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Part I Overview and main indicators

  1. Country brief
  2. General geographic and economic indicators
  3. FAO Fisheries statistics

Part II Narrative (2021)

  1. Production sector
    • Marine sub-sector
      • Catch profile
      • Landing sites
      • Fishing practices/systems
      • Main resources
      • Management applied to main fisheries
    • Inland sub-sector
      • Fishing communities
    • Aquaculture sub-sector
    • Recreational sub-sector
  2. Post-harvest sector
    • Fish utilization
    • Fish markets
  3. Socio-economic contribution of the fishery sector
    • Role of fisheries in the national economy
    • Trade
    • Food security
    • Employment
    • Rural development
  4. Trends, issues and development
    • Constraints and opportunities
    • Government and non-government sector policies and development strategies
    • Research, education and training
      • Research
      • Education and training
    • Foreign aid
  5. Institutional framework
  6. References

Additional information

  1. FAO Thematic data bases
  2. Publications
  3. Meetings & News archive

Part I Overview and main indicators

Part I of the Fishery and Aquaculture Country Profile is compiled using the most up-to-date information available from the FAO Country briefs and Statistics programmes at the time of publication. The Country Brief and the FAO Fisheries Statistics provided in Part I may, however, have been prepared at different times, which would explain any inconsistencies.

Country briefPrepared: April 2021

Total capture production in the last 5 years (2015-2019) has been estimated around 5 000 tonnes, although the information exchange is not easy and there remains uncertain the actual or potential level of catch of Eritrea. The waters of the southern part of the Red Sea are highly productive and rich in biodiversity. Systematic stock assessments of commercially important species are not carried out routinely by the Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR). Commercially valuable fish are either reef dwelling, such as groupers, snappers and emperors; demersal, such as lizardfish and breams; or pelagic, such as jacks, trevallies, mackerels, tunas, sharks, sardines and anchovies. 

Eritrea is without any commercial aquaculture operation until today. Freshwater aquaculture potential for Nile tilapia and other native fishes has not been explored. Trade of fish and fishery products is rather limited, with imports estimated at USD 280 000 and exports about USD 158 000 in 2020. The very low annual per capita fish consumption decreased from 3.0 kg in 2000 to 1.2 kg in 2017. 

3 600 people were reported as employed in fisheries. Some 210 fishing boats were registered, with 175 undecked vessels under 24 meters of length. Nearly 40 decked vessels were reported with one purse seiner under 24 meters and the remaining vessels all trawlers between 18-36 meters in length.

Aquaculture has not been commercially developed in Eritrea and no production is reported to FAO. Freshwater aquaculture potential for Nile tilapia and other native fishes has not been explored. Two types of marine aquaculture could be envisaged for Eritrea: (i) an extensive type where large areas are used and where the feeding of the fish is ensured by the natural productivity of water which could be suitable for species such as mullet, milkfish or shrimp, and (ii) a semi-intensive type where part of the food is provided in an artificial form which could be suitable for shrimp. Given the natural presence of mullet, milkfish, and shrimp, along the Eritrean coast, it could be supposed that the environment is suitable for their development as cultured species.

Eritrea implements the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries in framing its national legislation and in preparing management plans for its fisheries. It has not ratified the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the 1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement nor the 1993 FAO Compliance Agreement. However, Eritrea is a signatory to Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and also to the Convention on Biological Diversity. In addition, Eritrea is member of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) and the International Whaling Commission (IWC).
General geographic and economic indicators

Table 1 - General geographic and economic indicators - Eritrea

Marine water area (including the EEZ): 121 000 km²  
Shelf area: 56 000 km2  
Length of continental coastline: 1 900 km  
GDP at purchaser's value (2014): USD 3.86 billion http://databank.worldbank.org/data
GDP per head (2014): USD 590 http://databank.worldbank.org/data
Agricultural value added (2009): USD 262 million http://databank.worldbank.org/data
Fisheries value added : n.a.  

Key statistics


Source: FAO Country Profile

FAO Fisheries statisticsThe tables and graphs in this section are based on statistics prepared by the FAO Fishery Information, Data and Statistics Unit and disseminated in 2020.

