As part of the diversification plans to become more resilient and escape from the oil price malaise, the Sultanate is now on an ambitious path to develop its fisheries sector.
Not only that the government has set an annual growth rate target of 5.6 per cent with 2 per cent GDP contribution, thousands of job opportunities are also expected to be created in the sector.
The sector is given more importance in the 9th Five-Year Plan to make it promising for investments.
According to statistics, agriculture and fisheries sectors together witnessed a mammoth growth of 16.3 per cent in 2016, surging from an average growth of about 6.4 per cent in the previous five years.
The government plans to have an additional 10,000 to 15,000 new employment opportunities to be created by 2020.
New employment opportunities are to be made available in different areas like fishermen, crew, processing plants, fish marketing firms, feed production, export agencies and aquaculture fields.
The overall plan to develop the sector, till 2020, includes massive fleet expansion, additional harbours, development of fish markets, support to fishermen, aquaculture development and additional fish processing and logistics services.
Oman, with its long coastal line of 3,262 kilometres, has great potential to develop the fisheries sector to serve global markets.
According to Banu Setlur, Environment Program Coordinator at World Bank Group, Oman’s fisheries are just a few steps away from becoming a world-class competitive industry.
“If well managed, fisheries can be sustainable, long-term resource that can contribute to Oman’s long-term vision of economic development and diversification,” he said.
According to statistics from the National Centre for Statistics and Information, Oman’s total fish production grew by 5.4 per cent to 270,863 tonnes in 2016, from 257,001 tonnes in 2015, thanks to a robust growth in the catches of traditional fishermen.
To increase revenues from fisheries, Setlur said it is better to catch fewer but higher-value fish, and maintain the catch at a sustainable level of course.
“Oman’s development would also benefit from greater attention to markets, domestic and international; from high-value fisheries, instead of just the volume of fish landed; and from value added, which would help create new jobs,” he said in a report.
The contribution of the traditional sector in fish catch grew by 5.2 per cent to 267,981 tonnes last year, up from 254,767 tonnes in the previous year. In terms of value, the traditional segment brought in RO 199.65 million in 2016, against RO 169.42 million for the previous year.
According to him, the amount of efforts that goes into fisheries is high though, resulting in over-exploited fisheries as well as in reduced amounts of fish being landed, and in declining productivity.
“To break this vicious cycle Oman, like other successful fishing economies, needs to manage its fisheries in a manner that will generate greater levels of income-levels that can be sustained over time,” Setlur said.
To strengthen fish production, Oman is also developing the Middle East’s biggest fishing harbour, facilities for sea food processing and packaging, facilities for storing raw materials and deep freezers for exports in the Duqm Special Economic Zone. The Duqm fishing harbour and integrated processing zone is being developed by the Special Economic Zone Authority at Duqm, in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. The integrated processing facility, which will have around 60 fish processing units close to the harbour, is in the design stage now.
Also, Oman is in the process of developing eight more fishing harbours and ports of varying sizes, with a sizable investment as part of a comprehensive plan to strengthen the fisheries sector and create additional employment opportunities for the youth.
By 2020, as many as 30 fishing harbours or ports are expected to be operational, against 20 such ports now.
When it comes to production components and activities related to the fisheries sector, Omanis constitute 91 per cent of the workers in this sector — 47,899 Omani and 4,699 expatriates.
As of the end of the year 2016 and according to the ministry’s statistics, there are 22,720 small fishing boats, 688 artisanal fishing vessels, 134 coastal fishing vessels, 4,115 fish transport vehicles, 402 marketing outlets, 59 fish markets and 6,044 fish establishments.
According to experts, a well-managed fisheries sector can be a bountiful and is a major source to contribute to food security of the population.
In order to provide fish in the local markets and ensure food security in the Sultanate, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries conducts various programmes and projects to develop the capabilities of artisanal fishermen in the coastal governorates, boost up total production and encourage fishermen to keep on their long tradition.
The circle of interest also includes the children of those fishermen as it is important to ensure the succession of the fishing profession through generations.