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Coastal site survey and stock assessment work conducted through Project LIBFISH in collaboration with the MBRC has provided a substantial amount of updated information on the Libyan fisheries resource picture, harvest and post-harvest operations, and national research and technical support service capabilities.

4.1 Marine Capture Fisheries4

4.1.1 Production and effort

The catch sector in the Jamahiriya comprises four major activities: artisanal coastal fishing, lampara fishing, coastal trawling, and tonnara fishing. Sponge fishing, purse seining, tuna longlining, and distant water fishing are minor areas of production.5

Most of the catch is taken by artisanal boats working with nets (trammel nets and gillnets) or hooks (longlines and handlines), and by the lampara fleet fishing for small pelagics. A total of 3477 artisanal fishing craft were enumerated during the national landing site survey conducted in late 1993. These craft are based at 129 beach, anchorage, and harbour landing sites along the coastline, with heavier concentrations through the western stretches. Seventy-five landing sites are permanent (all year operation) bases (maps, Annex 1), and 54 seasonal. Artisanal fleet units include 2463 craft of <10m LOA, whilst 1014 are of > 10m LOA. Approximately two-thirds of the smaller craft are motorised, usually with outboard engines in the 10 – 35 HP range. The larger units are decked vessels and are all equipped with inboard engines. Most work as gillnetters, except for those that are used in the lampara fishery.

The lampara fleet comprises about 130 motorised vessels ranging up to 18m in length. During active fishing times, mostly during summer months, each of these units teams with one or two smaller lamp boats, known as dhgaissa, which are non-motorised and are towed along behind on nightly trips to and from the fishing grounds. Lampara fishing is concentrated along the western section of the coastline, between Misurata and the Tunisian border.

The industrial fishing fleet is composed of 91 units, most of which are steel stern trawlers. Lengths vary from 13 to 33m LOA, and engine power ranges from 165 to 950 HP. Thirty-one of the trawlers, one tuna longliner, and five tuna purse seiners are owned by the state company NAFIMCO (National Fishing and Marketing Company). The remaining 54 trawlers are in the hands of private individuals or partnerships.

Tuna fishing is carried out mainly using tonnaras or set nets which extend 3–5 km out from the coast. Tonnara fishing was much more common in the past, with 18 stations reportedly in operation. Five stations now remain, only three of which were active during the 1995 season (June and July). These are located at Zletin, Zreq and Dzirah.

Total production from Libyan waters was reported to be 33,469 mt in 1994, valued at 45.2 million LD. This production consisted of around 15,500 mt of small pelagics (sardine, mackerel, horse mackerel, and bogue), some 1,500 mt of tuna from the tonnara fishery and about 16,000 mt mixed demersal species (mainly red mullet, breams, and groupers). The official figures do not include catches of unlicensed foreign trawlers operating in and out of more remote sections of Libyan waters.6 These may amount to an additional 3,000 mt of demersal species (estimated).

Of several joint fishing ventures started in the late 1970s, the Libyan-Spanish Fishing Co. (LISPAFISH) remains the most active. The company has a base in Las Palmas and engages in some fishing on a minor scale off the West African coast. Reported production in 1994 was 1237 mt, valued at 5.4 million LD. LISPAFISH at present is mainly concerned with importation of canned and frozen fish for sale on the domestic market.

4.1.2 Resources and exploitation levels

The demersal biomass accessible to exploitation by bottom trawl gear for the western section of the coast (Tunisian border-Misurata, and out to the 300m isobath or the limits with Tunisian/Maltese waters), where most artisanal activity and virtually all trawling activity is concentrated, is roughly estimated to stand at 39,000 mt. The MSY for the trawlable fraction of demersal stock in the same area is estimated at 12,600 mt. Given a current annual harvest of around 11,000 mt (domestic plus foreign trawler catches), the stock appears near to a state of full exploitation. Prospects for significant expansion of bottom trawling along the eastern coastline are extremely limited owing to the very rocky and uneven nature of the grounds.

Acoustic survey work carried out during 1994 resulted in an estimate for small pelagic biomass in Libyan waters of some 56,500 mt, and for small pelagic MSY of 21,500 mt. There is thus a provisional indication of some potential for modest expansion of the small pelagic fishery above present annual harvest levels of 15,000 mt.

4.2 Inland Fisheries

Inland fisheries in the Jamahiriya are negligible. Free stocking (carp and some tilapia) was carried out some years ago at Wadi Kaam (Khoms/Zliten area) and Wadi Mjinine (Tripoli area) reservoirs, and more recently carp have been stocked in Abou Dzira lake near Benghazi. Results thus far do not indicate much potential for commercial production (Reynolds et al. 1995a).

