Commercial abalone farming set for strong growth in Oman

The abalone fishing industry in southern Oman – an important source of livelihood for traditional fishing communities distributed along the coast of Dhofar Governorate – is set for a big boost with an anticipated uptick in the commercial farming of this hugely coveted seafood delicacy.

The first of two abalone farming projects initiated last year in the Governorate is due to produce its maiden harvest this year.  Oman Aquaculture Company, set up by Al Jazeera Investments at a cost of around RO 5.7 million, will celebrate this year the harvest of its first crop of ‘Golden Abalone’ (Haliotis Mariae) from its newly established farm in Mirbat.

The Mirbat project represents a successful effort to commercially produce Golden Abalone, a high-value locally occurring species that is billed as one of the highest quality and most valuable species of abalone in the world.  Together with a similar venture under development at Sharbathat (Wilayat of Shaleem al Al Halaniyat Islands), the projects are aimed at sustaining the farming of Omani abalone for local consumption and export as well.

For centuries, Omani fishermen and women have been harvesting naturally occurring abalone at key locations off the Dhofar coast.  Equipped with locally fashioned wetsuits, but without the benefit of breathing apparatus, they have mastered the art of diving in shallow waters and scouring the seafloor for these shelled gastropods, which are found clinging to rocks.  In recent decades, abalone fishing has been restricted to a brief season during winter to help conserve and sustain the industry.

But given the soaring demand for abalone, particularly in markets in the Far East, international and local investors have explored the potential for commercial farming of the lucrative seafood.  Assisting the interested parties in the expeditious processing of approvals and permits for their investments has been Implementation Support & Follow-up Unit (ISFU) of the Diwan of Royal Court, a high-powered committee tasked with fast-tracking projects and initiatives aimed at accelerating Oman’s economic diversification.

Besides facilitating approvals for the 200-tons per annum capacity Mirbat farm, ISFU has also rendered similar assistance to Al Jazeera Investments in the delivery of the Sharbathat abalone farm.  Construction work on the RO 5.6 million farm project is due to be wrapped up shortly.  At full capacity, it will produce around 450 tons of farmed abalone per year.  Separately, the parent company is also setting up a hatchery and 50-ton-capacity grow-out farm for abalone broodstock at Al Lakbi on Oman’s Wusta coast.