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Kuwait 2016 | FOOD & AGRICULTURE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Azzam Al-Fulaij, Managing Director of Bubiyan Fisheries Co., on the importance of fisheries for the country's food security, and the challenges facing the sector.

Azzam Al-Fulaij
BIOGRAPHY
Azzam Al-Fulaij is Managing Director of Bubiyan Fisheries Co, in addition he is also General Manager of Abdullaziz Ibrahem Al-Fulaij Trading and Contracting Institution, which he founded in 1991. He gained his Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Grand View College, USA, in 1988. Azzam Al-Fulaij sits on the Board of, among others, Al Ahli Bank of Kuwait (ABK).

How has Bubiyan Fisheries Co. invested in the development of fish farming in Kuwait?

Bubiyan Fisheries Co. started the first fish farm in Kuwait in 1985 as a joint venture with the government. We are still the only licensed fish farm in the country. Previously we only produced two types of local fish, bream and grouper. We brought in fish from Greece, Spain, and Bahrain, in particular sea bass, which does very well in Kuwait, as does the sea bream. We continued to grow and created a solid fish reserve for Kuwait, which is important for the country's food reserves and food security. Every day we take 3 to 5 tons of fish to the market. Fish prices here are actually quite cheap compared to the production costs, but this is balanced out by the government providing the land and paying for the fish feed. In return, our job is to support the people by providing a fixed price, and low cost fish supply.

What challenges have you seen in the farming of fish in Kuwait over the years?

In 1997 and 2001 there was a marine crisis in Kuwait with the red spot disease, which destroyed our reserves. We sought help from Kuwait University, the Ministry of Health, and other Kuwaiti ministries. They also brought experts in from overseas to determine the origin of the disease because this was the first time it had hit Kuwait. We brought in fresh supplies of grouper and local sea bream from Bahrain and began re-growing the operation. The government is not protecting our waters from pollution caused by domestic and industrial waste, which goes straight into the sea. Another critical factor is that two power stations have been built in Kuwait Bay and these are damaging the marine environment. Kuwait Bay is the second largest hatchery in the world after the Gulf of Mexico. There should not be any power plants on Kuwait Bay because they use the seawater for cooling and then discharge warm water back into the sea, disrupting the ecological balance. It is still very important that the two electric power stations on Kuwait Bay are decommissioned and that the sewerage and other untreated waste water that is currently being discharged into the sea here is stopped. One positive change in the industry is the new law that has been put in place prohibiting fishing across the bay. This applies to both fishing from the shore and from boats. Unfortunately it is too late, although this has helped with overfishing.

Around 80% of fish in Kuwait are imported from Bahrain, Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey. Do you have plans to increase local production of fish in Kuwait?

The country as a whole needs to increase the number of companies in the fish farming industry. We are happy to provide our expertise to grow local production.

How important is fish farming to Kuwait? Do you think there is room for more investment and growth in the industry?

It is very important. Fish farming should be the future, not just for Kuwait but worldwide. For example, fish farming has been significant for the economies of the Philippines, Thailand, Greece, and Turkey. The demand for fish is high with growing populations, but the marine stocks are not increasing. Globally, there are many people catching fish with no government controls. The future should be farming in order to protect our important fish reserves.