DON’T OVERDO IT

Oman 2016 | AGRICULTURE & FISHERIES | FOCUS: FISHING EXPORTS

While new infrastructure and investments have boosted Oman's fisheries sector, careful measures have had to be put in place to ensure that the industry is not exploited.

The fisheries sector has had much to celebrate over the past year due to a notable surge in foreign interest and investment. A strong aquaculture industry has also developed and is fostering a diverse expertise in the fisheries sector. While the government has also played an important role by setting out new strategies to boost infrastructure development and provide more employment, challenges remain.

Announcements in February 2015 made by HE Hamed Al Oufi, the Undersecretary for Fisheries of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, confirmed that the Sultanate is too reliant on fishing imports. With over 50% of fish caught in Oman exported, a better balance is sought after to better serve the local market. 126,000 tons of fish were exported from Oman in 2014, a striking figure considering the under supplied local market.

Fishing products are an important contributor to strengthening links with Oman's international trade partners. According to Said Al Rawahi, General Manager of Oman Fisheries, 71% of Oman's fishing exports went to the Far East markets in 2015. Oman's wealth in the fisheries sector is renowned around the world, and a reduction of exports would put pressure on the well-established trade links that the Sultanate has made. While there is eagerness to fulfill the needs of the local market, there has continued to be some trepidation to decrease its export markets.

Several steps have been taken to regulate fishing exports over the past five years. In 2013, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries specified that only 70% of Indian Mackerel caught in Omani waters could be exported, while also putting limits on the export of a number of other fish. Omani consumers relished this decision as the price of local fish decreased. However, the problem was undoubtedly not solved and, a year later, the Ministry enforced a complete ban of the exporting of Yellowfin Tuna, Kingfish, and Longtail Tuna for the period of a year, while Grouper, Sea Bream, and Mullet were similarly banned for a two month period. It is clear that the Ministry is going to great pains to ensure that Oman's local market is supplied, but a longer-term solution is missing. The ban on trawler fishing in 2011 due to its destructive nature provided a clear cut ruling, and a similarly definitive decision regarding the export of local fishing products would be highly advantageous to the sector.

Unlicensed fishing is also a challenge that Oman is likely to face. In 2015, Oman had to close its ports to suspected unlicensed fishing vessels from Somalia. Oman was highly praised for its vigilance, something which will stand the country in good stead in the event of further issues. However, the recent seizure of Chinese fishing vessels in Iranian waters will have also have raised some concerns for the Sultanate.

Foreign investors, however, are not discouraged and have fixated on the long-term opportunities. In her visit to Oman, Lilianne Ploumen, the Minister of Foreign Trade and Development for the Netherlands, highlighted fisheries as a sector of excellent potential for the development of trade relations. Oman's neighbor, Saudi Arabia, has also seen the potential in the sector. The Saudi Fund for Development pledged funding for the construction of a fishing port in Duqm, in a deal worth $179.5 million.

Finally, government support has been heavily increased for the fisheries sector. In October 2014, the Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries stated plans to allocate $1.3 billion to the sector, while also pledging to provide 20,000 jobs to Omani nationals by 2020. SMEs, historically the backbone of any fishing industry, have also been promised an increase in opportunities as part of the new strategy. The creation of the Oman Aquaculture Development Company in 2014 has also boosted the development of aquaculture, otherwise known as fish farming.

There is certainly no shortage of attention to, or funding for, the fisheries sector. However, the investments, job creations, and infrastructure developments will only be successful in the long term if the sector is efficiently and decisively taken care of. Regulations have certainly been tightened over the past five years, but the rapid expansion will need to be accompanied by government moderation to ensure that Oman's most important market, itself, is supplied.