currently have a fishing fleet. All the fishing activities are carried out in the Gulf – shatt – Al-Arab by the private sector, which owns primitive fishing boats and equipment.
The General Board for Fish Resource Development is the main authority responsible for developing and upgrading the fishery and aquaculture sectors, encouraging investment, developing procedures through better management, stocking and enhancement of species diversification through an effective regulatory framework for both the inland and marine fisheries, as well as, aquaculture. At present, there is a potential to optimize research and studies into different local species which are currently under the acclimation process. The General Board comprises many technical or administrative departments and divisions. The technical departments are responsible for fish reproduction and rearing, providing fingerlings and good quality fish seed for the farmers. The internal Fishery Department is responsible for supervising fishermen, fishing licenses, fishing boats and the fish trade (wholesale). The studies and investment department deals with new project proposals to be implemented. The General Board, together with other scientific institutions, is responsible for research and studies of the different technical aspects to serve the development of the fishery and aquaculture sectors in order to increase production.
The General Board is the main executive power with authority to apply the rules and regulations issued by the government in collaboration with the Ministry of the Interior to apply the relevant Law No 48, issued in 1976, and its codes which regulate fisheries and aquaculture to better manage aquatic living resources. This institution does not have enough staff to monitor adequately law application due to the extent of the water bodies.
The fishery associations cooperates with the General Board to support and facilitate fishermen communities through the releasing of legal licenses to the fishermen and boats, as well as, encouraging the members by providing easy loans and the requirements to improve their work.
The following communities are related to fisheries:
A legal license is required to practice fish rearing, developing trading or any work related with fish. In order to start any fishery or acquaculture activity, a letter of agreement must be obtained from the authorities.
In collaboration with FAO, the General Board has designed a scientific training programme to rehabilitate and restore fish resources in Iraq, in order to develop and build up the capacity of the staff. At the same time, there is scientific research collaboration between the General Board and the universities, as well as, all institutional research centres to assess the status of the fisheries resources in Iraq.
The following scientific institutes are involved in this research:
The past policy, caused the aquaculture sector to collapse. In addition, the international embargo, which interrupted all means of communication with the rest of the world, coincided with the dissolution of the General Board (1989). In 2004, the expert staff returned to work, to reorganize this sector by reinforcing their scientific skills to restore the facilities and infrastructure for this vital food resource. A lot of work has been followed up by studies, research, training programmes and continued effort together with international institutes, universities and organizations.
The General Board plans to carry out new aquaculture projects, mainly for establishing hatcheries to reproduce local fish in different governorates.
Several pilot projects were recently funded to test cage culture in inland waters bodies as well as a closed recirculating system and modern hatcheries to improve fish stocks enhancements.
Data sources from: