Sudan Fisheries

Over 95 percent of the Sudanese catch of fish is obtained from inland fisheries on the Nile, its tributaries and associated swamp lands. Three main sectors can be identified: subsistence, artisanal, and commercial fisheries. Subsistence fishing is found in practically all of the inland waters of Sudan, but especially in the isolated areas of the south where the Nile and its tributaries seasonally overspill their banks and create innumerable lagoons and backwaters; about 10 - 11 000 tons of fish are believed to be caught in these waters by subsistence methods based upon the spear, line and cast nets used from the banks or from canoes and papyrus rafts. The artisanal sector exists alongside subsistence activities, principally on the Jebel Aulia reservoir and the lower reaches of the White Nile before the confluence with the Blue Nile; typically, the artisanal fisherman owns a one oar-propelled boat of traditional design.

Commercial activities are, as yet, little developed but market orientated fisheries have been established on dam impoundments and reservoirs relatively close to urban centres; a few motorized craft are now in use. All production and commercial activities are to be practiced by the private, semi-private and cooperative sector. The principal species taken in these fisheries are the large and highly prized Nile perch (Lates niloticus), Labeo, Tilapia and Alestes species.

Marine fisheries

The marine catch in the Red Sea is less than 1 500 tons annually. Sardinella, mullet, jack and red bass account for the greater part of the catch. The main landing point is Port Sudan. About 250 dhows, mainly Arab, of 6-7 m length - only a minority of which are motorized - are employed together with about 25 slender canoes of Indian manufacture. Gillnets, beach seines and handlines are the main gears used. Mother-of-pearl and trochus shell fisheries are also carried out in the Red Sea. Fishing for shrimp on a small commercial scale also takes place.


Although there is a long history of aquaculture in Sudan, the lack of trained personnel and inadequate planning have been major impediments to its development. There is a lack of reliable statistics and the total aquaculture production can only be roughly estimated at about 200 tons/year, most of it produced through extensive fish culture. Grass carp fingerlings have been stocked in the canals of the Gezira irrigation region in an effort to control water weeds. Pearl oysters are farmed along the Red Sea coast.

Utilization of the catch

The majority of the catch is consumed fresh, the balance being crudely sun-dried, generally without salting. As a result of inadequate transport, distribution and marketing facilities, the lack of ice and rudimentary handling methods, fish quality standards are often extremely low; about a fifth of the entire catch is believed to be lost as a consequence. Generally, fish prices are high relative to other foods, notably meat which is more widely available. Apart from the subsistence areas, the bulk of fish consumption is heavily concentrated in Khartoum.

State of the industry

The statistical coverage of Sudanese fishing activities is far from comprehensive and the size of output from the southern subsistence sector in particular can only be the subject of informed guesses. Whilst the data available indicate some modest expansion in production over the last 10 to 15 years, and progress is being made with the commercialization of the Blue Nile and northern province fisheries, the industry remains essentially rudimentary in technique. Severe problems of communications and transport, inadequate and often unhygienic means of handling and marketing, and shortage of trained experienced personnel are serious constraints to more rapid development.

Economic role of the industry

Fisheries presently make only a marginal contribution to the Sudanese economy; on average fish provides less than one gram of protein per caput per day. Fishing is regarded as an occupation of rather lowly status and the relatively few persons so engaged are, for the most part from one particular tribe from the Khartoum area. The data for registered fishermen, of course, take no account of the unquantified but vast number of persons engaged in subsistence fisheries in the southern provinces. Whilst some 15/20 years ago exports of Sudanese dry/salted fish - primarily to the Congo region - were of some account, earning over US$ 1 million per annum, a variety of factors has virtually halted this trade. Exports of fishery products, mainly wet salted fish to Egypt and dried fish to Zaire, were resumed in the past few years. The trade reached 530 tons in 1980. Imports, mostly of canned fish from Japan, have declined and fluctuated to a negligible quantity.

Development Prospects

The Nile and its tributaries within Sudan are estimated to have a surface area of some 20 000 km2, of which 85 percent is represented by the vast swamp and papyrus areas of the southern region, the balance being the reservoirs and riverine waters of the northern and central provinces. The latter, however, contribute overwhelmingly to the main present and future source of supply because of their proximity to the consumption centres. Some of these reservoirs are believed to be already almost fully exploited but in total an increase in output from such waters, especially Jebel Aulia and Lake Nubia, of perhaps 14 000 tons a year may be feasible. In the case of the southern region, the ultimate potential is undoubtedly considerably greater - perhaps as much as 75 000 tons annually - but the very serious transport and marketing constraints impose a much lower practical limit upon possible supplies from these waters. In the Red Sea, the Sudanese shelf area is very narrow and any upgrading of the artisanal coastal fishery seems unlikely to produce annual catches exceeding 2 000 tons. There is a limited potential for increasing lobster and shrimp catches. Potentials for aquaculture development are particularly great: (i) in the numerous water storage reservoirs (hafirs) in the provinces of Darfur, Kordofan and Kassala, which are remote from capture fishery supply resources, and (ii) in protected Red Sea coastal areas where marine cage culture could be practised.

Demand There appears to be little likelihood of any appreciable growth in per caput consumption of fish in Sudan in the immediate future.


Fisheries research is undertaken by the Agricultural Research Corporation. About 20 specialized staff are employed in fisheries research which is divided into three units (fish culture, freshwater and marine). Small outposts are maintained at Wadi Halfa, Kosti and Roseries, where work is concerned mainly with gear selectivity and the general features of reservoir fish stocks. Fish culture research is undertaken at El Shagara, a research station shared with the Fisheries Administration. Fisheries research is also carried out by the University of Khartoum and by its affiliated Hydrobiological Research Unit. This latter unit has also developed an expanded research programme on the Nile and major reservoirs during the past few years.

There is one Experimental Fish Farm at Shagarra established in 1953 and totalling 60 ha of freshwater ponds. Research concentrates on Tilapia farming, and fingerling production of various carps. Research is also directed at water weeds control in irrigation canals, at mollusc culture along the coast, and at fish cage culture.


In recent years Sudan has received bilateral support for both inland and marine fisheries. An FAO/UNDP Fisheries Training Project located at Malakal, the capital of the Upper Nile Province, and designed to establish the basis for a more comprehensive training centre to serve the needs of the southern region, was in operation until recently. The Chinese People's Republic has provided assistance to the development of the Lake Nubia fishery, in particular though maintenance facilities, and fish freezing, ice and storage plants. The Canadian International Development Research Centre has given assistance in the field of aquaculture, to increase fish production from ponds and to develop suitable technologies for oyster culture. The British Overseas Development Administration executed a project for developing the Red Sea artisanal fisheries through building and mechanization of boats and provision of workshop, maintenance, storage and transport facilities. OPEC/UNDP have concluded a development project in the Red Sea, mainly through cooperatives support, fishing gear improvement and assistance in the fields of storage and transport of fish in the northern parts of the Sudanese Red Sea. The Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development has elaborated a long-term programme for the development of Sudan's agricultural resources in general, in which fisheries development is accorded a significant part. The Japanese Government provided a grant to develop the Jebel Aulia Reservoir Fisheries, as part of the local Government plan for the development of freshwater fisheries, while both UNDP and the European Economic Community provided assistance for the assessment of the fisheries potential in the Sudd and its development.