Unsustainable fishing practices are wreaking havoc on the Mediterranean’s fisheries. Fish production in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea has fallen by around 15% since 2020, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Its biennial report on the state of the region’s fisheries partly attributes the decline to covid-19, but analysis of revenues between 2013 and 2020 indicates that total revenue has fluctuated between USD 2.9 and 3.7 bn and was already beginning to decline prior to the pandemic.
The situation has improved — but not enough: The rate of overfishing — the single largest threat to fish in the area — has fallen 21% in the past decade, but average fishing pressures are still twice the sustainable level, according to the report. Releasing fishing pressure on priority species might be good for stock numbers, but places greater demand on certain other sources — notably (and commercially important), blue and red shrimp, to which Egypt contributes 13.6% of the total landed catch. Additionally, discarding fish and retaining unintended catches also eliminates prey, exploits vulnerable species and degrades marine environments.
Not to mention the impacts of climate change, as rising sea temperatures, heat waves and water shortages threaten the future of the aquaculture and fishing industry.
Egypt is one of the top producers in the region: A leader in fishing fleet capacity, landing contributions and employment, Egypt accounts for 8.9% of the region’s fishing capacity, putting us fifth after Turkey, Italy, Tunisia, and Algeria, according to UN data. Together, these five countries account for 64% of the region’s capacity.
Fishing is a major agricultural sector for Egypt: At home, the Egyptian fishing industry constitutes 11% of the country’s total agricultural production and employs 815k people. While Egypt’s fish and marine production have witnessed a steady rise over the past decade, the most recent press release by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS) indicates that our fish production fell for the first time in five years to 2.01 mn tons in 2020, a 1.4% drop from 2.03 mn tons the year before.
Fisheries + food security: A separate FAO report looking at the long-term future of the Egyptian livestock and fishery industries forecasts that by 2050, Egypt’s population will have hit 150 mn. In order to ensure food security for a rapidly rising population, animal food production (including fish, beef and poultry) must increase by 109% by the middle of the decade.
Their suggestion? To improve production targets, Egypt should focus on the operation of aquaculture, specifically making semi-intensive ponds the backbone of the sector and reducing the role of capture fisheries. Aquaculture — or farmed — production has seen rapid growth in the last two decades, surpassing capture fisheries’ production in terms of volume.
That said, we need to protect our fisheries: The Egyptian fishing industry, like the wider Mediterranean region, is dominated by small-scale fisheries (SSFs), which employ the majority of fishers but are unable to bring in catches to rival those of larger vessels. Given their size, SSFs struggle to counter the effects of climate change. The result is a general trend in individuals moving away from the fishing industry — the FAO predicts urbanization to grow by 115% by the middle of the century in Egypt — leading to a decline in SSFs that will have significant social and cultural impacts on coastal livelihoods.
What’s being done locally to combat the issues? We have laws to protect our fisheries: Last year, President Abdel Fattah El Sisi ratified the law on the Protection and Development of Lakes and Fisheries (pdf) to provide protection for Egyptian lakes, fisheries and beaches. And in 2020, the Manpower Ministry launched Egypt’s Fishermen, an initiative to support 50k small-scale fishermen throughout the country by offering them health and social protection. Egypt is also a signatory of the FAO’s Regional Plan of Action for Small-Scale Fisheries in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, implementing a 10-year roadmap through to 2028 of concrete actions to support the essential role of SSFs.
And the government is pushing for local investment in the fishing industry. In June, when the government laid out its initial privatization scheme, fishing and fish farming were listed as two industries it plans to exit within the next three years. Fish farms are also set to be leased to the private sector, community associations, and foreign investors.
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