Key figures: 

EEZ: 234,000 km2

Catches: 1,200,000 t

Artisanal fleet (approx.): 7,000

Employment: 550,000

Consumption: 6 kg/hab/yr

Exports: 438.50 M USD

Share in GDP: 6 % 


Fisheries context.

The population of Mauritania was estimated in 2013 at 3,537,368 inhabitants with a relatively high annual demographic growth rate of 2.77% during the 2000-2013 period. About 63% of this population lives in urban areas. The country covers a surface area of 1,030,700 km2 and has a population density of 3.4 inhabitants per km2.Life expectancy is 63 years and per capita income was estimated at USD 560 in 2006.

The Mauritanian coastline stretches from the mouth of the river Senegal all the way to Cap Blanc over a distance of 720 km and faces the Atlantic Ocean. The Islamic Republic of Mauritania (IRM) has a 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) with a surface area of 234,000 km2 including a 39,000 km continental shelf renowned for the large number, diversity and commercial significance of its fisheries resources. Nearly 600 fish species have indeed been identified of which over 200 can be commercially exploited.

This wealth of marine life can be explained by the highly favourable hydro-climatic conditions, in particular, powerful cold water upwelling which is the source of the important primary production and the significant development of the marine food chain. This exceptional wealth could also be explained by the role of nursery played by the Eastern part of the shallow areas of the Ban d’Arguin, where marine species find favourable conditions for reproduction and growth in an area that is virtually devoid of any pollution and which is home to one of the largest marine protected areas (National park of Ban d’Arguin) in West Africa.

Fisheries is one of the strategic sectors of the national economy for several reasons. The fisheries trade balance shows a significant surplus because of the fact that the sector is resolutely focused on exports and the value of imports is almost zero. During the 2008-2011 period, fisheries exports represented 20 to 27% of the export value (excluding oil), thereby significantly contributing to the inflow of foreign exchange in the country. In 2011, the fisheries trade balance showed a net surplus of 122.7 billion MRO, i.e. approximately USD 438.5 million.

Assessment of the fishing industry’s contribution to GDP has thus far been limited to wealth creation in the catch process (GDP for the fishing industry).This does not take into consideration the indirect economic effects on upstream and downstream markets in the fishing industry on the one hand and certain revenues derived from fishing agreements on the other. Since 2009, GDP for the fishing industry at constant prices however appears to be on an upward trend (+16.8%) between 2008 and 2010.This increase is largely due to the development of artisanal and especially coastal fishing of small pelagics to supply the fishmeal and fish oil industry. Though domestic production has increased, value added in Mauritania is still relatively low, particularly with regard to small pelagics and related sectors.

According to the findings of the most recent IMROP working group (December 2014), the fisheries sector represented nearly 6% of the national GDP in 2013.

Annual fish consumption per capita was estimated in 2002 by the Mauritanian Institute of Ocean and Fisheries Research (IMROP) at 4.3 kg nationwide. Various studies have since been conducted revealing significant increases in consumption by correlating the estimated quantity of fish available on domestic markets (30,000 to 40,000 tons) to the population. On this basis, current consumption can be estimated at slightly over 6 kg/year per capita, with disparities between the zones (coastal or inland).This is proof of a major change in the eating habits of the Mauritanian population over the past ten years and the major role increasingly played by fisheries products in food security.

The fishing industry directly employs 42,000 to 43,000 people including 80% in the artisanal fishing sector. In addition to these fishermen, the industry generates 13,000 indirect jobs, particularly in the post-catch sector. In total, the fisheries sector generates almost 55,000 jobs representing about 3% of the labour force in Mauritania. Compared to the situation in 2002, the level of employment in the sector has increased considerably to nearly 50% in 12 years.

Institutional framework

The fisheries sector in Mauritania is supervised by a Ministerial Department. The general mission of the Ministry of Fisheries and Maritime Economy is to develop, coordinate, promote and monitor implementation of the Government’s policies in the areas of fisheries, oceanography, merchant shipping and maritime training programmes. It is the competent national authority to control quality, hygiene and safety of fisheries establishments, products and production areas. The laws and regulations governing the fisheries sector are contained in the Fisheries Code of 29/07/2015 and the implementing decree.

This Ministry is in charge of developing and exploiting biological marine resources, in brackish and continental waters. The conservation, preservation and development of fisheries resources are also an integral part of its prerogatives. The same applies to research in the areas of fisheries, oceanography, aquaculture, socio-economic aspects of fisheries and related activities. Fisheries surveillance and control in waters under national jurisdiction are also under the purview of the Ministry of Fisheries and Maritime Economy (see the Responsible Management National Strategy for Sustainable Development of Fisheries and Maritime Economy, 2015-2019).