Table 2 – FAO Fisheries Statistics - Eritrea

       1995  2000  2005  2010  2015  2016  2017  2018 
EMPLOYMENT (thousands)  14.62 3.62 3.62 3.62 3.62 3.62 3.62 3.62
  Capture  14.62 3.62 3.62 3.62 3.62 3.62 3.62 3.62
    Marine  14.615 3.615 3.615 3.615 3.615 3.615 3.615 3.615
FLEET (thousands boats)  0.49 0.49 0.54 0.17 0.21 0.21 0.21 0.21
Source: FAO Fishery and Aquaculture Statistics   
1) Due to roundings total may not sum up   

Please Note:Fishery statistical data here presented exclude the production for marine mammals, crocodiles, corals, sponges, pearls, mother-of-pearl and aquatic plants.


Updated 2021Part II Narrative

Part II of the Fishery and Aquaculture Country Profile provides supplementary information that is based on national and other sources and that is valid at the time of compilation (see update year above). References to these sources are provided as far as possible.

Production sectorLocated at the widest part of the Red Sea, Eritrea has an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 121 000 km2. Its mainland coastline is about 1 900 km from the Sudan border to the Djibouti border. Eritrea has a continental shelf of 56 000 km2 with a plateau containing 360 islands that define the Dahlak Archipelago. The latter add another 1 300 km of coastline. About 25 percent of the continental shelf is occupied by this plateau; 19 percent of the shelf is less than 30 m deep and thus off limits to trawling activities.

Prior to the war for independence, (50s and 60s), significant commercial fishing activities existed in Eritrea and accounted for up to 35 000 tonnes per year of landed fish. During the war, most infrastructures were destroyed, and the fishing grounds almost completely abandoned. After independence in 1991, the MMR undertook a complete reorganization of the fishery sector from infrastructural reconstruction, including fisheries and quality control regulations, and establishment of competent authorities for export of fisheries products.

With 2 500 kilometers of coastline, including the Dahlak Archipelago where small-pelagic fish varieties are found, Eritrea’s potential in developing its fisheries sector has been halted by a complex, post-independence socioeconomic context. Recent declines in output, employment and income in the small-scale fisheries sector were not due to overfishing or unsustainable natural resource practices.

Marine sub-sectorCatch profileTotal capture production peaked in 2000 at an estimated 12 612 tonnes however since then production has shown an overall decline. Artisanal fishery catches have dominated the overall catch total since 2007 while prior to 2007, industrial fish landings exceeded those made by the artisanal fleet.

Landing sitesMajor harbours concerned with the fishing industry are Massawa in the Northern Red Sea Zone and Assab in the Southern Red Sea Zone. There are a number of other harbours located between Massawa and Assab which include Wokiro, Gal’allo, Ti’o, ‘Eddi and Bar’asole and north of Massawa, which include Marsa Beritae, Marsa Ibrahim, Marsa Gulbub and Marsa Kubba. Many of the harbours are under construction or being considered for possible construction. Of the above mentioned harbours, Gallo, Tio, Eddi and Barasole have already been constructed and are actively used to land fish.

Industrial fishing trawlers, from Egypt and Saudi Arabia exploit three trawl areas, which include the northern (northeast of Dahlak Archipelago, North of Norah island, and east of Massawa), central (bordering near Tio and extending northwards) and southern (north of Assab). Of these, the most productive area was found to be the northern region, with a high number of jacks, juvenile grunt and barracuda.
Fishing practices/systemsThe Eritrean fisheries sector is made up of foot fishers, canoe operators, traditional boats and trawlers. There is thought to be over 1 000 foot fishers, mainly women and children, who utilise hooks, nets and spears for personal consumption.

The artisanal fishery uses two main types of boat; Houri and Sambouk. Houris are wooden boats with an outboard engine and range in length from 4 to 13m. These boats represent the majority of the artisanal fleet. The number of fishing days per trip ranges from 5 to 9 and they can hold a crew size of 4 to 6. The fishing limit is out to 100 km and can on average catch 16.5 tonnes per boat per year. Sambouks are wooden boats with an inboard engine which ranges from 11 to 18m in length. These boats fish up to Eritrea’s EEZ limits for 6 to 12 fishing days per trip with a crew of between 6 to 12 people (Samii, 2010). On average Sambouks can catch up to 33 tonnes per boat per year. Fiberglass reinforced plastic boats also represent a small part of the artisanal fishing fleet, some of which are imported from Saudi Arabia or Yemen whilst others are made in Eritrea, where good infrastructure exists for this activity in Harena Boat Building.

The artisanal sector mainly uses manual methods, i.e. hook and line, gillnets or a combination or both. Sambouk fisheries predominantly use hook and line as their main gear type whilst Houri fisheries use mixed gear and gillnets. Hook and line are mainly used to catch demersal fishes whilst gillnets are used to catch shark and pelagic fishes.
Main resourcesA variety of fish resources exist in Eritrean waters. These include 104 demersal species, 79 ornamental species, 26 pelagic species, 2 crustacean species and 2 cephalopod species suitable for the fisheries market.

