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Egypt to increase fish production at Lake Bardawil

Egypt is to develop one of the most important lakes in the north to ramp up its fish production and improve the economy in the northern Sinai Peninsula.
A fisherman tries to catch a freshly caught tilapia fish in a boat on the Nile River in the village of Gabal al-Tayr, north of the southern city of Minya, Egypt, Nov. 13, 2019.

CAIRO — Egypt is planning to increase fish productivity at one of its most prominent lakes — Lake Bardawil, which lies on the northern coast of the Sinai Peninsula — as part of a wider project aimed to develop the lake.

On Nov. 24, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued directives to begin the new phase of the development of Lake Bardawil aimed at ramping up the lake’s fish production from 4,000 to 11,000 tons annually in the short term, and 50,000 tons in the medium term.

In May 2017, Sisi had launched a national project for the development of the northern lakes — Manzala, Burullus, Edku, Bardawil and Mariout — with the aim to restore their previous natural status as a main source of fish wealth, as these lakes are a source of livelihood for thousands of fishermen and their families.

These lakes are also of great economic importance for the Egyptian state, as they account for more than 75% of the harvest of the total lake production in Egypt. However, the lakes are facing several threats, including erosion amid high levels of pollution resulting from the expansion of agricultural and industrial activities and the spread of fish farms.

Lake Bardawil is deemed as one of the most important Egyptian lakes, as it is the least polluted of the northern lakes. It also contains high-quality types of fish, most of which are exported abroad. It has a surface area of about 650 square kilometers (251 square miles), and 1,228 fishing boats operate in it for eight months each year (from May to December) to maintain fish stocks. Lake Bardawil is also considered the main lifeline of the northern Sinai economy.

Bakri Abul-Hassan, former head of a fishermen syndicate in Suez governorate, told Al-Monitor, “Lake Bardawil is characterized by high-quality types of fish, such as sea bass, sea bream, meagre, mullet and others.”

He said, “This lake is important because the state exports most of its production, which in turn constitutes a source of national income.”

Abul-Hassan explained that the water of Lake Bardawil is pure because the lake is far from the sources of pollution, namely the huge ships that throw waste into the sea or in agricultural and industrial drains. Also, he added, the fishermen working in the lake abide by the instructions of the General Authority for Fish Resources Development, which keeps the fish wealth safe.

He noted, “The development of the lake requires several measures, including removing pollutants to improve water quality, imposing strict controls on floaters in the lake and deepening the water surface to allow fish to reproduce better. All these steps can achieve greater productivity.”

In the first phase of the Lake Bardawil project, which is part of the government’s project to develop the five northern lakes, which ended in December 2020, the efficiency of four fishing anchorages has been boosted, as a total of 3,500 tons of obstacles have been removed, while sluices have been purified. This phase also witnessed the completion of studies for the establishment of fishermen villages at a total cost of 120 million Egyptian pounds (around $4.9 million).

Hassan Ammar, member of the parliamentary Economic Affairs Committee, said in a Nov. 28 press statement that developing Lake Bardawil helps boost exports and achieve self-sufficiency. It also serves the fishing trade by increasing the productivity of the lake and helping fishermen generate a higher income, he added. 

He noted that the 3,500 fishermen who work at the lake consider fishing their only source of income. This lake, he continued, also constitutes a source of livelihood for fishing merchants and engine and boat repair workshops, among other related industries and crafts.

Ammar stressed that the development project paves the way for economic recovery in the region and helps achieve a great developmental and environmental return in northern Sinai, as it will create direct and indirect job opportunities and ensure a decent life for the people of the region.

Egypt produces about 2 million tons of fish annually, including from fish farming areas and natural fisheries, of which it exports 30,000 to 35,000 tons annually, according to Salah Moselhi, chairman of the General Authority for Fish Resources Development.

Al-Sayed Khodr, professor of economics at Zagazig University in Sharqiyah governorate, told Al-Monitor that the state is interested in lakes because they positively affect the blue economy — the economy of water resources — amid the climate change crisis affecting the environment, including water bodies.

He said, “Developing Lake Bardawil ramps up the fish production in order to achieve a large abundance in the local market and drive prices down, while at the same time increasing exports to provide the hard currency that the country needs amid the global economic crisis.”

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