State of the resources

Fisheries resources in waters under Mauritanian jurisdiction represent a potential of allowable catches (in terms of maximum sustainable yield) between 1.5 million and 1.8 million considering the variability of oceanographic and environmental conditions in the large marine ecosystem of the Canary Current.

Based on the findings of the last meeting of the IMROP working group (December 2014), demersal resources, which were being fully or even over-exploited, now show signs of recovery. Indeed, indexes of abundance for over twenty species have increased over three years and the fishing effort surplus for the octopus decreased from 25% in 2012 to 17% in 2013.Catch estimates in the Mauritanian EEZ reveal that catches could indeed currently be at the level of the allowable catch potential assessed between 1.2 and 1.5 million tons excluding shellfish (300,000 tons).

Certain small pelagic species continue to show significant potential for development such as the sardinella stock, part of the Zone C shared stock in the North of the country and anchovies.


The fisheries resources of Mauritania are exploited by an artisanal fleet with a wide range vessels flying national or foreign flags.

Artisanal and coastal fisheries

The national artisanal fishing fleet (which mainly target the octopus) has been constantly growing over the years. The number of boats has hence increased from 4,000 in 2007 to over 7,000 in 2013. In 2010, the inactivity rate along the entire coastline was 26% for a total of 5,910 registered boats

Almost one hundred vessels in the coastal fisheries category are registered in Mauritania and mainly focus on the octopus. Foreign vessels legally operating in Mauritanian coastal waters are primarily composed of purse seine fishing units (a unit comprises two boats) targeting small pelagic species. There were about 450 purse seine fishing units including 150 units operating with licenses granted within the framework of the fishing agreement with Senegal and over 300 units under the charter regime in 2014.

Total catches for artisanal and coastal fishing have increased in a spectacular manner over the past six years from less than 100,000 tons in 2009 to over 344,000 tons in 2013 (including 287,000 tons of small pelagics).This increase is largely due to the development of the fishing effort with regard to small pelagics (sardinella and ethmalosa) as a result of the expanding fishmeal industry.

Industrial fisheries (IF)

The fleet of industrial demersal fishing (offshore fishing) vessels operating in the Mauritanian EEZ has decreased from 380 in 2002 to 137 in 2013.The decrease in the number of vessels is due to several factors including: the revision of the IRM/EU fishing agreement (2012-2014 protocol) which led to a halt in cephalopod fishing, the departure of certain fleets (Chinese, European...), and the discontinuing of activities by national vessels (an ageing fleet).

The industrial pelagic fishing fleet operating in Mauritania varied between 50 and 100 vessels per year during the 2006-2013 period; about fifty pelagic fishing vessels have licenses.

After reaching a peak of 1.2 million tons in 2010, catches of small pelagics, though still considerable, however seem to be on a constant decrease following the withdrawal of a significant number of foreign vessels operating with free fishing licenses. Catches of industrial pelagic vessels reached 600,000 tons in 2013 of which nearly 40% were sardinella. Despite the significant increase in catches during the past ten years, particularly with regard to small pelagics, fisheries production is still dominated by industrial fishing (about 80% of total catches estimated at approximately 1.2 million tons in 2011). Demersal species represent 9% of total catches.

Tuna and related species are caught by long range vessels operating throughout West Africaand tuna vessels operating in Mauritania within the framework of fishing agreements (European Union, Japan and Senegal).Catches of major tuna reached almost 47,000 tons in 2013 with a predominance of the skipjack tuna.

Access to resources

The Ministry of Fisheries and Maritime Economy has recently adopted a new national strategy on responsible management for sustainable development of the fisheries sector and maritime economy for the 2015-2019 period. This strategy introduces a paradigm shift in the management system, namely quota-based fisheries management. This vision is operationalized by a legal and regulatory framework with the adoption of a new Fisheries Code (Law of 29/07/2015) and its implementing orders. 

The fisheries management system is based on fisheries development plans. It establishes two operating regimes:

  • National regime
  • Foreign regime

Fishing is subject to holding an allocated fishing quota granted to individuals or companies as part of a ‘right-to-use’ lease on the basis of an investment at sea or on land.

Use of this quota is subject to the payment of resource access fees which include a direct access fee, a fixed fee and an operating fee. These fees take into consideration the product value.

Access to the resources for foreign vessels is based on the agreements and conventions signed with States or private entities.