MUSCAT, AUG 13 – While fish farming is not a modern concept — the Gunditjmara people in Australia’s south-west farmed eels for food and trade 6,000 years ago — Oman is today looking to reel in capital to finance next-generation fish-farming enterprises across the country.
Aquaculture, the practice of farming fish and shellfish, is responsible for almost half of the world’s seafood production. And as fish populations drop and the world’s hunger for seafood continues to grow, aquaculture will become even more important.
According to Sajda al Ghaithy, (pictured) Media Director at Ithraa, Oman’s inward investment and export development agency, aquaculture presents a significant opportunity to attract inward investment to Oman, create jobs, boost exports as well as enhance the Sultanate’s food security.
The way Oman farms fish today and in the future will impact local communities, consumers and the planet and will be the topic of discussion at Ithraa’s next Inside Stories seminar scheduled for 7:00pm, tomorrow August 15 at the Public Authority for Civil Aviation Training Centre in Al Hail North.
Moderating the evening session is Dr Younis al Akhzami, CEO, Public Authority for Manpower Registry. Joining Dr Al Akhzami are: Andreas Ntatsopoulos, COO, Oman Aquaculture Development Company; Dawood al Yahyai, Director, Aquaculture Development, Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries; Rumaitha al Busaidy, Aquaculture Specialist, Al Hosn Investment Company; and aquaculture veteran Michael Katz, CEO, Oman Aqua Science.
As the GCC’s largest fresh fish producer, Oman has already demonstrated its fisheries credentials and potential to develop as a leading regional aquaculture hub. However, in order to realise its ambitions, access to land, technology, research and talent is critically important.
“Finding bright, entrepreneurial Omani minds and enabling them to realise their ambition by connecting them to finance, capital and mentoring will be key in taking this economically valuable sector forward,” remarked Al Ghaithy.
According to the United Nations, around 90 per cent of the ocean’s large predatory fish like tuna and salmon have already been fished. While over 70 per cent of the world’s fisheries are considered significantly depleted or exploited.
Currently, demand is being met by large-scale fishing techniques, like bottom trawling — dragging weighted nets across the sea floor, which indiscriminately scoop up both the intended target fish as well as coral, juvenile fish species and other marine life vital to the functioning of a marine ecosystem – all of which is discarded as bycatch.
While bycatch data is often outdated and inaccurate, some estimates suggest it may amount to 28 billion kilos per year, 40 per cent of the world’s catch.
“Perhaps people don’t realise, but some fisheries discard more fish at sea than what they bring to port, in addition to injuring and killing thousands of whales, dolphins, seals, sea turtles and sharks each year,” explains Lubna al Harthy, Ithraa’s Marketing Director.
The FAO’s biannual State of the World’s Fisheries Report reveals that over-exploitation of the planet’s fish has more than tripled since the 1970s, with 40 per cent of popular species like tuna now being caught unsustainably. “This is an issue that needs urgent attention,” commented Al Harthy.
The global fish trade is currently estimated at $56 billion, surpassing most traditional agricultural exports. Economists at the World Fish Research Centre and the International Food Policy Research Institute estimate that the total world production of food-fish will increase by over 40 per cent by 2020.
Considered the fastest developing food-producing sector in the world, aquaculture is recognised as a possible sustainable solution for food security and increased dietary nutrition. However, the sector faces any number of challenges ranging from environmental degradation and reduced water quality, disease, increased fish feed extraction from the world’s oceans and a lack of governance and regulation in production. At the same time, if aquaculture does not develop quickly enough global fish price rises can be expected.
The potential of fish farming is significant, suggests Al Ghaithy: “Commercial aquaculture has the potential to stimulate economic growth and create jobs. As many as 35 million people are directly employed in the fisheries sector worldwide, 20 per cent of them in the aquaculture industry; indirectly the industry supports several times this number.”
The linkage of the commercial aquaculture sector to local economies across Oman is twofold; directly and indirectly it can support other sectors through the purchase and sale of goods and services.
It can also be linked to foreign investment, exports, as well as infrastructure and human resource development, all of which would support Oman’s ambitious economic plans.