In two years’ time the coast of Oman will become home to one of the biggest aquaculture facility in the region. The $80 million project will involve inland aquaculture, cage farming, and mariculture. Emirates Star Fisheries, presently in search of investors, announced their the aim to produce 13,000 tonnes of fish a year by 2018. The farm is expected to produce 3,000 tonnes of fish in 2016; 8,000 tonnes in 2017 and 13,000 tonnes in 2018. This includes 10,000 tonnes of shrimp and 3,000 tonnes of tuna, cobia and sea bream. This newest aquaculture project, announced in Dubai beginning of June, is expected to be supported by all GCC countries and reflects continuous effort to produce more food locally.
Fishing has always been an important industry in the Gulf, worth $272 million a year, but because of sharp decline of fish stock, due to overfishing and pollution, the region is turning to fish farming. It’s an attempt to meet the increasing demand for protein owing to the growing population. Fish consumption in the GCC is estimated at 10 kg per person per year, with UAE topping the regional rankings in the consumption of seafood with 33 kilograms per capita. Population growth and rising affluence means increasing demand for fish, and it is projected to grow at around eight percent a year up to 2030, reaching 900,000 tonnes by that year in the UAE. Experts predict that fish supply in GCC countries must increase 20 percent to meet the region’s current levels of consumption.
Oceans running out of fish
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) May report, fish production in the Middle East has been gradually increasing since 1961 at a growth rate of 16 percent. Egypt is the biggest producer in both capture fisheries and aquaculture, supplying 40 percent of the total volume. In second place is Iran (21 percent), followed by Turkey (19 percent), Yemen (6 percent), and Oman (5 percent). Kuwait, Qatar, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan are the bottom of the producers list.
Decline of the fish stock in the region is alarming: according to some reports 70 percent of Saudi Arabia fish in the Red Sea have already vanished because of the pollution, while in Arabian Gulf some species (the popular orange-spotted grouper – known as hammour – the spangled emperor fish or shaari, and kingfish) are being depleted due to overfishing – most of the fish being caught before they have a chance to reproduce. It is estimated that 70 percent of the volume of fish, caught by commercial fishing boats, comes from species that are over-fished.
In 2002 UAE estimated their fish stocks at 1,735 kg per square kilometer. By 2011 the number dropped to 529 kg per square kilometer. In 1975, stocks were estimated at 9,100kg per square kilometer.
Aquaculture can be the answer to the problem, since fish farming imposes no strain on precious freshwater resources: the impact on the environment can be minimized by using seawater at onshore facilities and recycling it. According to FAO report, out of a total of 2.4 million tonnes of fish produced in the Middle East in 2001, 78.6 percent was supplied by capture fisheries while only 21.4 percent was supplied by aquaculture farming. In 2011, out of a total of 3.4 million tonnes, 56 percent was from capture fisheries while 44 percent was contributed by aquaculture. For GCC region, recent data shows aquaculture is the fastest growing food processing sector: farmed fish output across the region has grown five-fold in a ten year period, from 194,000 tonnes in 2002 to 1.1 million tonnes in 2012, with Oman and Saudi Arabia as leading investors in the industry.
In December the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Agriculture announced that it would inject an additional $10.6 billion into aquaculture projects to produce one million tons of fish in the next 16 years. The development, chanelled mainly through the state owned National Prawn Company, also includes USD 1 billion international investments in a 31,000 hectare aquaculture project in Mauritania.
In 2012, KSA imported nearly 175,000 tonnes of fish worth around $370 million. Saudi Arabia’s fish production was estimated at around 100,471 tonnes in 2012, and the demand is predicted to soar to an all-time high of around 286,000 tonnes in 2025 due to the population growth.
Oman, the country on the forefront of region’s fishing industry, is planning to invest USD 1.3 billion in fisheries’ development by 2020, with government granting aquaculture license to 19 projects worth $332 million, in 2014. Today, fishing industry sustains the livelihoods of some 40,000 Omanis. Government plans to produce 480,000 tonnes of fish and create 20,000 jobs by 2020, and officials estimate direct returns from fishing and fish processing activities to climb from $960 million today to $1.9 billion in 2020. Oman is exporting 50 percent of the catch, mainly to neighboring countries, while local consumption is currently 27 kg per person per year.
In Qatar investments in fish farming are also welcomed. Ministry of Environment (MoE) statistics for 2012 revealed that the local produce of fish fell short of the consumption needs by around 20 percent. Like in the neighboring countries over-fishing can put the natural reserves of fish at risk as the current local production is at the maximum level allowable for fresh fish. But aquaculture in Qatar is still in its infancy – according to FAO data, in 2010 reported aquaculture production in Qatar was meagre 35 tonnes, while fish consumption per capita is estimated at 20.8 kg a year.
UAE has many new aquaculture projects planned as well, including the production of high value seafood, such as Middle East’s first farm for sturgeon caviar and salmon.
With the population growth rate of 1.3 percent per year, the seafood industry is expected to have to double in the next 45 years if the present global seafood per capita consumption of 18.4 kg is to be maintained. Aquaculture is currently supplying nearly 50 percent of the global fish consumption, while global aquaculture market will reach USD 202.96 billion by 2020.