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The inland water fishes of Africa

Didier Paugy
Christian Levêque
Olga Otero


Raymond Laë et Christian Levêque


The continental waters of Africa are generally rich in fishes, and fishing has long been practiced there as a subsistence activity, like hunting and gathering. To face growing demand after the Second World War, the development of aquaculture was seen as a way of satisfying the human need for animal protein. In practice, there was little development of fish farming in Africa, whereas the use of natural fish communities grew at a spectacular rate for reasons both direct (high demographic growth leading to an increased demand for protein; use of new environments and species) and indirect (development of road networks and transport; improvement of trading circuits; use of newer and more resistant materials such as nylon, which reduced the manufacture and repair times for equipment, leading to a significant rise in individual fishing efforts; introduction of more powerful fishing equipment) (Daget, 1988b; Laë, 1994). In addition, there were changes in the food behaviour of certain ethnic groups such as pastoral societies that formerly did not eat fish owing to customs or taboos.
Consequently, African waters are extensively used. For many countries, fresh or frozen marine and freshwater fish constitute a basic food product. As food, fish is more or less identical to meat in terms of protein content (17 to 20%) and nutritional value. Moreover, fish flesh is rich in minerals and oligo-elements, as well as vitamins A and D, which are often deficient in the diet. In these countries, fish is usually cheaper than meat.

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The “fisheries system”

For a long time, the study of fisheries was confined to specialists, fisheries biologists who focused their efforts on the dynamics of the resource and its use. This approach turned out to be inadequate, and the current trend is to take a more holistic approach to the problems arising from the use of natural resources by including fishing behaviour along with other natural and manmade constraints encountered by the system. We thus speak of studying socio-eco-systems, an approach that integrates the tools and knowledge of several disciplines such as ecology, geography, anthropology, economics, and so forth.

Fisheries is, indeed, a complex system of interactions between a biological resource with its own dynamics in an environment that is itself evolving, and diverse predation strategies that are carried out differently in time and space on this resource. In such a system, the main elements are thus:

  • the resource composed of different compartments: phytoplankton, z...

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