The development of mariculture activities was slow and production was limited, mainly due to poor technical knowledge and production management inexperience. More recently a number of private investors have become interested in the sector where, despite their limited knowledge and experience, have achieved promising results also thanks to the assistance offered by the staff at the Marine Biology Research Centre (MBRC) in Tajura.
It is expected that with good management and regulatory policies, the aquaculture industry will prosper in the country. Favorable climate conditions, availability of clean waters and cheap sources of power should all contribute to such development.
In the early 1990s, Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) was introduced in the country. This species was well accepted on the local market due to its physical appearance and taste and, as a result, production increased rapidly utilizing water from agriculture irrigation channels.
Mariculture began in the early 1990s with the establishment of a government-sponsored farm in Ein Elgazala. Wild juvenile of the European seabass (Dicentrarchus labrax), gilthead seabream (Sparus aurata) and mullet (Mugil spp.) were collected and reared in small cages in the Ein Elgazala Lagoon.
Overall production remained very limited, between 30–40 tonnes, until the late 1990s when new farms were established and European seabass and gilthead seabream fingerlings, imported by the Government, made available to the private sector at a subsidized price. By 2004, total production for the two finfish species had reached 231 tonnes.
Rearing of the Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus thynnus) commenced in 2003 by two private companies which produced approximately 350 tonnes in 2003 and 150 tonnes in 2004.
The main marine species cultured on a commercial basis in the Libya are gilthead seabream (Sparus aurata), European seabass (Dicentrarchus labrax), and Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus thynnus). All the cultured species are native to the Mediterranean Sea.
Freshwater fish culture
Freshwater fish species cultured include several species of carps: common carp (Cyprinus carpio), bighead carp (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis), silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix) and grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idellus) and catfish. Carps were originally cultured in reservoirs and small lakes, however, this farming practice ceased in 1992 and the existing stocks left to survive on natural food sources.
Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) and red tilapia (Tilapia sp.) are the most important freshwater fish cultured and are widely distributed in irrigation ponds on agriculture farms along the coast, and in rural and southern areas of the country. As a result of their good growth rates, ease of breeding and broad tolerance to environmental factors, a large farm has been developed in the south of the country. The farm consists of a large hatchery and 78 concrete tanks.
Libya does not have any endemic freshwater species and all freshwater species were introduced in the 1970s and 1990s.
The existing marine hatcheries are closed-systems and utilize biological filters, sand filters and UV systems. Furthermore, light intensity and temperature are also regulated allowing the production of fry out of season and avoiding the limitations imposed by natural spawning cycles. This system provides the opportunity to culture fish all year round and encourage farmer to take advantage of periods of strong market prices.
Intensive landbased production is carried out using earth and concrete ponds. Raw material for the construction of concrete ponds is locally available; there are vast areas that can be utilized along the long unpolluted coastline with favorable climatic and environmental conditions. Bore holes provide access to subterranean water close beneath the surface.
Cages are used mostly in the eastern coastal region of the country due to the limited availability of protected areas along the coast. There are also a few open sea cages in operation in different places along the coast.
The recent price of seabass and seabream ranges between US$ 4–6 at the farm gate, while the recent price of tilapia is approximately US$ 2–3. All northern bluefin tuna produced is exported, however no data is available with regards to the price of cultured fish. Tilapia is consumed locally and sold fresh from the farmer directly to the consumer. Size ranges between 0.5–1 kg.
The labeling and certification of aquaculture products does not exist in the Libya.
The most important technical body engaged in aquaculture matters is the Marine Biology Research Centre (MBRC) at Tajura, which is now under the authority of the National Marine Investment Institute. The MBRC employs researchers and specialists in various fields of aquaculture and fishery sciences.
One of the main priorities of the MBRC is applied research in aquaculture and fisheries. A hatchery is currently in the process of being developed. It is foreseen that this will further enhance research into aquaculture. One of the recent projects of the Centre was the supply of locally produced fertilized seabream eggs and live food to the Abu Kamash hatchery.
A quantity of tilapia produced at MBRC was distributed free of charge during 2005 to small-scale farmers to be integrated within their agriculture activities. Field trips to survey and give guidance to fish farmers are regularly carried out. A new research centre in Benghazi, the country's second largest city, was completed in 2001 with aquaculture as one of the priority areas of research.
Earth and concrete ponds and net cages are used for rearing species such as the European seabass, gilthead seabream and the northern bluefin tuna. While initially some problems were encountered especially with the operation of the earthen ponds as a result of a lack of experience, many farms overcame these and are still operating whilst others switched to alternative production systems.
The mariculture sector initially relied on imported fry and fish feed from countries such as France, Italy, Portugal and Austria. However, following the national marine investment institute's development of a complete fish hatchery complex in 2004 they have succeeded in hatching imported fertilized European seabass eggs which are distributed free to farmers.
In 2005 fertilized eggs of the gilthead seabream were also supplied by the MBRC together with a local strain of rotifer to the Farwa Hatchery Complex and as a result approximately half a million fry were distributed to farmers. There are other hatcheries currently being developed, these will be of great assistance in improving the supply of fry and reducing dependency of imports.
Mariculture in the Libya has the advantage of being able to sustain a wide range of aquaculture production systems including intensive, semi-intensive and extensive systems and the local environmental conditions are suitable for the commercial production of valuable marine species.
The Government provides a series of incentives to encourage foreign investment in the country including tax free status for a significant period of time. Scientific and technical assistance via the MBRC is also provided free including training programmes to disseminating aquaculture techniques.
There is currently a proposal to develop the rearing of new species such as the greater amberjack (Seriola dumerilii), kuruma prawn (Penaeus japonicus) and green tiger prawn (Penaeus semisulcatus) which command good commercial prices on both the local and international markets.
A large aquaculture project has recently been developed in the south of the country at Sokna producing Nile tilapia (O. niloticus). The broodstock was imported from South Africa in 2004. In 2005 only approximately 75 000 fry were produced which are currently being ongrown, this project will provide a good opportunity for farmers in the south of the country to begin utilizing tilapia in their irrigation ponds.
In the Libya no fish feed plant is currently in operation although there are plans to develop one in the near future which will significantly enhance the potential of the country's aquaculture industry.
FAO. 2005. Aquaculture production, 2003. Year book of Fishery Statistics - Vol.96/2. Food and Agriculture organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy.
MBRC - Marine Biology Research Centre. 2004. General survey for present status of aquaculture in the Libya.
MBRC - Marine Biology Research Centre. 2005. Annual report for aquaculture.
MBRC - Marine Biology Research Centre. Field trips reports.