Sustainable Supplies


When it comes to food production and supply in the UAE, fish is a staple food. Historically, fishing on the UAE’s coastlines has been a major livelihood and pastime for […]

When it comes to food production and supply in the UAE, fish is a staple food. Historically, fishing on the UAE’s coastlines has been a major livelihood and pastime for millennia. Today, new environmental realities have called for a change in traditional fishing practices to control overfishing. As is the case in oceans across the world, the UAE’s wild stock of fish has been decreasing over the past decade. This has been occurring as both population growth and consumer demand for fresh fish is rising. To adapt, fishing license restrictions and seasonal fishing bans have been implemented by the UAE’s Ministry of Environment and Water to protect marine species in an effort to support the fishing profession and health of maritime species at the same time. As neither the growth of the UAE’s population nor the demand for seafood show any signs of slowing down, there is a clear opportunity for further investment and innovation in the UAE’s sustainable aqua-farming industry, an industry that is relatively underdeveloped but growing in Abu Dhabi.

It has been estimated that over 50% of fish for human consumption today is the result of aquaculture, that is, the farming of fish and seafood products. Several factors indicate the time is ripe for investment in the Abu Dhabi’s aquaculture industry, an industry that is just beginning to take shape. For starters, though the UAE possesses some of the highest food security levels among the GCC, it still imports roughly 80% of its food supply, making food security an issue of strategic national importance is a priority for the government of Abu Dhabi, in particular. Secondly, in contributing to local food supply, the domestic agriculture sector is limited due to the arid, desert climate and water issues experienced by agro-producers, devaluing the cost-benefit equation for many local farmers. Thirdly, the UAE boasts some of the highest rates of food wastage in the world, an issue that brings up the need to create consumer awareness around the fact that resources used to produce food are not unlimited. Fourth, even with the seasonal restrictions placed on the fishing industry, particularly during critical times of marine species life-cycle, the demand for fish in the UAE exceeds the supply local waters are able to sustainably provide. In light of these realities, there exists in Abu Dhabi the opportunity to address food supply challenges, at least in part through sustainable aquaculture farming, in ways that reap both environmental and economic rewards.

When describing his successful sustainable aqua farm business model, Ahmed Al Dhaheri, Managing Director at Abu Dhabi-based Emirates Aquatech, producer of the UAE’s first and only locally made caviar explains, “We know that we are not only producing caviar for the economic benefits, but also for the environment. The sturgeon fish are an endangered species at a depletion stage… With farmed caviar like ours, we can reach a stage where we can be producing on a daily basis without worrying about the fish being depleted.“

The Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD) is laying the foundations for a competitive aquaculture industry to develop by licensing the commercial activities of the emerging aquaculture sector and supporting the transfer of technology and techniques that meet its sustainability and resource efficiency guidelines. The EAD, and other relevant bodies, however, are merely liaisons and facilitators—the development of the sector relies on private sector investment. There is potential for investors to capitalize on the opportunities of Abu Dhabi’s aquaculture industry, which is in a position to supply the market with a high quality varieties of fish and seafood products without interfering with the biodiversity of wild marine populations and without the season-based restrictions that wild fishing imposes. Sustainable aquaculture farming makes it possible to control quality and monitor the lifecycle of the seafood product and is a viable means of adding to the local food supply. As the local population increases rapidly, placing more demands on the food supply to support growth, there is opportunity for the aquaculture industry to shift toward modern, sustainable fish farming techniques and develop into a viable domestic producer that will serve Abu Dhabi and the UAE for the longterm.