Desert fish, what's that?

Ahmed Maged
5 Min Read

Desert fish farming is fast-becoming a significant, environmentally friendly source of fish cultivation

What started more than 50 years ago as an experiment, a dream, has now become a reality to take pride in: Egyptian deserts are now replete with fisheries that yield, due to a pollution-free environment, a multitude of high quality kinds of fish, a desert expert told The Daily Star Egypt.

Dr Mostafa Saed, of the Desert Research Centre in Cairo points out that desert exploration during the past few decades did not only involve land reclamation to expand the agricultural area.

“Apart from turning acres upon acres of desert sand green, we set up fish farms, says Saed.

Fish farms are currently dotting Wadi Natron and large areas skirting the desert road. They are also found in oases like Siwa near Marsa Matruh and Farafra in El Wadi El Gedid, as well as in central Sinai.

In 2003 the total production of fish in Egypt reached 875,990, 000 tons. The amounts produced using aquaculture technology made up nearly 51 percent of that production as compared to others acquired through natural resources.

“These were the first statistics to take the intensified desert fish farming into consideration, stressed Saed, adding that in 2003 some 1,030 tons of desert fish represented 0.12 percent of the total production, a figure that appears insignificant, but has proven the feasibility of desert aquaculture. But why resort to desert fisheries when seas and oceans and rivers are available?

“The answer is simple, says Saed. ” There is no dearth of underground water in the desert. The water is free of contaminants found in other resources. The desert settlements also achieve the principle of environmental balance, for the same amount of water used in fish farming could also serve to irrigate the land.

Cultivating aquatic organisms under controlled conditions has boosted the survival chances of hatcheries by 95 percent. In normal circumstances, owing to environmental hazards, the new hatch has less than 5 percent chance of survival.

Detailing the new fish resources in the country, Saed points out that in areas like Wadi Natron there is an abundance of underground water that cannot be used for agriculture because of its high salinity, which makes aquaculture an ideal use of this water resource.

“We make use of this water through a traditional technique called the ‘trench system’ that consists of digging a number of canals near the wells that are automatically filled with water. The canal waters are then refreshed through the use of pumps that stir that water or supply fresh water from adjacent wells.

Saed explained that along the desert road the farming is based on concrete basins that give copious produce of fishes.

“And it is actually there that land, animal farming and aquaculture work in amazing harmony, for the water drained from the basins contain minerals and salts which boost the growth of certain fodders.

Due to desert aquaculture, oases-dwellers are eating fish for the first time, notes Saed.

“Now they are breeding different kinds of fish relying on underground water-based tank storage and the waste resulting from the processing of dates and olives which are used as food for the breed.

Away from the oases, the Western Desert is rife with fish farms known as ‘oil lagoons’.

“Those were formed as drilling for oil in these parts resulted in hitting water wells rather than oil reserves. The Bedouin have made the best use of them by turning them into desert fisheries, he explains. Saed predicts that desert fish farming is likely to increase within the next few years. “The global fish reserves have plummeted dramatically as a result of pollution and technological advancement in the fishing industry that has depleted the natural resources of seafood. Aquaculture has therefore emerged as an urgent necessity.

The control factor has enabled producers to adapt hatcheries and productions to the needs of the markets, he adds. Also when modern fishing techniques could cause disequilibrium, fish farms are an environmental booster.

According to Saed, desert fisheries do not flourish at the expense of other farming activities, for they are set up on irreclaimable land. On the contrary, sometimes they are employed for reclamation purposes. They depend on low quality water to give a high quality food product.

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