BIG FISH, BIG POND

Oman 2016 | AGRICULTURE & FISHERIES | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to HE Dr. Hamed Said Al-Oufi, Undersecretary for the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, on planned investments, international partnerships, and Omanization.

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

What is the national strategy for the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries? What is the ideal outcome for your strategy to add value to sectors with proposed investments for 2016 to 2020?

We have a strategy for increasing the catch from the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea, and the Sea of Oman over the next six years. We are also boosting production of aquaculture and fish farming, and we expect increases in aquaculture production around 40%. We are aiming towards something close to 500,000 tons by 2020 from both Oman Seas, as well as the high seas. To achieve this we are planning on significant infrastructure investment for fishing ports and markets, as well as fishing free development, human resource development, aquaculture development, and other related projects that will contribute to the growth of the sector.

The Undersecretary of the Ministry of Oil and Gas predicted in the Muscat Daily that some projects will have to be shelved if oil prices continue to drop, and an estimated 60% fall in production. On your end, do you expect any layoffs or cutbacks in the Ministry?

Until now, no decisions have been made. The government will likely continue projects as planned, especially those that will have a high impact on employment and growth. So far this year the ministry has not had to suspend any projects, so we will be moving forward.

What are your GDP target amounts?

The GDP for fisheries is 2%, and this is what we would like to achieve. This is what we call the gate price or the face sale revenues, though when the whole value chain is considered, currently we are closer to 3%.

What is the status of existing domestic and international partnerships and investments?

In aquaculture we have many investors from Europe, the US, South Africa, and Asia coming to Oman for fish farming. There were a number of joint projects and ventures established locally last year, and we anticipate more this year. At the moment investments are good, but we will see whether this will continue at the same pace or if we will see things slow down in regard to oil prices.

How is Omanization impacting the sector, and how is the Ministry attracting a skilled workforce?

Currently, there are around 45,000 fishermen registered with the Ministry, and there are another 8,000 workers employed in the fish market, in trading and manufacturing and other related services. We are introducing a modern fleet that will be suitable for the Gulf, with modern technology and crafts to increase convenience. It is important for the Ministry to make the fishing profession appealing to our youth, particularly those not suited for higher education. We are trying to advertise the fact that with the price of fish, the return from fishing is higher than in other sectors. We have been working with the World Bank on an 18-month contract to convert Omani fishing into a world-class fishing industry, and we are aiming to increase fishermen's incomes over the next 15 years.

How is the agriculture and fisheries sector connecting to other sectors?

Our closest sectors are tourism and logistics. Oman is situated in a strategic central area, and we are able to provide services to all the containers passing through Sohar, Duqm, or Salalah. The fishing industry can benefit because the fish trade needs multiple routes to Asia or Europe. We see high traffic between Oman ports and international ports, so it will be easy within the next three to four years to send frozen products by sea, or fresh by air, road, or railway, to service the Middle East and Gulf region, if not beyond.

What are your expectations for this year, and what will be the Ministry's priorities for the next five years?

The Ministry wants to see an increase in the size of the catches and around a 10% increase in production. We expect the opening of new ports along the Arabian Sea, such as Mahout and Sharia, Sohar and Khalid. In the next five years we will kick-start the project in Duqm, both the fishing port and industrial zone, and see it fully operational by 2020.