Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations


January 2004


Organisation des Nations Unies pour l'alimentation et l'agriculture


Organización de las Naciones Unidas para la Agricultura y la Alimentación




1 001 450 km²

Shelf area (to 200 m):

87 120 km²

Length of coastline:

about 2 420 km

Population (2001):

69 124 000

Population (2003):

71 931 000

GDP at current market prices (2001):

US$ 91 billion

GDP per caput (2001):

US$ 1 393

Value added in agriculture (% of GDP) :

16.8% of GDP


Commodity balance (2001):





Total supply

Per caput supply


tons live weight


Fish for direct human consumption

capture and aquaculture





Fish for animal feed and other purposes







Estimated employment (2001):

(i) Primary sector:

65 000

(ii) Secondary sector:

about 300 000

Gross value of fisheries output at ex-vessel prices (2001):

US$ 3 billion (estimation)

Trade (2001):


(i) Value of imports:

US$ 162.5 million

(ii) Value of exports:

US$ 1.29 million

Commodity balance for 2003:





Stocks variation

Total Supply

Per Caput Supply


tonnes liveweight


Fish for direct human consumption

875 990

208 296

4 031


1 079 712


Fish for animal feed and other purposes



Trade (2003):



US$ 110 119 000



US$ 3 052 000



Egypt has a long coastline, extending for about 2 500 km, together with a continuous continental shelf of about 53 000 km2 bordering the country on the north along the Mediterranean Sea coast and to the east along the Red Sea, with the Suez and Aqaba Gulfs. Moreover, Egypt has various inland resources, include the Nile River with many irrigation canals, six northern coastal lagoons opening to the Mediterranean Sea (Maruit, Edku, Burollus, Manzala, Port Fouad and Bardawil) and two opening to the Suez Canal (Timsah and Bitter Lakes), with two closed lakes (Qarun and Wadi Al Raiyan), and the great reservoir behind the Aswan High Dam (Lake Nasser). Recently, some small water bodies in the western desert have been redeveloped for fish production.

From early times, the closed lakes have been stocked by transplanting marine fish species, e.g. grey mullets (Mugil spp.), sea bream (Sparus aurata), sea bass (Dicentrarchus labras), sole (Solea vulgaris) and shrimps (Metapenaeus and Penaeus spp). Since 1996, freshwater lakes have also been stocked with fingerlings of Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) and carp (Cyprinus carpio).

Marine fisheries

In 2001, the Egyptian marine registered fishing fleet operating in Mediterranean and Red Seas fishing grounds consisted of 6 388 vessels, of which 3 954 were motorized and the others under sail. The sailing fleet took 21 percent of total landing. Most of the motorized fleet (62 percent) was small wooden craft of less than 10 m in length and powered by inboard or outboard engines of less than 100 hp. Only 3 percent were large steel vessel with engines of more than 500 hp. The marine sector employed 27 550 fishermen, of which 3 013 were categorized in the recreational sector.

Mediterranean Coast

The main fishing ground used by Egyptian vessels is the continental shelf off the Nile Delta, and may extend to the eastern side of Port Said and rarely to the western side of Alexandria. The continental shelf is narrow in the east and west comparable to the wider central Delta region. The seabed is flat, mostly muddy to sandy along the middle and eastern coast. Limited grounds for trawling are available on the western coast. Inshore fisheries are widespread, with artisanal fishermen along the coast. There are no statistics recording their potential or landing composition except for a few research papers.

There are 9 fisheries centres along the coast with 4 developed fishing ports in Alexandria, Meaddea, Dumyat and Port Said. The fishing fleet in 2001 was composed of 1 137 trawlers, 937 boats using longline and hooks, 632 using trammel and gill nets and 238 purse seiners. The average crew of a trawler is 6–8, with 17–23 on a purse seiner, while other boats operate with a crew of 2 or 3.

Landings in Mediterranean Sea represent about 45 percent of the total marine catch. About 40 percent of the landings were from purse seiners working day and night along the Mediterranean Coast. Sardine (Sardinella spp.) constitutes 30 percent of total Egyptian landings, followed by anchovy (Engraulis encrasicolus) (6 percent) and Bogue (Boops boops) (3 percent). The catch from other methods includes a variety of species – some 30 commercially sold species – but they constitute less than 2 percent of the total catch. The catch is dominated by shrimp (Penaeus spp.) (6 percent), cuttlefish ( Sepia spp. and Loligo spp.) (3 percent), red mullet (Mullus spp.) (3 percent), grey mullet (Mugil spp.) (3 percent), sea breams (Sparidae) (3 percent) and lizard fish (Saurida spp.) (2 percent). About 75 percent of the catch landed is at Dumyat, Port Said and Meaddea, where about 50 percent of the fleet and 60 percent of the total number of fishermen are based. There is no catch record for recreational fishing, although it is widely practised along the Mediterranean Coast. It is worth noting that other nations of the Mediterranean Sea with fishing traditions illegally fish in the Egyptian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Since 1999, sponge catching has been banned, although it was an important economic activity. In part it has been compensated for by snail and clam, with a catch of 4 173 tonne.

