A key Omani promoter behind an initiative to launch one of Oman’s first ‘open ocean’ fish farm ventures off Al Khabourah on the Sultanate’s North Al Batinah coast hopes to bring the project into operation by 2023. Warith al Kharousi (pictured), CEO of Al Safwa Group & Partners, says the proposed ‘Al Sahwa’ mariculture project centring on the cultivation of amberjack fish — a high-value sashimi-grade product coveted in Japan and the Far East — is being subject, like a number of other stalled aquaculture schemes, to a new round of “relicensing” by authorities to weigh their strategic importance to Oman’s aquaculture development objectives.
“We are hopeful of kickstarting the process of getting the relevant permits and approvals early next year, under the ‘relicensing’ procedures introduced during the recent Tanfeedh Labs for the fisheries sector. If that happens, we are confident of commencing production of amberjack by the 2019-2020 timeframe, with output ramped up to 8,000 – 10,000 tonnes per annum by 2023,” he added.
The ambitious project, first unveiled about five years ago, has been allocated a 150 hectare offshore site some 15 kilometres off the Al Khabourah shoreline. It has been conceived as a partnership of an Omani small and medium enterprise, local fishing communities, and Forever Oceans, prominent US-based international open ocean fish farming specialist.
Tanfeedh — The National Programme for Enhancing Economic Development — is now reviewing aquaculture projects, such as the Sahwa venture, for fast-tracking through the approval process as part of the government’s strategy to create a viable aquaculture industry in the Sultanate, said Al Kharousi.
“Tanfeedh has determined that some of these projects, including the Sahwa venture, has strategic national value and can contribute to the GDP. Furthermore, the vast proportion of investment into these ventures will be either local or international, thereby imposing little or no financial burden on the government itself to see this projects through.”
The ‘relicensing’ process, said Warith, will allow for the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, to carefully assess the interest and commitment of the projects’ backers before granting them fresh licenses to proceed with their implementation.
“For our part, we are still working with our partners — both on the investment and technology side — now that things have picked up and are moving forward. The authorities too are looking at various funding initiatives, including seed funding, and so on, to help the various promoters press ahead with their ventures.”
Billed as the ‘warm water salmon of the world’, amberjack fish are highly valued as fish steaks and in the preparation of sushi. Output from the Sahwa project is proposed to be exported to markets in Europe and the Far East, said Al Kharusi.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries has formulated a 30-year master-plan for aquaculture development in the Sultanate targeting an output of around 200,000 metric tonnes per annum by the year 2040, alongside the creation of some 11,000 jobs for Omanis.