4.3 Culture Fisheries (Aquaculture)7

4.3.1 Production and projects

Limited inland (freshwater) aquaculture has been attempted at several sites on a pilot basis over the past two decades, though production on any sort of commercial scale has yet to be realised in the Jamahiriya. Minor cage culture of tilapia is carried out at Abou Dzira lake, near Benghazi. A project to raise tilapia and other species using waste irrigation water from an agricultural scheme at Brak El-Shati, in the desert some 650 km south of Tripoli, was started in the late 1980s but is now dormant. A good deal of emphasis has been put on the promotion of mariculture since 1990. Pilot/trial stations have been established at Ain Kaam (near Khoms), Ain Ziana (near Benghazi), and Ain El Ghazala (near Tobruk). Work at Ain Kaam has involved brackish water cage culture of mullet and red tilapia, and a shrimp hatchery. The lagoon at Ain Ghazala has been used for cage culture of sea bass, sea bream, mullet, and eels, and some cultivation of mussel has also been carried out on a trial basis. A major new hatchery and grow-out pond complex is now under construction at Ain Ziana. Trial mussel rearing was attempted at Farwa Lagoon (near the Tunisian border) a few years ago, but was not successful. New attempts to establish cage farming and shellfish cultivation at Farwa are reportedly being planned.

4.3.2 Prospects

The SMW through GADA/APC is intending to promote a major expansion of mariculture projects in the immediate future, including onshore pond and raceway installations, further sheltered cage farming in lagoon areas, and trial development of offshore cage production systems.

Whilst there is potential for considerable growth in aquafarming, a comprehensive development plan remains to be be elaborated. There are extensive areas of shoreland which could prove suitable for pond and raceway developments of both large-and small-scale. On the other hand, rather limited opportunities exist for the development of inshore cage farms or for production enhancement within lagoons, wadi embayments, wetlands, or sabkha (saltmarsh) areas. Offshore cage production holds some promise, but principally for locations within the eastern coastal zone where suitable conditions of water depth, relative wind and weather shelter for anchorage points, and proximity to shore facilities are more commonly found.

4.4 Fisheries Post-Harvest8

4.4.1 Catch Utilisation

Production from the domestic artisanal and trawl fisheries is mostly channelled to the local fresh fish market or, especially for small pelagics, to the state processing plants. Gross value of fisheries output (ex-vessel prices) for 1994 was estimated at 45.2 million LD. Of this amount, an estimated 10 million LD went for export. Imports of fisheries products for the same year were estimated at a value of 3.6 million LD, comprising mostly canned and frozen product as well as fish meal.

Fish is not a particularly significant component of the national diet, as compared to meat and poultry. Apparent fish consumption levels have however shown a significant rise in recent times from around 1.2 kg/yr reported in the early 1960s (Yang 1963) to about 6 kg/yr reported at the present time. Considerable efforts have been made to improve distribution and marketing facilities and thus to encourage consumption of fresh and processed fish, including networks into the southern parts of Libya which in the past did not have ready access to fish products. Twelve chill stores have been installed at settlements in the south, and 15 refrigerated trucks have been placed in service to haul fish products from coastal points to the interior. In addition, some 50 refrigerated vans equipped as mobile fish shops are now operating around the country. It remains the case however that most of the national population and most fish consumers live in the towns and cities along the coast, particularly in Tripoli and Benghazi. Almost all of the domestic catch is sold in fresh form at these large urban markets.

4.4.2 Processing

Significant development inputs have been directed to the state-owned industrial post-harvest enterprises since the early 1970s, in the form of cannery, ice plant, cold and chill store facility installations. Five fish canning plants belonging to The National Company for Fish Canning (NACACO) are currently in operation at Zuwara, Sabratah, Jansur, Khoms, and Benghazi. All the plants except Benghazi also produce fish meal. According to official SMW figures production from NACACO operations in 1994 was 2100 mt of canned tuna and sardine valued at 8.4 million LD and 330 mt offish meal valued at 200,000 LD. A further two canning plants are being constructed for NAFIMCO at Sabratah and Zletin, with a total installed capacity of 90 mt/day (live weight) of tuna and sardine, and 75 mt/day (live weight) offish meal. Smaller canning operations are run by private partnerships at Sabratah (1), and Misurata (2). Fish receiving and handling facilities have been substantially improved and most major landing and marketing centres are now served by ice plants and cold and chill storage facilities, although upkeep and maintenance problems exist in some cases. Field survey work carried out along the coast during 1993–94 provided the following total figures for public and private fish handling and storage installations: 20 ice plants; 28 containerised cold stores/chillrooms; 10 cold store/freezing plants.

