State news agency MENA reported on Wednesday that the boat, believed to be carrying around 600 people, capsized off the coast of Kafr al-Sheikh governorate, about 140km north of Cairo.
Officials said 31 bodies had been recovered – 20 men, 10 women and one child. A correspondent for Reuters news agency later saw a fishing boat bring in 12 more bodies, bringing the total to 43.
At least 154 people had been saved, according to officials, who said that search teams were looking for more survivors.
“Initial information indicates that the boat sank because it was carrying more people than its limit. The boat tilted and the migrants fell into the water,” a senior security official told Reuters.
The boat was carrying Egyptians, Syrians and people from African countries, security sources told Reuters.
Mohamed Nasrawy, an Egyptian fisherman, said that he knew seven people on the shipwrecked vessel, two of whom were still missing.
“Tonight more people are going to set sail,” he told Reuters.
“The poverty that they are living in is what is pushing them. Although we are not Europeans, they take good care of people, while our country doesn’t.”
Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said all resources possible would be directed into the rescue mission and that those responsible had to be brought to justice.
It was not immediately clear where the boat was headed, though some security sources said they believed it was going to Italy.
More and more people have been trying to cross to Italy from the North African coastline in recent months as the weather improves, particularly from Libya, where people-traffickers operate with relative impunity, but also from Egypt.
Some 206,400 refugees have crossed the Mediterranean this year, according to the International Organization for Migration.
More than 2,800 deaths have been recorded between January and June this year, against 1,838 during the period last year.