Sudan’s ‘Neglected’ Nile Fishermen Struggling With Depleted Fish Stocks

Sudanese fishermen on the Nile, who have seen their fish stocks plummet as a result of both climate change and government-made dams, say their industry is being neglected – with some forced to find other jobs in order to feed their families.

“In recent years, the fish stocks have reduced, and many fishermen have abandoned the profession due to the conditions related to the changing climate of the Nile, the dams established by the government and lack of water,” says Gasim Sajour, 40, who has spent most of his life fishing on the Nile.

“In the past, we used to fish 200-300 kilos of fish per a day, which was sufficient and profitable, but this work now gives little return due to the natural conditions on the Nile,” he says, adding that the government-created dams do not help.

Making things even more difficult are expensive boat rentals, which cost around 10,000 Sudanese pounds (€20). For fisherman Sajour, this means he does not have enough money to cover his operations and feed his family of six.

Most of the fishermen on the Nile use wooden and motor-powered boats and rely on traditional equipment such as nets, long lines and hooks.

#Sudan‘s Nile fishermen says theirs is one of the most neglected industries, as many fishermen leave the profession and seek other livelihoods. Listen here🎧: https://t.co/84S9PJ8xV4 — Africa Calling (@Africa__Calling) May 14, 2022

The air current on the Nile has also changed, says veteran fisherman Moatiz Ahmed.

“When the water temperature reaches 28°C, we are unable to catch many fish, not like before,” he says, adding that in the colder months the water level goes down, and the fish are smaller, so they can’t be sold.

Those who remain complain about the lack of fish.

“We only produce about 300 tons per a day and this is not enough for daily consumption, for what do we do,” Ahmed says.

Tiny fish

At the oldest fish market in Omdurman, Khartoum’s neighbouring city also close to the Nile, dozens of vendors are offering their fish for sale. Fish seller Ibrahim Abdalla inherited his job 60 years ago from his father.

He tells the Africa Calling podcast there must be more effort from the government to ensure that young fish are not caught and that there are plenty of fish for tomorrow.

“A certain weight must be set by the control authorities to benefit everyone. These fishermen are working in very poor conditions and are catching small fish,” he says.

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Protecting the fish during their breeding period is very important, he adds, saying the government needs to put in place some sort of financial safety net for fishermen during breeding season.

“When fishermen stop fishing for one day, it affects families.”

The Sudanese government has not invested in fishermen or the development of water bodies despite the fact the Nile and its tributaries represent 90 percent of Sudan’s productive potential, including dams, swamps, artificial lakes and reservoirs.

Another factor that comes into play regarding the numbers of fish relates to the secession of South Sudan in 2011, when Sudan lost more than 75 percent of the Nile fish production. This meant huge losses for the producers.

Other options

Abdalla Mohamed, a consultant for the Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources, says that while dams have an effect on fish, there are other areas where fishers can still catch a lot of fish.

“There are lakes behind the dams where there is abundant fishing and in sufficient commercial quantities,” Mohamed says.

It takes more than just pointing out fishing areas, however. Sudan needs to support fishers and place controls on the sector.

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But there are plans to regulate the industry, according to Nafisa Mahgoup, director general of the Fisheries Administration.

We have “developed a plan to organise the fishing profession in both rivers and seas, with a law that includes combatting overfishing and increasing production,” she says.

“We are working to rehabilitate and train producers and fish breeders, and this helps to spread awareness in the fishermen’s communities.”

This story was first heard on RFI’s Africa Calling podcast.

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