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This document provides an overview of the Libyan marine fisheries and aquaculture sector for development planning applications. The sector is briefly examined and analysed in terms of its wider national economic context and its production, post-harvest, and institutional dimensions, including development programmes and policies now in force and the technical/research support service capabilities of the Secretariat of Marine Wealth (SMW) and its constituent bodies. On this basis development options for the sector are suggested for consideration by SMW administration and planning authorities. Such a review process ideally would involve extensive consultations with and inputs from other official and non-governmental agencies, research and development organisations, and user groups that share an interest in the exploitation and conservation of marine and coastal zone resources.

A number of technical reports, articles, and other documents have been consulted in the course of preparing the sector review, and these are listed as ‘References Cited.’ Maps showing various features of the Libyan Mediterranean coastal zone, including major fish landing sites, aquaculture installations, fish handling and processing facilities, and pollution hazard points, are provided in Annex 1. The chart shown as Annex 2 depicts the current the organisational structure of the SMW. Unofficial, indicative translations of national fisheries legislation and other policy instruments are given in Annex 3. Annex 4 provides tabular breakdowns of the status of national policy provision and implementation with respect to various articles of the draft Code now under preparation by the FAO Council on Fisheries, Technical Committee of the Council on the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.


2.1 Macroeconomic Context1

The economy of Libya is dominated by the oil sector. Over the last three and a half decades oil has fundamentally changed the country from one based largely on agriculture to one in which agriculture is of comparatively minor significance. By the 1980s hydrocarbons were accounting for about two thirds of gross domestic product (GDP), and virtually all of the country's export earnings. Although the sector's GDP contribution now amounts to about a third of the total, it still earns the country over 95% of its foreign exchange. The contribution of service industries to national output has shown a marked increase in recent years and almost balances that of oil in GDP terms. The GDP contribution of Agriculture (including fisheries), on the other hand, has remained weak. As a consequence Libya is highly dependent on food supplies from outside sources. In 1994 imported food commodities accounted for about 30% of all national imports. It is not surprising therefore that national leadership, as part of an overall emphasis on economic diversification, has given high priority to development of food self-sufficiency. This is reflected in the pattern of state investment allocations, about one-fifth of which have been channelled into the agriculture sector since 1970.

Whereas the national economy was characterised by heavy state involvement through the 1980s, including ownership and control of major industrial and agriculture projects, import and export companies, the service sector, and supply of basic commodities, there has since that time been a change in orientation allowing increasing scope for private enterprise. This has been marked by a robust growth in small-scale businesses in the retail goods and services sector, and has further been encouraged by legislation permitting the sale of state-owned property and productive equipment to private interests, particularly when organised as tasharukiat (GPC 1985; GPComm. 1985). A tasharukia comprises a small-scale business registered by an individual or partnership, ideally run on an owner-operator basis. In implementing the policy for privatisation of state company assets, preference is given for their sale to tasharukiat that have been established by company staff members wishing to resign their positions in favour of starting private sector businesses.

A summary of basic economic data is shown in the table below.

Table 1. Libya: basic economic indicators

Area1,775,500 km2
Shelf area (to 200 m)50,000 km2
Length of coastline1,970 km
Population (Est. - preliminary 1995 Census data)4,405,000 (Libyan nationals)
4,804,100 (Total)
GDP(in purchasers' values, 1992 Est.)*9356 LD million
PCI (1992 Est.)1949 LD
Agricultural GDP (1991 Est.)480.5 LD million

* Exchange rate effective Sept. 1995: US$ 1 = 0.34 Libyan dinars (LD).

2.2 Role of Fisheries in the National Economy

Although Libya has a Mediterranean coastline almost 2000 km long (maps, Annex 1), with an ancient history of human settlement, traditions of fishing and fish consumption are not particularly strong features of contemporary national society. Until fairly recently much of the artisanal and small trawler fishery was carried out by Italians and Maltese based in Tripoli and a few other major ports, whilst Greeks were especially active in the sponge fishery.2 Local participation and production levels have undoubtedly increased since the 1970s, and this trend has been strongly encouraged by fisheries authorities through extensive investments in port and onshore infrastructure and services. Initiatives have also been taken to strengthen administrative, technical, and research agency support for the sector, and to build capabilities in aquaculture.

In the mid-1980s it was reckoned that the inshore artisanal fleet of wooden smallcraft (<10 m) amounted to no more than 400 units, and that perhaps as many as 20 stern or side trawlers were operational. Production in the 1970s and 1980s reportedly ranged from a few thousand to as high as 10,000 tonnes per annum, though a weak data collection system opens to question the reliability of available statistics. It is believed in any event that most production from Libyan waters in previous years was accounted for by unlicensed foreign vessels.

Apparent growth in the artisanal fleet has been quite remarkable, with total units presently numbering almost 3500. The industrial fleet has also undergone significant expansion, with some 90 units -- trawlers and a few purse seiners and longliners -- now based in domestic ports. Production too has shown a significant rise in recent years, according to official figures. In 1994 the total catch was reported to stand at around 33,000 tonnes.

On the basis of the 1993 coastal fisheries survey (Reynolds et al. 1994), it can be estimated that artisanal production activity provides direct full-time or part-time employment for around 4500 smallcraft owners and crew and around 5000 mostly part-time foot ‘fishers’ working along the shore by hook-and-line, gillnet, castnet, and hand collection. A further current workforce of roughly 150 is estimated for the industrial fishing sector. Secondary sector employment in servicing and support activities at major landing sites is reckoned to involve about 250 – 300 part-time and full-time people. The post-harvest industry is estimated to provide direct employment, both permanent and seasonal, for some 2000 processing plant workers, fish traders, and technical personnel. Formal employment of women in sector productive activities occurs almost exclusively in the processing plants, where they constitute about a third of the workforce and are mainly engaged during the summer high season on the fish cutting lines and in product packaging.3 An additional 550 personnel are estimated to be associated with official fisheries administration, research/development, and operational agencies.

With a primary and secondary productive employment base of around 12,000 persons, the national fisheries sector thus provides for only a very small fraction - around 1% - of the total labour force for the country, now reckoned to be a little over one million. Its estimated contribution to Agricultural GDP likewise is fairly negligible, standing at around 10% or so. To put this into overall perspective, in a national economy heavily dominated by the oil sector, the entire agriculture sector itself only contributes an estimated 6% to total GDP.

In general, although significant progress has been made to set the stage for enhancing the role of fisheries and aquaculture in the national economy, especially over the last ten years or so, the sector still holds considerable untapped potential. Fulfilment of this potential will however depend on the establishment of a strong management framework devised in accordance with a clearly delineated overall sector strategy and development plan.

1 Based on information derived from: Europa 1991; UNHCS 1993; EIU 1995; IMF 1995; UNDP 1995.

2 For background on the Libyan fisheries sector covering the pre-World War II period until the late 1980s, refer to: Serbetis (1952): Asciak (1964); Laskaridis (1969); McKellar (1981); Arrundale and Curr (1989).

3 Figures derived from data collected during LIBFISH F/Tech component field surveys, see Pizzali et al. (1995c).

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