Casting wide for a big catch
Published: 14/06/2017 12:00 pm
The government has identifies fisheries and aquaculture sector as one of the key pillars of its economic diversification plan and are moving aggressively to develop the industry
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation observes that aquaculture, a sub sector of the fisheries sector, has generated significant interest around the world in recent years and is regarded as the fastest growing food production sector in the world. The Sultanate of Oman is blessed with all the resource to develop this sector but unfortunately the country had not realised this potential until recently. Now the government has identified aquaculture as one of the key pillars of its economic diversification plan following the prolonged softness in global crude prices.
The overall vision of the Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries is to develop a sustainable, competitive and environment-friendly aquaculture sector that meets the needs of customers from the high quality aqua products.
This global trend has also caught the attention of the Omani public and private sector recently. Some estimates suggest that around 25 per cent of the new employment opportunities in the fisheries sector would be directly generating from aquaculture alone in the next few years. As per the information available, around 50,000 Omanis earn their livelihood directly through fishing activities.
“Oman is blessed with a long coast line with conditions suitable for the growth of both fisheries and aquaculture sectors,” says H E Hamed Said al Oufi, undersecretary for fisheries at the Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries.
On proposed new projects, H E Oufi says, “The government has been trying to promote this sector for the last few years. Currently there are around 24 projects in the pipeline with investments totaling over RO800mn in the next few years. With all these projects coming in next few years, we are estimating that the total production could rise to over 200,000 tonnes in next few years. Work on some of the 24 projects, which have been approved by the government, has already started.”
The ministry is expecting that five to six major aquaculture projects will begin operations by the end of this year or early next year. The total production through aquaculture is likely to cross 12,000 tonnes by mid next year. According to an estimate, the total expected production from these 24 projects will be around 293,000 tonnes a year, valued at RO733mn.
Oman has a tradition in fishing that dates back to centuries and before the exploration oil and gas in the country fisheries and farming were the prime economic activity in the region. Despite that it was the last among the GCC countries to bring a legislation for aquaculture. The government scripted the legislation regarding aquaculture in 2004 and in collaboration with FAO developed a national strategy for aquaculture development in 2007.
“We have been very careful before approving this as there were some mistakes in the past which resulted in adverse scenarios such as products suffering from diseases due to mismanagements. We also wanted to make it doubly sure that the sector and production are sustainable in the near future. We want to make sure that there is no harm to the environment and there is no loss to the investors due to disease or any other problem which could arise in near future,” says H E Oufi.
According to Dr Issa Mohamed al Farsi, director, Aquaculture Centre, since 1992, the Ministry of Fisheries Wealth has been engaged in different research and development projects on fish and shellfish culture. These included the investigations on shrimp farming, mussel and oyster culture, abalone hatchery and pilot trials on cage and pond culture of fin-fish, suitable site selection for aquaculture, development of feed for cultured aquatic animal, hatchery development for finfish, sea cucumber biology and development of freshwater integrated tilapia farms in Oman.
Farsi says, “Oman started work on the aquaculture sector in as early as 1984 but lack of expertise in the matter led to results which were not as per expectation and this caused delay in the project.
“Now the government is looking at developing the aquaculture sector very aggressively as they want to achieve food security and to encourage a new industry in Oman to by create new jobs for the local population. Moreover research have shown that fish meat is much healthier compare to animal meat, so the government wants to promote its consumption also.”
Speaking about their expansion plans, Farsi says that the Aquaculture Centre has tied up with Oman Aquaculture Development Company (OADC) for setting up a first marine finfish hatchery in the sultanate with research and development unit. And they have also signed a contract with OADC to supply larva for their proposed aquaculture facility, which is likely to come up soon.
As per the information available, the ministry is currently funding five programmes, which include the Abalone aquaculture, which aims to develop novel hatchery technologies and to examine the potential of enhancing the natural fishery, and sustainable aquaculture development in Musandam.
Though both the ministry and the private sector are upbeat about the tremendous opportunities available for the sultanate there are a number of challenges, which could disrupt the production.
“One of the biggest challenges in the sector is maintaining quality as fishes are prone to disease.
So extra care is needed and frequents checks are required to minimise the probable damage,” says Farsi
He added that last year the aquaculture centre started working together with the Centre of Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science from UK for that purpose.
Lack of experience is another major hurdle in the development of the sector in the country. The government had to set a pilot projects to carry out in-depth studies before going for large scale production, says Hamid Emami, director of sales Middle East at Akva Group, a Norway based provider of equipment for aquaculture projects.
He says, “Iran and Saudi Arabia have taken various steps to increase production few years back. As a result their production of marine products is very high compared to Oman. These countries has only recently started to invest in such projects.”
Besides non-availability of trained manpower, another major challenge which the fisheries sector is facing is the lack of post harvesting facilities available in the country.
“Currently, most of the fishermen put their catch immediately in boxes filled with ice to preserve and later these boxes are loaded on trucks which immediately rushes to markets. But this method is not very useful, as marine products need to be conserved through climate control methods,” Omar al Jabri, assistant dean for training and community services, College of Agriculture & Marine Sciences, Sultan Qaboos University.
He says more than 40 per cent of small traders and fishermen do not have cooling capacity and they usually load fish in containers with ice and transport them, this practice leads to quicker deterioration of catch resulting in lower prices and fewer takers.
Jabri suggested that the government should invest more in setting up fishing hubs with proper post harvesting facilities which could provide better value for Omani produce.
Besides promoting aquaculture, the country is also taking various steps to promote traditional fish production in the country.
“The government is taking various steps to promote production of fisheries sector in the country. As this sector is seen as high employment generating one,” says Fatma al Kiyumi, director planning of fisheries studies under ministry of agriculture and fisheries.
According to the ministry data, currently the livelihood of 50,000 Omani families depend on the fishing sector. Oman currently has 27 companies which have obtain quality control certificates to export their products to Europe. The country has around 47 fishing ports, 700 fishing vessels and 134 coastal fishing locations.
“There has been remarkable growth in the fisheries sector in the past few years. In the 1980s, the total production of the sector in the country was just 90,000 tonnes which rose to over 280,000 tonnes in 2016 with a value of RO270mn,” says Fatma.
She says, We have around 22 existing ports, and there are feasibility studies going on to increase the number of ports to 40 in coming years. The government is trying hard to provide modern technologies and equipments to local fishermen to increase the production of fish. There is also a proposal to build marketing infrastructure for the promotion of sector in Oman, she added.
Several existing fishing harbours, including Dibba, Mirbath and Khabura, will be modernised or upgraded to help fishermen across the country, according to ministry officials.
Another major development is the government's plan to develop a huge port in Duqm along with a special zone dedicated for fish processing units. The freezone has already finalised the plan and is soon going to issue tender for the project.