For Egypt’s commercial marine fishermen, making a living has never been more dangerous. Egyptian crews driven further afield in search of fish have faced pirate attacks, spent months in dingy foreign prisons, and come under fire from coast guard vessels. Dozens of fishermen have been held for ransom, abused by authorities, or shot and killed.
“It’s become a high stakes game,” says Ayman ‘the Anchovy,’ a crew member on an Egyptian trawler.
Decades of overfishing have left Egypt’s shallow coastal waters “almost barren,” he says. Many commercial fishing vessels now journey as far as Malta, Turkey and Djibouti in search of richer waters.
“Fishing is very difficult in Egypt and often doesn’t cover the cost of fuel and supplies,” Ayman says. “We can catch more fish in Libya (and other countries), but the journey there is risky. We know their coast guard can sink our boat, imprison us, or worse. But we must find fish to support our families.”
Annual production from Egypt’s marine capture fisheries has remained around 125,000 metric tonnes for nearly a decade. But the figures conceal the impact of pollution and overfishing on fish stocks. A significant portion of production now comes from remote fisheries and extra-territorial waters.
Competition has increased as Egypt’s fleet has grown. More than 4,000 commercial fishing boats are licensed to operate in Egypt’s Mediterranean waters and 120 in the Red Sea. Another 40,000 motorless vessels ply the country’s 2,500-kilometre coastline.