On the Hook: How Egypt's Military Outcompetes Local Fish Farmers

Egypt’s fish farmers have struggled for years now. Media reports and industry groups point the blame at climate change and Cairo’s pollution of Egypt’s waterways. But for their part, farmers say the real culprit lies beneath the surface: they are competing against the Egyptian military, which has become one of the largest players in the industry. 

On paper, the meteoric rise of Egypt’s fish farming industry over the past two decades is a success story. Aquaculture’s share of Egypt’s total fish production rose from 47 percent in 2000 to 78 percent in 2015. Today, Egypt is Africa’s largest producer of farmed fish, producing over 1.7 million tons in 2021.  

But as the Egyptian military has driven investment throughout the Egyptian economy, it has invested heavily in fish farming. In 2017, President Sisi inaugurated a $254 million project in Egypt’s northern delta, owned and operated by the National Company for Fish and Aquaculture—a military-owned firm established in 2015. The project, executed in cooperation with the Chinese company Evergreen, features more than 1,000 ponds for raising fish and shrimp. In 2021, President Sisi inaugurated another multi-million-dollar mega-project developed by the same military-affiliated company. Once completed, the almost-6,000 pond operation will be the largest fish farm in Africa.  

Smaller fish farmers say the government’s pursuit of fishery dominance is devastating. When the government entered the market in 2015, it gutted the budget for the General Authority for Fish Resources and Development (GAFRD), incapacitating a major industry regulator and pillar of support for small-time farms. In 2018, the government raised annual rents for fish farmers tenfold. The following year, the government classified all of Egypt’s northern lakes as border areas, allowing the military to jail farmers that failed to pay the increased rent. While costs rise, farmers say that the government’s ventures have driven down prices 30 percent. 

Consumers may take the bait, but farmers complain that the shift has pushed local producers toward more polluted and brackish water.  

This article is part of the series Mezze: Assorted Stories from the Middle East.

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Caleb Harper
Program Coordinator and Research Assistant, Middle East Program