How is the ministry working to promote commercial fishing vessels?
We launched a plan for commercial fisheries at the beginning of 2018, and we changed the way we look at private sector applications for vessels. We now have a Service Level Agreement that requires the ministry to inform the company about its application decision within four weeks. The committee now meets every month and determines if the companies satisfy the requirements to receive the commercial license. We have a plan to launch a total of 200 vessels of different classes over the next five years, including both purse seiners and long liners, and have one trial permit for pelagic trawling. The idea is to harness the Indian Ocean resources of tuna and small pelagic, which is currently beyond the reach of our local fisherpersons. This is an important move for the ministry.
How has the Omani tuna fishing capacity in the Indian Ocean increased over the last three years?
We have witnessed a huge landing of tuna over the last three years; the catch for Oman jumped from 5,000-6,000 tons to 18,000-20,000 tons of tuna. This could be due to the recovery of the stock in the ocean or a change of migration toward Omani waters, as there are many players in the Indian Ocean fishing from the same resource. We are trying to harness the opportunity but want to do it with the governing body—the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission—because we have to work with it closely to ensure tuna stocks are not overfished.
What investments and development need to happen in order for fish to be processed and exported correctly?
We have excellent infrastructure in Oman, with solid investments from the government and the private sector. We have 38 processing plants that are approved by the EU in terms of quality standards, and many others are waiting to be certified. We currently have fresh tuna exported directly from Sur fish market to many European cities using Oman Air, and we also use other airlines such as Emirates and Qatar. The industry is ready to receive any quantity, and there is investment in the pipeline for more factories with an application for a huge tuna canning, sardine canning, fish meal, and processing plants for value-added products.
How is the ministry promoting aquaculture developments?
We have a plan to produce around 100,000 tons from aquaculture farms by 2023. The first project started with seabream cage offshore farming similar to the Mediterranean farms that have started exporting to Dubai and Saudi Arabia. We have two more projects for shrimp, each with a 3,000-ton capacity, and construction for both will start before end-2018. Moreover, we have one abalone farm that is under construction and are planning to farm other species such as tilapia using freshwater/brackish water in ponds or aquaponics systems integrated with agriculture farms. For example, Tilapia production jumped from less than 2 tons in 2014 to more than 80 tons by 3Q2018, and we expect 2018 to end with 100 tons. Aquaculture will truly offset any decline in the wild stock and will solve seasonality, as aquaculture can supply the market all-year round and ensure quality products as required by international markets. It will also employ many Omanis, which is one of the main objectives of these developments along with diversification and balance of trade and exports, all of which will help the Omani economy to grow and be sustainable.
Are you integrating SMEs into the development of the fisheries sector?
One farm needs more than 40 services; it needs divers, net suppliers, feed suppliers, and so on, so SMEs have a huge opportunity to support commercial farming, which is why we work with the Public Authority for SME Development. Typically, companies will seek small workshops to fabricate equipment or cage maintenance. We try to link SMEs with commercial farms, which is a great way forward for SMEs to develop in Oman.