The development strategy adopted by the Ministry of Agriculture is supported by a significant budget of about OMR3 billion. How will the company benefit from this investment?
I believe the benefits from this investment will be to the sector as a whole and not just to Oman Fisheries. Our company has been working on a five-year strategic plan wherein one of the objectives is to develop local fishermen. Before the implementation of this plan, we had no fishermen working for us; we just sold the rights to foreign vessels. Today, we are working with more than 400 fishermen who are exclusively fishing for us in return we supply them with all the necessary equipment and training they need to fish. This ranges from subsidizing them with soft loans so that they can upgrade their fishing boats to training them in how to maintain the quality of the fish. We also support them during the off-season by giving them advances.
On your website, you claim to be the largest fishing company in Oman. What factors are supporting your growth?
First of all, the development of our company depends on our fisheries resource—the availability of the fish makes our goals easier to achieve. We have been facing a number of challenges in Oman, which is why we decided to move overseas as well. We currently have two factories in Yemen, and one in Bahrain. Recently, we began working in Pakistan, India, and Vietnam too. We hope to see five things happen in the sector. The first is for the government to have one research vessel, which will help update us on the biomass in the sea. Right now, we do not know exactly how we are endangering our fishing stocks. The government also needs to produce a publication, either quarterly or bi-annually, to present the results of this monitoring to fisheries stakeholders. Secondly, the fishing fleet of Oman needs to be upgraded. The private sector is more involved in R&D, but its members are usually risk averse and prefer to utilize what is already available. Thirdly, we require clearer guidelines on the permitted fishing gear in the waters of Oman. We supported the decision to ban trawling in Oman, and there are other fishing methods I am also against. The fourth improvement I would like to see concerns the fishermen. There are almost 40,000 registered fishermen in the country; however, they are not all full-time. If we take the example of some larger countries—such as Japan, Korea, and Spain—that are famous for their fishing, you will see that only the captain, skipper, and engineer are locals. Most of the crew will be from the Far East. Therefore, changes in concerned laws to allow easy access to labor force would be helpful. The fifth factor relates to infrastructure distribution. Southern Oman is one of the richest areas for fishing, yet there are only three ports. By comparison, there are we have more than 12 ports in the north of the country. The north of the country is more populated; hence, the number of registered fishermen is also higher. This may be why the distribution of infrastructure is off.
What are you doing to build your image internationally?
We have been working to build our image by providing quality products, volume, and a wide variety followed by ethics and transparency. These are the key strengths of Oman Fisheries Company. Oman Fish as a brand signals quality fish from the Gulf. For the sake of building our image internationally, we participate in three exhibitions. We have been attending the European Seafood Exposition for more than 10 years. We are very proud to be the only Arab country to participate in this exhibition. We are getting business, but it zigzags depending on the global economy. When the Far East is strong, more business goes there and when Europe is strong, we change our focus there. However, the international economy plays a role in deciding the target markets and we follow the economic changes to adopt our marketing focus.