Estimates for the Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) of Eritrean waters date back from the last century. It is estimated that small coastal pelagic species represent the majority of the potential yield at 50 000 tonnes per year, which include anchovies and sardines, followed by demersal species at approximately 18 000 tonnes per year, such as lizardfish, threadfin breams, barracuda, snapper and groupers and large pelagic species at approximately 5 000 tonnes, such as tuna. The remainder (500 tonnes) includes shrimp, lobster, sharks and other species. Sharks are caught for their highly valuable fins and have an estimated MSY of 5 tonnes whilst other specialized fisheries also exist, such as those for the sea cucumber, snail nail and Trochus.

Although rather modest in scale in comparison to some African maritime states whose fisheries yields are measured in terms of hundreds of thousands of tonnes annually, the Eritrean Red Sea artisanal and industrial fisheries that functioned some three to four decades back produced appreciable amounts of fish in the range of 25 000 tonnes per year. Production was far in excess of domestic demand and much of the catch was marketed abroad. Despite the fact that exact records are not available on present levels of production, it is obvious that with the loss of productive capabilities in terms of the fishing fleet, equipment, infrastructure, and operators that they are miniscule in comparison with what was being realised earlier on. This shortfall, implying the existence of substantially underexploited stocks, translates precisely as a national development opportunity for Eritrea.For further identification of species, the use of the pocket guide to important coastal fishery species of Eritrea is recommended.
Management applied to main fisheries
MMR may, to ensure the sustainable use of the marine fisheries, declare that (a) any fishery or fisheries, or (b) species of fish, or group of species, or (c) any area within the Eritrean waters shall be managed in accordance with a multi-annual Fishery Management Plan which shall set harvesting rules consisting of a predetermined set of biological parameters to govern catch limits at biologically sustainable levels. 

Artisanal fisheries operate an open access system and use of licenses. The community is dominated by the Afar ethnic group who retain their traditional rights. Management objectivesThe main objective is to ensure that exploitation of living marine aquatic resources is consistent with sustainable economic, environmental and social conditions.Management measures and institutional arrangementsThe MMR is responsible for the management and development of the fisheries resource in Eritrea. A Fisheries Advisory Council advises on the management and development of fisheries and discharge such responsibilities.

As for monitoring of fishing activities, the Director-General responsible for the regulatory Services Department of the MMR shall establish a Fisheries Monitoring Centre and be responsible for the management and operation of a Vessel Monitoring System established by the Minister. The operator and master of a national vessel commits an offence where the vessel is used for fishing or conducting related activities in Eritrean waters or high seas in contravention of any condition of a license or authority; or in contravention of any provision of any applicable regulation; doesn't comply with satellite-tracking requirements; or is used to tranship, offload or land fish or other aquatic organisms caught in Eritrean waters outside of Eritrean waters.
Inland sub-sectorDespite its potential, inland capture production has always been reported as zero. The centre of inland fisheries is located in the central zone of the country at 1 800 metres above sea level and includes experimental ponds. Species that are stocked or considered for stocking include Oreochromis niloticus, Tilapia zillii, Cyprinus carpio, Carassius carassius and Carassius auratus.

There are 338 reservoirs and 324 dams that exist in the high and lowlands with a further 300 earthen dams with fish stocking potential under construction. At present there are 70 reservoirs located in three regions which are stocked with introduced species consisting predominantly of tilapia and carps. The status and production of stocked reservoirs is monitored, and showing that the species are well established but that productivity remains low. Fishing communitiesAfter Eritrea’s independence, many small, medium, and large dams have been constructed in the country. They are mainly used for agriculture and as potable water for residents in cities and villages. But these freshwater reservoirs are potential areas for the production of fish. Though they remain largely under-utilized, they are playing a very modest role as sources of fish for some communities that live around the dams. Through this practice, some communities in the highlands and western lowlands are becoming familiar with seafood. Indeed, fish should constitute an important source of food for Eritreans.
Aquaculture sub-sectorStatistics for aquaculture production have always been reported as nil. The Government of Eritrea, however, has recognised the importance of aquaculture in achieving food security and alleviating poverty in the country. The FAO and the MMR have developed a draft National Aquaculture Development Strategy and Plan for Eritrea which will help support aquaculture development.

Recreational sub-sectorThere are only small recreational fisheries and no data are available although recreational fisheries has a good potential.

