With a potential catch of 600,000 tons, fishing employs 1.2% of the labor force and contributes about 5% to GDP. It is estimated that more than $1 billion worth of fish is netted each year within the 320-km (200-mi) exclusive economic zone, but little of this sum benefits the treasury because the government lacks means of control and enforcement.
Since 1980, any foreigners wishing to fish in Mauritanian waters have been required by law to form a joint venture in which Mauritanian citizens or the government holds at least 51% of the capital. All of the catch must be landed in Mauritania for process and export, and each joint venture must establish an onshore processing facility. By 1987, over a dozen fishing companies had been established in Nouadhibou, including public and private interests from Algeria, France, Iraq, the Republic of Korea, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Romania, Spain, and the former USSR. In May 1987, Mauritania signed a three-year fishing agreement with the EC, allowing all EC members to fish in Mauritanian waters; in return, Mauritania received approximately $23 million. Since the mid-1980s, however, depletion of the stocks has made Mauritanian fishing increasingly uneconomical. Mauritania's boats have been in poor condition. In spite of the ship repair service in Nouadhibou, which opened in 1989, only about 50% of the fleet was up and running in 1992.
Traditional fishing is carried out along the Senegal River, and traditional sea fishing at Nouakchott and Nouadhibou. The national catch was estimated at 38,096 tons in 2000. Principal species caught included octopus, meagre, sardine, squid, and grouper. Exports of fish products were valued at $73.7 million in 2000.