4.4.3 Ex-vessel, retail, and export trade

Fish prices on the domestic market and trade in fish products for export are subject to various regulations. These have been are gazetted as decisions of the Secretariat for Economics and Commerce, examples of which appear below.

Table 10. Secretariat for Economics and Commerce decisions, fish sales and exports*

SEC Decision No.Contents/Effect
No. 10/1990Establishes permanent committee on fish price controls (fixed prices).
No. 1/1994Concerning fixed prices for local canned fish products.
No. 2/1994Prohibiting export or re-export canned fish products (tuna, sardine, others).
No. 3/1994Prohibiting export or re-export all species fresh fish during months of December through March each year.
No. 26/1994Concerning fish grades and determining winter prices offish for year 1994.
No. 93/1994Organising fresh fish and fish products export, permissions for export and species allowed for export.
No. 153/1994Fish quantities, species, and prices allowed for export.

* Source: SMW (1994).

Prior to 1988 ex-vessel and retail market sales of fish were enforced in accordance with official price controls Since then, although controls remain on the books, as indicated in Tables 11 and 12, a de facto free market situation exists, except for transactions with the state companies. Most fresh fish ex-vessel sales at major landing sites are now conducted by open auction to traders. In Tripoli, the country's largest fish retailing centre, traders mostly buy for resale directly to consumers, working with price margins that range from 20% and upwards from ex-vessel levels. Table 13 provides data on low and high ex-vessel and retail fish prices, respectively, for selected popular species of fresh fish during the winter season of 1995. As is obvious from the table, real prices bear little resemblance to those which have been officially prescribed.

In the case of small pelagics, officially fixed prices still apply to ex-vessel purchases by the state-owned canneries, an arrangement that in times of heavy supply may be favourable to lampara fishers, but proves less attractive when supplies are low and open market prices rise. Locally produced canned fish products distributed directly from factory outlets are also sold at fixed prices.

Higher value demersal fish such as groupers, large breams, and red mullets as well as cephalopods are often directed to the export market for distribution to Tunisia and Italy. At present there are about a dozen small private firms and tasharukiat which are regularly involved in fish export. Most are based in Tripoli, with the others located in Benghazi (2), Sirte (1), Sabratah (1), and Zuarah (1).

Table 11. Official ‘white fish’ (demersal) fish prices in effect from 1991 – 1995 (Secretariat for Economics and Commerce)*

Fish grade/ classFixed price LD/kgRemarks
(Example species, weight categories)
Fisher → Marketing CoMarketing Co. → TraderTrader → Consumer
First Class - ‘A’2.9503.2003.500Dentex, Sea bass ≥ 500g; Baracuda ≥ 1kg; Sea bream, Red mullet ≥ 250g
First Class-‘B’2.5502.7503.000Dentex, Sea bass 300 – 500g; Baracuda ≤ 1kg; Red mullet 150–250g
Second Class2.0002.2002.400Dogtooth grouper, John Dory, Pandora, Saddled bream (any wgt); Red mullet 30–150g; Grey mullet 150–250g; Sea bass, Yellow-mouth baracuda, Amberjack ≤ 250g
Third Class1.5001.6501.800Striped sea bream (lg. size); Octopus, Black sea bream, Angel shark (any wgt).
Fourth Class0.5000.6000.800Med. moray, Painted comber, breams, Ballan wrasse, Guitar fishes (any wgt).
Large shrimp4.2504.6005.000≥ 300g
Small shrimp3.4003.7004.000< 300g

* Source: SMW (1994).

Table 12. Official ‘blue fish’ (pelagics) prices in effect from 1991 (Secretariat for Economics and Commerce)*

SpeciesPrice LD/kg for consumerPrice LD/kg for canning factoriesRemarks
Fisher → Private TraderTrader → ConsumersFisher → Factory
Sardine0.2500.2800.120Sardine for fish meal at LD 0.080/kg
Local tuna----0.800 
Little tuna----0.700 
Horse mackerel0.8000.850- 

* Source: SMW (1994).

Table 13. Open market prices for selected species, Winter 1995 (Tripoli Bab El Baher Market)*

SpeciesLo/Hi ex-vessel prices (LD/kg)Lo/Hi prices retail (LD/kg)Remarks
Fisher → Private Trader: LowFisher → Private Trader: HighTrader → Consumers: LowTrader → Consumers: High
Grouper12.00019.00017.00022.000Very popular ‘First class’ fish amongst affluent consumers.
Dentex13.00019.00016.00021.000As with grouper.
Red mullet10.00015.00012.00018.000For larger sizes above 150g, prices about half for smaller fish.
Pandora8.00013.0009.00016.000Most popular amongst fish consumers generally.
Grey mullet10.00015.00012.00018.000For fish >0.5 kg
Little tuna4.0006.0005.0008.000Seasonal, Fall/Winter only.
Mackerel1.5002.5002.5004.000Lampara catch. Popular esp. with less affluent, high volumes sold.
Sardine1.0002.0001.5003.000As above.
Bogue0.7501.5001.5002.500As above.