Red Sea and adjacent gulfs

The fisheries of the Red Sea are based on a long-standing traditional (artisanal) fishery where coral reefs spread along the Red Sea Coast and Gulf of Aqaba, with relatively shallow fishing grounds (maximum 70 m depth) with flat sandy bottoms in the Suez Gulf, the only area suitable for trawling. The narrow, reef-rich continental shelf of much of the coastline is suitable only for artisanal fishing with hook and line or inshore set net.

There are 4 fisheries centres along the Suez Gulf, 6 along the Red Sea Coast and 3 along the Gulf of Aqaba. There are only two developed fishing ports (Suez and Hurghada). The fishing fleet in 2001 was composed of 78 trawlers and 83 purse seiners in the Suez Gulf, and 711 boats using longline and hooks along the whole fishing ground, in addition to about 128 trawlers working outside Egyptian territorial waters, around the Gulf of Aden.

The catch in the Gulf of Suez constitutes 44 percent of the total landing of the Red Sea fisheries, while the Red Sea contributes 34 percent and 21 percent comes from outside Egyptian territorial waters. The Gulf of Aqaba catch composed less than 1 percent of the regional landing.

Catches include about 35 fish species groups, dominated by mackerel (Scomber spp.) (22 percent), lizard fish (Saurida undosquamis) (11 percent), snapper and emperors (Lutjanus spp. and Lethrinidae) (8 percent), threadfin bream (Nemipterus spp.) (7 percent), sardine (Sardinella spp.) (6 percent), grouper (Epinephelus spp.) (5 percent) and gray mullet (Mugil spp.) (5 percent). For conservation purposes, the number of trawl licences issued for fishing inside the Gulf of Suez is limited and fishing is not allowed from 1 June to 30 September each year. Recently, catching sea cucumber has become economically important and reached 139 tonne in 2001.

Inland fisheries

Egypt has about 8 716 km2 of inland waters, including rivers, lakes, reservoirs and brackish water lagoons. Both commercial and sport fishing take place on these waters. Some inland waters are regularly restocked with both marine and freshwater fish fry.

The inland fishing fleet comprises over 38 500 small wooden boats (4–6 m in length) catching about 295 500 tonne, or 69 percent of Egyptian landings. Most of the fishermen are unregistered. There are about 270 registered landing sites and many unregistered.

The most economically important species are tilapia species (Oreochromis niloticus, O. aureus, Sarotherodon galilaeus, Tilapia zillii) and freshwater species (Bagrus bayad, Lates niloticus, Barbus spp., Clarias spp. and Mugil spp.) caught usually by trammel, cast and gillnets. The catch increased annually, from 244 750 tonne in 1996 to 257 000 tonne in 2001.

The inland water resources represent various fisheries ecosystems.

Freshwater fisheries

These include the River Nile, irrigation canals, the Aswan High Dam and Lake Nasser, and some western desert water bodies.

The River Nile extends for about 1 600 km, with two main branches downstream, and discharges to the Mediterranean Sea, with many small branches and canal covering a great area in the northern region of Egypt. During the last ten years, the recorded catch of the Nile River Basin in Egypt increased annually from 40 000 tonne in 1992 to 110 000 tonne in 2001, with the catch comprising mainly tilapia and catfish from the artisanal fishing sector. The catch increase is statistical rather than actual, and reflects the extension of catch recording to additional landing sites.

The lake behind the Aswan High Dam (Lake Nasser in Egypt and the Nubia reservoir in the Sudan) has a depth reaching 180 m and covers an area of 6 216 km2, 5 248 km2 of which in Egypt (Lake Nasser) and the rest in the Sudan.

Western desert water bodies such as Toshka and Al Wadi El Gadied have recently been developed and stocked with tilapia fry.

Brackish-water fisheries

The brackish-water lagoons are in the North Delta (Lakes Maruit, Edku, Burollus, Manzala, and the almost dry Wadi Al Raiyan).

Delta lakes are eutrophic lagoons where fishing is mainly done by trammel net and various primitive methods (e.g. catching by hand and collecting fishes under vegetation using a cone-shaped net). Manzala is the largest lake, followed by Borollus, Edku and Maruit. Catch is composed mainly of tilapia, catfish and mullet. Pollution, reclamation, fragmentation, overfishing and illegal harvesting of fish fry are the major environmental issues threatening the fragile ecosystem of the northern lagoons.

