The northern Egyptian governorate of Kafr Al-Sheikh is planning to establish fish farms in northern parts of Lake Burullus, but a local NGO says the farms would threaten the environment and the livelihoods of local fishermen.
“We know their intentions are good. They want to create job opportunities for young people, but the negative impact of such a project on the lake and the fishermen was not considered,” Mohamed Al-Feky, chairman of the General Aquatic Resources’ Cooperatives Union (GARCU), a local NGO, told IRIN from his office in Cairo.
The suggested area of the farms is 772.8 hectares. “The project is designed to help local people,” said Zakaria Abu Omar, a project consultant in the governorate. “When executed, the project will increase fish production, improve the income of the people and create job opportunities.”
Experts say the lake is an important resource in the northwestern part of the Nile Delta for several thousand fishermen but they fear the project will reduce fishing areas for local fishermen. “About 50,000 fishermen depend solely on the lake for their livelihoods,” Al-Feky said.
Interactive map showing Lake Burullus in Egypt
“The lake already receives large amounts of sewage, agricultural and industrial run-off - about seven million cubic metres per day,” Izzat Awadh, adviser to the agriculture minister for fishing resources, told IRIN.
Discharges from the planned farms will add to pollution, he said. “The discharged water will hold fish waste and unconsumed fodder”.
Moreover, the discharges will attract the lake’s fish to drainage areas which can be bad for fish stocks, said Awadh. “This will lead to the deterioration of natural fisheries. Also, having such projects on the shores will encourage the smuggling of immature fish,” he warned.
According to project consultant Abu Omar, the governorate conducted an environmental study before drawing up the plan. “The fish farms will use excess water from Lake Burullus instead of letting it go into the sea. In addition, the farms will depend on fish hatcheries inside the project and not on the lake’s immature fish,” he said.
Other farms to close
There are number of fish farms already in southern parts of the lake. “The contracts for these farms are about to expire and they will be removed,” GARCU’s Al-Feky said.
Abu Omar said fish farms in the lake cover 23,100 hectares, while the proposed project is less than 2 percent of this area.
The most likely scenario, according to Awadh, is that young people will not be able to operate the farms with their limited financial resources so will sell or subcontract them. “Big investors will step in which means we won’t have given anything to young people.”
According to 2007 statistics, the 35,700 hectare Lake Burullus produces some 57,000 tonnes of fish annually.
Burullus is also one of two lakes in Egypt considered a “Ramsar” site. “Ramsar” is a convention on wetlands signed in Iran in 1971 which sets out a framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.