Post-harvest sectorFish utilizationIn Eritrea, the inconsistent supply of fish heavily affects its per capita fish consumption. Much of the population is unaware of what species of fish they are eatingThe main species that are consumed domestically include Spanish mackerel, barracuda, queen fish, jack fish, shark and tuna.

The form in which individual species are sold largely depends on its value. Species classed as medium value, which include barracuda, are sold frozen whereas more valuable species which include snappers and groupers are filleted and sold fresh. The restaurant trade in UAE and particular locations in Europe require whole fresh fish.

Fish markets

A number of retail outlets have been constructed in four Eritrean towns including Asmara and Keren, which have been available to the public since 2001.

Catches by artisanal fishers are sold to Eritrean and Yemeni markets although the majority is sold to Yemen. The reason for this is that fishers achieve a higher price and the costs of fishing supplies are much lower in Yemen, especially fuel. This puts pressure on the Eritrean processors to remain competitive with those in Yemen.

There is a gradual development in domestic marketing systems with an effort being made by the MMR to promote local and external markets by participating in fish shows and other related exhibitions located within and outside of Eritrea.
Socio-economic contribution of the fishery sectorRole of fisheries in the national economyFishing does not play any important, contributing to less than 0.1 percent of the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP). TradeThe main export markets for Eritrea include Europe, Egypt, and Asia where fish species including snapper, grouper, Spanish mackerel and jack tunas as well as sea cucumbers from the Red Sea are sent. There is only one fish processing plant authorized to export to the European Union. Food securityEritrea is deemed to be food insecure, but fish is not important with regard to food security. Fish consumption is extremely low at 1.2 kg per person per year. One reason for this is the preference for meat as a source of protein.EmploymentThe number of artisanal fishers is very small and does not exceed 3 500 people, representing only 0.1 percent of the total population. In addition to this, only half of the artisanal fishers are full time. Rural developmentThe vast majority of the Eritrean population resides in the highlands, which are not located near the coast, so that much of the population is unaware of the secondary jobs that exist in the fisheries sector. Those living on the coast, such as Zula, Irafayle, Gieta, Beylul and Soroita, make a livelihood by engaging in both farming and fishing.
Trends, issues and developmentConstraints and opportunitiesThere are a number of constraints that affect the fishery sector in Eritrea. The marine capture sector is constrained by the lack of fishing equipment, lack of fishers and lack of skills. The sector still tries to return to pre-war levels.

Sector-specific constraints range from the programmatic and legislative to the technical and investment-related in the context of the Eritrean fisheries sector, such as low institutional capacity, shortage of technical expertise, inadequate infrastructure, limited market opportunities, understaffed cooperatives, limited investment capital, need for renewed fishing craft and gear, isolated fish landing sites and markets; and fuel shortages and fuel price inflation.

Rising fuel prices combined with the limited capacity of traditional outboard engines has resulted in low production capacity. Once caught, there is a lack of postharvest processing facilities to preserve catch thus limiting the longevity of the product and increasing wastage. This is exacerbated by a lack of infrastructure that limits transport and access to markets. Even when these limitations are overcome, the price achieved is often low as a result of lack of marketing system and market information.

A priority for the Eritrean government is to rebuild and revitalize the fisheries sectors with the aim to sustainably produce food and generate revenue from exports through proper fisheries management. Fisheries sustainability includes socio-economic, community, ecological and institutional components.

The main opportunity for growth is the expansion of Eritrea’s export market. This requires improvement and development of the production-consumption chain. This includes on-board handling, quality control, landing processing, and storage, marketing of fish and maintenance and repair of fishing vessels. Large inputs of capital and technology will be needed to make this happen. The government has made some progress through the encouragement of private sector initiatives to raise funds and increase experience and knowledge.

Fishing and fisheries activities have been hampered by COVID-19 containment measures and this will halt or negate efforts to expand the production of the sector which is currently under-utilized. Women in this line of work stand to be the most affected since they usually participate as foot fishers with little or no safety nets.

Government and non-government sector policies and development strategies

The national development of Eritrea largely depends on the commercial, recreational and agricultural value of its coastline. In order to successfully exploit this potential, the government of Eritrea has developed policies and programs that are aimed at increasing fish production for local and foreign markets. The strategic framework established by the MMR focuses on: (i) the development of inland fishing and the promotion of fish consumption; (ii) the sustainable growth of the marine fishery as a source of foreign exchange earnings.

When Eritrea develops the capacity to fully exploit its marine resources it will be able to ensure its food security and economic growth. With proper management and exploitation of fish, it will soon generate large sums of foreign exchange.