Wadi Al Raiyan lakes are three man-made lakes in a depression connected to the agricultural drainage system of El Fayoum Province near Cairo. The first lake covers an area of about 58 km2 and lies 10 m below sea level, while the second is a connection canal between the first and third lakes. The third lake covers an area of about 50 km2 and lies 18 m below sea level. Mullet fry of Mugil cephalus and Liza ramada, together with Cyprinus carpio, have been introduced to the lakes, complementing the naturally-occurring four tilapia species and Nile perch.

Saline-water fisheries

These comprise Bardawil Lagoon, Port Fouad Lake, Timsah and Bitter Lakes and Lake Qarun.

Bardawil and Port Fouad Lagoons are hyper-saline shallow lagoons opening to the Mediterranean Sea. Mullet is the most economic fish species in the catch (3 146 and 162 tonne from each lagoon, respectively). During the last ten years, crustacea (shrimp and crab) landings have greatly increased annually in Bardawil Lagoon, reaching about 50 percent of the total catch, affecting the catch of other economic fish species like sea bream and sea bass.

Timsah and Bitter Lakes are located in the middle of the Suez Canal. Freshish water enters Timsah Lake through some irrigation drainage canals. Catches comprise mullets, crustacea, clam (Donax spp.) and marine fishes (e.g. family Sparadea). Tilapia is also present in the catch.

Lake Qarun became a saline lake in the early 1900s due to decreased freshwater inflow coupled with high evaporation rate. Most of the Nile fishes disappeared, except Tilapia zillii. Transplantation of marine fishes from estuaries of the Mediterranean Sea started in 1928, by introducing mullet species, followed by sole and shrimp.

Utilization of the catch

Fish is a traditional and important component of the Egyptian diet, and is the main source of cheap animal protein for a growing population. Most of the catch is consumed fresh through domestic markets, with only small quantities exported (2 000 tonne). Fish consumption in Egypt is characterized by a longstanding traditional preference for fresh fish. However, with increasing fish imports and developments in cold storage, frozen fish is becoming acceptable. In addition, fish consumed in areas far away from landing sites is salted, as in some of the sardine and mullet catch from the Mediterranean and Red Sea. Although salted fish is traditionally eaten during certain holiday periods, salting is expected to decline as internal transport and marketing improves. Processing facilities, including freezing and canning, are present. Canned sardines are sold locally. Domestic supplies are supplemented by substantial imports (260 000 tonne) of frozen fish whole, fillets, salted and smoked products. Since 2000, sea cucumber has been collected from the Red Sea grounds for export, and the catch increased from 20 tonne in 2000 to 139 tonne in 2001.

State of the industry

The Egyptian coasts of both seas are under severe and increasing pressure from rapid, unsustainable development. The construction of four fishing harbours at the main fishing grounds has had a positive effect on fisheries development. There has been a resulting increase in the size of boats, the amount of fishing gear used, and the number of working days. New fisheries were introduced at the same time, especially outside the territorial waters.

The Egyptian fishing industry is modernizing. Much of the fleet in the private sector is now well developed, using advanced navigation equipment. Fish production expanded rapidly in the last ten years, and was marked by a gradual increase in unit effort, i.e., increase in engine power and the size of gear used by the individual vessels. While the thriving sponge fishing industry has completely stopped, mainly due to sponge disease, sea cucumber collection has rapidly grown.

Economic role of the fishing industry

The fishing industry has a relatively minor direct role in the economy of Egypt, but nevertheless, domestic fish production makes a valuable contribution to the national food supply and to the traditional way of life, in which fish eating plays an important part. In addition it is a significant source of food for the tourist industry. In some cases, fishermen (especially in the Red Sea) sell their catch directly to restaurants or hotels.

Fishing industry is also important for the livelihood of over 65 000 fishermen and other people employed full time in related activities (estimated at some 300 000 men).


Despite the fact that Egypt has extended coastal lines and a large EEZ, it produces only 172 000 tonne marine catch (2001), most of which comes from the capture of species in the coastal zones, over the continental shelf. The waters of the Mediterranean Sea are generally poor in marine resources, but the land discharge with high nutrient outflows of drainage water from the Nile Delta region increases the productivity of the coastal region. The continental shelf, however, is generally fairly heavily exploited, although there is some potential for catch increases from some fishing grounds (e.g. in Saloum Bay) or from additional stocks that are moderately or under-exploited, such as small shrimp (Metapenaeus spp.), sharks, and large pelagics beyond the continental shelf.

Present legislation does not prohibit trawling in the Mediterranean Coast at any season or region. It is necessary to think about a closed season.

The best prospects – in terms of quantity if not value – are for increased production of pelagic fish. Acoustic surveys have suggested the possibility of catch increases in offshore fishery in depths greater than 150 m. However, in order to increase catches, it is necessary to introduce more modern vessels, equipment and fishing methods (e.g. midwater trawls).

