Even though the Red Sea State has a 750-kilometre coastline, people living in the region’s cities have long shunned fish and other seafood, viewing them as a reminder of colonialism.
“In the minds of the Beja people, one of eastern Sudan’s most famous tribes, the sea was linked with invaders, occupation and slave traders,” says Jaafar Bamkar, a researcher specialising in the Beja culture. “They preferred living far from the coast and became less attached to sea professions, like fishing and other sea industries.”
But attitudes have shifted in recent years and there has been a growing demand for fish and other seafood despite high prices. The average price of a kilogram of fish in Port Sudan is up to SDG 30 (around USD 5).
Professor Ahmad Abdelaziz, an expert in food, agriculture and natural resources, believes that the food culture of eastern Sudan used to avoid seafood. “This view has completely changed now. Consuming fish and other seafood has become usual, especially in coastal areas.”
Abdelaziz says that fishing was not a desirable profession in eastern Sudan. “Now, however, a lot of eastern Sudanese people work in fishing. It has become a sought-after profession and people’s opinion of all sea occupations has changed.”
“The demand for fish has dramatically increased over the last four years,” says Yousef Mohamed, a fish dealer at the Segala market, the main spot for unloading fish in Port Sudan. “There is a high demand for sea fish at Khartoum market in addition to increased fish exports to neighbouring countries. People want different fish types, this is a new trend in local consumers’ food behaviour.”
“Every day, the main fish market in Port Sudan receives two to five tonnes of fish, while the market of Suakin receives 400 kilograms,” says Saeed Guma, Director of the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Wealth Fishery Directorate in the Red Sea State. “There is also production in other coastal areas.”
Fishing, says Guma, is done using both traditional tools like boats, nets and hooks, and industrial methods like fish dredges. “The industrial ones however have been banned since 2009 because they endanger some fish species which should not be fished due to their growth phases or scarcity.”
Boats mostly catch finned fish and, to a lesser degree, shrimps, crayfish and shellfish.
The new demand for fish, however, has coincided with a number of problems for fishermen. Guma says over 3,000 fishermen work on the Sudanese coasts and they use 800 vessels. They suffer from skyrocketing prices of fuel and spare parts for engines and fishing tools, which are all imported.
Seafood consumption in eastern Sudan remains comparatively low, but experts say it is set to rise further, putting the region on the road to food self-sufficiency. The per capita seafood consumption is only 1.5 kilogram per year in eastern Sudan: “It is a small percentage compared to international and regional consumption rates,” says Abdelaziz. “Seafood however is helping to establish food security for eastern Sudanese populations.”