Hala’et El Samak (Arabic: حلقة السمك), or the Fish-market in Alexandria, is the picturesque Fish Market of the second-largest city in Egypt. It is the place where retailers trade the fish caught by the fishermen who are hired by higher ranks fishermen, in most cases, much older and experienced fishermen, who happen to be wealthy enough to pay the expenses of the fishing ships (license, salaries, supplies…).
Hala'et El Samak witnessed more than a 100 years of one of the important pillars of Alexandrian economy: the fish trade. It seems to be suffering many challenges in spite of all the nostalgic value to it. In fact, it's an icon for the Alexandrian persona.
Alexandria, like most of the cities lying on seas or oceans, depends on fish trade and fish-based industries as a vital source of its regular income. Most of the people who visit city pay at least one visit to a fish restaurant to enjoy its famous and reputed fish. The fish go through a large cycle that starts off with fishing in the Mediterranean Sea and ending up with preparing unique and delicious plate in restaurants.
Boats and ships operating there fall into four types:
1) One types is called “Marakeb Garr” or “pulling ships”, wherein
fishermen use nets in the fish-catching process. It’s clear that their
name is derived from what they do; they pull nets for distances to
catch the fish. Each ship spends about 10-15 days in the sea. The
productivity of fishing ships is measured by the number of boards they
can fill with fish. These boards are made of wood with dimensions of
50x130x10 cm. Boards carry different weight depending on the type of
fish stored. The “pulling ship” holds about 200 boards, carrying
different types of varying between “Barboony”, “Morgan”, “Musa” and
2) Second type of ships is called “Markeb Sennara” or “hook ship”.
Again, as the name implies, this type of ships involves hooks used to
catch fish; each having about 500-600 hooks. A “hook ship” doesn’t
spend more than one night in the sea, hence, fish are always fresh, not
conserved in ice like the “pulling ships” and the cargos are usually
transported to Europe. The types of fish that are caught by these ships
are “elshara3’eash”, “El Denees”, ”El Aatat”, “El Wakkar”……
3) A third type of ships, called “Me’adeya” is used in catching
shrimps. Like “Marakeb Garr”, a Me’adeya ship uses nets with but with
4) A fourth type is called “hook launch” and is smaller than the “hook ship”. It holds about 5-10 boards.
The first two types of ships are the most popular ones operating within
Alexandra Port. The fishing activities take place in the Eastern Port,
whereas the trading and industrial activities take place in the Western
The Eastern Port doesn’t receive only fishing ships, it also receive
cargo ships carrying fish coming from Rasheed, or Rosetta, Suez,
Ismailia, Damietta and Areesh; all important ports in Egypt. Sometimes,
it allows receives ships carrying fish imported from Lebanon and Syria,
to be sold in the Fish Market in Alexandria. Only fishermen with
security passes are allowed to go out of the port on a ship- this to
foil any attempt at illegal immigration to Europe.
Alexandria's Hala'et El Samak was built at the end of the 19th century
in “anfooshy” district mainly with the aim of organizing trade
activities between fishermen, retailers and merchants. Nearby, there's
a fish restaurant called The Fish Market, a typical modern restaurant,
quite different from the fish market spotlighted here.
Hala'et El Samak, acts as a center point linking fishermen to fish retailers, restaurants and individuals.
The Fish-trade echelons, those old, experienced fishermen who happen to be wealthy enough to pay the expenses of the fishing ships (license, salaries, supplies…); are called Me’alemeen (Arabic: معلمين), an Arabic word meaning “masters”. A Me'alem (Arabic: معلم), or master, is the person who owns or hires about 15-20 ships; each requiring about 50,000 LE to fulfill its expenses.
After the fish is brought from the sea, either fished or transported, it goes into the fish market for sale.
It used to take place outside the existing building, then, a few decades ago, the Egyptian government moved the trading action inside the building which was about to collapse but was prepared to accommodate the amount of trade inside.
However, the place is not wide enough for the amount of action that takes place inside. The fish boards coming out of the ships go to the main merchants (Me'alemeen); they supervise smaller scale merchants and writers. The smaller scale merchants follow up on the trading activities, while writers record the amount of fish sold, the price of each board.
There is no fixed price for fish. Each board goes through a bidding process, and he who pays higher wins possession of the board. So two similar boards of the same type of fish can be sold with different prices if they were sold at different times or at the same time but by different merchants. The price of the board depends somehow on the merchant, so fishermen would choose the clever merchants than can get them a higher price.
The Fish market is not only for whole-salers, sometimes Alexandrians go there for the sake of buying the best quality of fresh fish but have to buy no less than one board with 5Kgm to 15Kgm. Retailers (Arabic: ) in the Fish market are just an intermediate link between merchants and fishermen, they just make the bidding process in the Fish market, and each retailer takes a commission of about 6% (as of summer of 2008).
Two of the main problems that encounter Alexandria's Fish Market today involve the high rental prices of the selling spots; such problem was aroused recently when the fish market was moved inside the building. The other problem has to do with the increase in the retailers’ numbers which instigated a much more heated competitive spirit in there.