* Source: LIBFISH marketing survey records, 1994/95.

4.5 Research and Technical Advisory Services

The Marine Biology Research Centre (MBRC),9 located on the coast in Tajura (near Tripoli), is designated under Law 14 and its implementation rules as SMW's main agency for fisheries and aquaculture research and technical advice in support of sectoral development and management. MBRC operates under a Management Committee responsible for major decision-making and the framing of overall policy, which is composed of representatives of the following offices/institutions:

  1. The General Director, MBRC (Chair)
  2. Al Fateh University (One representative)
  3. Garyounis University (One representative)
  4. Secretariat of Scientific Research (One representative)
  5. MBRC Scientific Committee (Head)
  6. SMW Dept. of Planning and Follow-up (Director)
  7. General Aquaculture Development Authority (Director)

The Centre's basic charter establishes an ambitious set of work objectives and responsibilties to be undertaken, including:

  1. Conduct research and studies which are related to the development and exploitation of marine wealth.
  2. Perform marine survey and mapping for the purpose of stock assessment and to identify the distribution of marine life and the topography of the Libyan coast.
  3. Evaluate the Libyan marine resources and identify fishing areas and specify the means of fishing methods and equipment for the purpose of marine resource management.
  4. Follow-up the chemical, physical and biological changes on the Libyan coast.
  5. Conduct studies on the marine environment.
  6. Conduct studies and research on aquaculture.
  7. Publish results and conclusions derived from the scientific research and provide information, technical advice, guidelines and references within the Centre's areas of interest.
  8. Establish and operate aquaculture pilot plants.
  9. Acquisition and management of research vessels.
  10. Prepare and maintain a panel of skilled research and technical personnel to meet the requirements of the Centre.
  11. Provide consultancies related to the exploitation and protection of marine wealth.
  12. Collaboration with other scientific institutes and organizations.
  13. Any other activities complying with the authority delegated to the Centre.

MBRC was originally built in 1977 as a teaching/research unit known as the Marine Biology Station (MBS), under the El Fatah University Department of Zoology. The MBS and the Marine Research Centre, which had been established in 1968 at Bab El Baher (Tripoli main harbour) under the then Ministry of Industry, merged as the MBRC in 1984. Facilities include a 49m LOA research vessel, the R/V NOUR, laboratories for marine chemistry, environment, and biology work, a public aquarium and taxonomic museum, experimental fish holding tanks, cold/chill storage units, lecture theater and seminar room, library/ documentation centre, and offices. The current staff establishment of the Centre comprises 36 research officers; 34 administrative staff; and 22 R/V officers and crew, variously assigned under the departments of Administration, Technical Affairs, Statistics and Economic Studies, and Scientific Research. The latter department includes sections in Chemistry and Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture, Benthos, and Plankton. MBRC's main building is large and relatively well equipped, though major rehabilitation works on the physical plant, seawater supply system, and other utilities are needed. The first stage of these works is now in progress.

4 For background Project reports and official SMW returns see: Reynolds et al 1994; Reynolds and Lamboeuf 1994; Lamboeuf et al. 1995; Lambouef and Amer 1995; Lambouef 1995; SMW 1995.

5 Sponge harvesting was a major activity during the 1950s and 1960s, especially along the eastern part of the coast between Benghazi and Tubruk. After a period of drastic decline owing to disease outbreaks in the beds and the withdrawal of labour from the fishery, sponge harvesting is said to be slowly beginning to pick up again.

6 Libya like most Mediterranean states has a 12-mile territorial sea and has not proclaimed an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) under provisions of UNCLOS. As noted by Scovazzi (1994), ‘…if 200-mile EEZs were to be created by all coastal states, no areas of high seas would be left in the Mediterranean.’ With regard to the continental shelf, as remarked earlier, delimitation agreements exist between Libya and Malta, and between Libya and Tunisia. In the Gulf of Sirte, Libya has unilaterally declared the 32°N parallel as the southern limit of international waters.

7 For additional background information see Reynolds et al. 1995; SMW 1994; 1995; Vallet 1994; Vallet and Reynolds 1995.

8 For further background information see Medina Pizzali et al. 1995a, 1995b; SMW 1994, 1995.

9 See Reynolds (1994) for a review of MBRC organisation and a summary of recent research activities under the Centre's various sections.

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