There are reasonable prospects for artisanal fisheries, particularly for handlining on the rocky bottoms that occur in many parts on the Egyptian coastal zones (e.g. in the southern region of the Red Sea, and the Halayb Triangle). Shore-based infrastructure will also need to be improved, in particular ship repair and maintenance facilities and ice plants.

Although the local freshwater fish populations are limited in size and are fully exploited, the extensive and uncontrolled use of illegal fishing methods calls for introduction of management for conservation as an important goal.


Some research studies are conducted at the Ministry of Agriculture, General Authority for Fish Resources Development (GAFRD), 4 Tayaran St, Cairo. (

However, most fisheries research in Egypt is carried out by the National Institute of Oceanography and Fisheries (NIOF), which has some 1 500 staff, of which 400 are researcher and research assistants. Its research covers both living resources (fish biology, stock monitoring and assessment, fish technology, aquaculture, fishery statistics and economics, and pollution monitoring and control) and limnology and physical oceanography. It has a number of stations on different water bodies of Egypt, and carries out ecological and fisheries surveys along the Mediterranean and Red Sea Coasts of Egypt and in different inland water bodies. It is undertaking a programme of resource evaluation, in particular an evaluation of the pelagic stocks, implemented using echo-sounder techniques. Gear research is being undertaken for catching pelagic species with mid-water trawls. The head office of NIOF is at 101 kasr Al Ainy St. Cairo. (See

Some basic fisheries and aquaculture research is undertaken at some university departments, such as the Oceanography Department, University of Alexandria; Marine Biology Department, Suez Canal University; Oceanography Department, Al Azhar University; and Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport (AASTMT), Alexandria.


USAID has contributed funds for developing fish production. The first project was conducted in Wadi Al Raiyan Lakes – Food Production from Freshwater Ecosystem – while the second, for the Mediterranean Coast, was Trophodynamics of the South Eastern Mediterranean Sea.

JICA has assisted in modernizing and developing the fishing harbour at Meaddea and in developing the Lake Nasser fisheries.

UNDP has funded environmental projects in Manzala and Burollus Lakes.

PERSGA (The Regional Organization for the Conservation of the of the Environment of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden) has help in sustainable use of living marine resource of the Red Sea.

Future needs

Without the establishment of an adequate credit scheme for the fishing sector, marine fisheries cannot be revitalized through acquisition of new fishing units and equipment.

Fisheries law needs to be revised, and the system for collecting and compiling fisheries statistics needs to be improved.

Saving the Northern Delta lakes is a critical investment in the country’s future.

It is urgent to create conditions for adequate negotiation in international agreements for fishing.

Fishing harbour facilities need to be improved at strategic sites.

Specific research projects will be required, such as fishing gear development and multispecies fishing gear management.

Financial support with an artisanal fishing focus could open new prospects for the development of this socio-economic sector.

Information Sources

Abdallah, M. & El-Haweet, A. E. 2000. Stock assessment of sardine in the Egyptian Mediterranean waters by virtual population analysis: case for the coast from Alexandria to Abu-Qir. Egypt. J. Aquat. Biol. & Fish., 4(3): 173–191.

Azab, A.M., El Hakim, N.F.A. & Younis, T.M. 1998. Studies on the fisheries of the Suez Gulf, Red Sea, Egypt. Egypt. J. Aquat. Biol. & Fish., 2(4): 505–525.

Breikaa, M.I. 1997. Fisheries management studies on the Bardawil Lagoon, Northern Sinai, Egypt. Egypt. J. Aquat. Biol. & Fish., 1(2): 291–307.

GAFRD [General Authority for Fish Resources Development]. 1995–2001. Annual fishery statistics reports. General Authority for Fish Resources Development, Cairo.

Hussein, K.A. 1994. Open water fisheries development in Lake Manzallah. National Institute of Oceanography and Fisheries.

Ibrahim, E.A. 2002. Food production from freshwater ecosystem project. USAID report.

Khalifa, U.S., Agaypi, M.Z. & Adam, H.A. 2000. Population dynamics of Oreochromis niloticus L. and Sarotherodon galilaeus Art. pp. 87–90, in: Sustainable Fish Production in Lake Nasser: Ecological Basis and Management Policy. Aswan, Egypt: ICLARM.

Kilada, R. & El Ganainy, A. 1999. Stock assessment of the giant clam (Tridacna maxima) in the Egyptian Red Sea. Egypt. J. Aquat. Biol. & Fish., 3(4): 145–156.

Mehanna, S.F. 1999. An assessment and management of the coral reef fish stocks in the Gulf of Suez. Egypt. J. Aquat. Biol. & Fish., 3(2): 103–114.

Tharwat, A.A., El Nady, M.A. & Kamer, G.A. 1997. Fish stock assessment of Oreochromis niloticus (L) from the River Nile at Cairo Sector. Egypt. J. Aquat. Biol. & Fish., 1(1): 67–81.