The government has drawn along-term national strategy to determine public expenditure on measures to eliminate poverty. In this respect, various strategic interventions and priority measures were mapped out with a view to augment the contributions of the fisheries sector to Eritrea’s economy. One such measure relates to the expansion of artisanal fisheries to boost the production of fish. Fishers are organized in cooperatives all along the coast and supply fish to the market. The government assists these community-based small-scale fisheries through the provision of facilities such as cold rooms, water desalination services, electricity, and flake ice machines to help them meet their households’ needs of food and increase their income.

Instead, this is part of broader programmatic and institutional challenges in national sustainable development plans. The Government of Eritrea has therefore published its Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper, identifying three priorities for the fisheries sector which include to increase the profitability of artisanal fisheries by strengthening rural cooperatives and linking them to high-value export markets, boost export earnings by creating suitable investment climates for investors, and strengthen resource management practices to ensure environmental sustainability.
Research, education and trainingResearchDespite the lack of stock assessment surveys in Eritrean waters (the last dating back to 1996), landings have been monitored through collection of catch and fishing effort statistics that provided relevant information for on-going assessment of stocks and fisheries.

Education and trainingMassawa College of Marine Science and Technology is a non-profit public higher-education institution located in the small city of Massawa (population range of 50,000-249,999 inhabitants), Northern Red Sea. Officially recognized by the Ministry of Education of Eritrea, Massawa College of Marine Science and Technology (MCMST) is a coeducational Eritrean higher education institution. The MCMST offers courses and programmes leading to officially recognized higher education degrees in several areas of study.
Foreign aid

Eritrea received USD 32.1 million for a project to boost the fisheries sector and nutrition. This project runs from 2016 to 2021. IFAD is providing a USD 15 million grant. The project is co-financed by the Government of Germany (USD 5.9 million), the Global Environment Facility (USD 7.9 million), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (USD 0.5 million), the Government of Eritrea (USD 1.4 million) and by the beneficiaries themselves (USD 1.3 million). A total of 17 500 poor rural households in six regions of Eritrea will benefit from a financial agreement.

FAO implemented from 2017 to 2020 a project called “Capacity building for the management of small-pelagic fisheries in Eritrea project” (TCP/ERI/3606). The objectives of this project were to increase the profitability of artisanal fisheries by strengthening their cooperatives, linking them to high-value export markets, and reducing their costs of operation. The project aimed also at boosting export earnings, by creating a suitable investment climate that will attract both national and foreign investors and enhancing profitability of industrial fishing; and, strengthening resource management for sustainability to catalyse private investments, and protect the environment.

Institutional framework

The MMR is responsible for the overall management and development of fisheries resources in Eritrea as laid out in the legal framework of the Fisheries Proclamation (No. 176/2014). Key institutions related to the fisheries sector include the MMR, the MCMST, the National Fisheries Corporation (NFC). Also included are the subsidiary organisations; the Zoba Administration zones; Northern Red Sea and Southern Red Sea, the Artisanal Fishers Cooperatives and Ministry of Land, Water and Environment (MLWE).

The NFC owns and is responsible for production, processing and marketing of fish through its subsidiaries which include the Beilul Fishing Company, the Eritrean Marine Products Company, the Erifish Processing Plant, the Tio Fish Collecting Plant and the Assab Processing Plant.

The MLWE is organised into the three respective departments. The Environment department is responsible for ensuring that the development activities carried out are in line with environmental rules and regulations as well as implementing the international environmental obligations the Eritrean Government has entered into. The department works closely with the MMR to ensure environmental guidelines for sustainable fish production and protection of coastal and marine resources are observed.

The Fisheries Proclamation (No. 176/2014) is the principal legislation governing the Eritrean fisheries sector. It details not only the administration of fisheries but also the principles upon which fisheries are managed and developed. This legislation includes the designation of the MMR as the management agency, the establishment of the Fisheries Advisory Agency to improve stakeholder representation and provide advice on management and development of fisheries and the requirements of biological, economic and social analyses in management decision. The protection of endangered species and sensitive marine habitats are also included in the Proclamation.


CITES Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora
EEZ Exclusive Economic Zone
GDP Gross Domestic Product
IOTC Indian Ocean Tuna Commission
IWC International Whaling Commission
MCMST Massawa College of Marine Science and Technology
MLWE Ministry of Land, Water and Environment
MMR Ministry of Marine Resources
NFC National Fisheries Corporation
USD United States of America dollars

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