WEALTH FROM THE DEEP BLUE

Oman 2014 | AGRICULTURE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Hamed Al-Oufi, Undersecretary of Fisheries Wealth at the Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries, on the fishing industry and aquaculture.

Hamed Al-Oufi
BIOGRAPHY
Hamed Al-Oufi is a fisheries development specialist, having obtained a PhD in Fisheries from the University of Hull, UK. He was appointed to his current position in 2006. Between 1991 and 2006, he served in academic roles at Sultan Qaboos University.

How is Oman building on its long historical relationship with the fishing industry today?

We have ambitious plans to utilize the marine resources of Oman, given the long coastline and the huge resources available, especially in the Indian Ocean. We have recently seen a large plan approved with OMR500 million ($1.3 billion) of government funds to be pumped into fisheries. The plan incorporates four pillars. The first one is infrastructure development, such as fishing ports and factories. The second is the development of aquaculture and support facilities. The third is developing the fishing fleet as well as human resource development through training. The fourth pillar aims at the development of value-added products and developing markets for such projects. When it comes to infrastructure, we currently have 21 fishing ports along the coast. In the next five to six years, we aim to build another eight. By the end of 2020, there will be more than 30 fishing ports.

How important is aquaculture to the Ministry's vision for the future of fisheries in Oman?

Aquaculture is a program with huge potential for Oman that we started researching five years ago. We are looking into regulations and investment plans, and want Oman to be a major player in the Middle East in terms of fish farms. We have a long coastline with clean water, and the country is ideally placed geographically with excellent infrastructure, very stable financial and political systems, and a strong economy. Investors seek these qualities, and they will find them here in Oman. We are promoting this potential and we have started inviting investors in on projects with attractive incentives. When we floated invitations to investors, we received around 31 applications with a total value of investment of OMR150 million for projects ranging from shrimp and finfish to abalone, among others. We attracted a mixture of local and international investors, and have issued 19 permits with a total value of OMR128 million. Two of these projects will start soon: the construction of a shrimp farm and a farm for abalone and grouper. One farm will be in Sharqiyah, and the other is to be located in Dhofar in the south of Oman. The others are conducting feasibility studies and applying for environmental permits. Today, we produce approximately 150 tons of shrimp. We are hoping that by 2030, Oman will produce around 200,000 tons of fish, estimated at a value of almost close to OMR1 billion, which will benefit the Sultanate's income.

What makes the fisheries industry important for Oman's population and economy?

Fishing has been an important activity for the nation for thousands of years, and continues to be crucial even after the discovery of oil. One of the main economic activities that Oman focuses on is to diversify its income away from oil and hydrocarbons. It is very important from an economic point of view in terms of investment and generation of income. It is also very important from a social point of view, creating employment and stability for fishing villages and stopping migration from villages to cities. That is why we are building ports and infrastructure everywhere, even in remote areas. We want to make this occupation attractive by providing the support and facilities to make sure that it attracts younger minds. Finally, it is very important from a food security perspective. Oman is more than self-sufficient in fisheries. In fact, we are exporting 50% of our catch to the region and international markets. Fishing is very important from a social point of view, as it is a crucial economic activity. Currently, we have almost 45,000 Omanis working as fishermen. Another 10,000-12,000 work in supporting industries, in fish marketing, transport, and related services. And another 12,000 jobs will be created with the advent of the aquaculture sector in the next 20 years. Approximately 50,000-60,000 Omanis will be engaged in fishing. The average Omani family has seven members. Therefore, the dependency on fisheries is huge. In fact, 300,000-400,000 Omanis depend directly and indirectly on fishing activity.