ANALYSIS - Many people were very skeptical about aquaculture in the the Arabian Peninsular but they have been proved wrong. With a suitable environment and a strategic location close to export markets, an increasing amount of farmed seafood can be expected from the region, with Oman leading the way, writes Lucy Towers, TheFishSite Editor.
With 3165 km of coastline, an excellent seafood processing sector, an investor friendly environment and a strategic location close to export markets, Oman's aquaculture sector is growing.
High value species such as abalone, groupers, cobia, seabream, tuna, and shrimp are currently farmed, producing over 191,000 tons per year worth $355 million.
Oman has identified aquaculture as being a key pillar to diversify its economy beyond the hydrocarbon sector, said Dr H. E. Hamed Al-Oufi, Oman Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, speaking at the Global Aquaculture Aliance (GAA) GOAL conference in Paris, France.
With more food needed globally, the country is now looking to produce 200,000 tons of fish in the next three decades and "aims to be the leader in aquaculture in the Gulf region," said Dr Hamed Al-Oufi.
The country is already on the path to achieving this, as good incentives have been provided for investors, a suitable regulatory framework has been set up and suitable sites and resources have been evaluated.
Still to be addressed, is making sure site and license applications are easier to do and a faster process. The country can also increase its production through expanding its farming in brackish/fresh water, offshore cages and hatchery.
Oman is the leading country for aquaculture in the region but there are also growing industries in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar.
The Arabian Gulf is currently on a journey to responsible and sustainable aquaculture, said Aquaculture Specialist, Patrick White.
Many countries in the Arabian Gulf have focused on developing their fish hatcheries. Bahrain currently produces around three million fry per year, which are mainly exported to other countries.
There is also a big potential for many of the countries in the region to develop their cage culture, aquaponics - in a Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS) and the clustering of small scale farming operations into aquaculture parks.
Saudi Arabia is another country that is showing promising growth, said Tim Huntington, Director of Poseidon Aquatic Resource Management.
The country has 3,800 km of coastline, low fuel costs and a strong fish heritage, making it attractive for fish production.
"Saudi Arabia's aquaculture production has been increasing, though growth has slowed in the last few years," said Mr Huntington.
This year has been a transitional year for the country with many farmers swapping production to sea bream/bass after whitespot disease has caused problems for shrimp producers.
In moving the industry forward, there is now a bigger focus on biosecurity, with the government developing a biosecurity strategy.
Mr Huntington also said that with a major fish/aquaculture review and development plan until 2029 in progress, he expects there to be an expansion of marine fish cage aquaculture over the next few years.