FISHING FOR DEVELOPMENT

Oman 2017 | AGRICULTURE & FOODSTUFFS | FOCUS: AQUACULTURE

With an expected production enhancement of more than 100% and a projected job creation of 20,000 posts, fisheries in Oman have a promising but challenging target to get from 200,000 tons per year to close to 480,000 tons in the next four years.

By 2020, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) anticipates a direct return of around OMR739.2 million from fishing and fish-processing activities. In order to achieve this, Oman has placed a special emphasis on the development of aquaculture, a subsector that has generated significant interest around the world in recent years as the fastest growing food-producing sector in the world, accounting for almost 50% of the world's food fish, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FOA).

This global trend has also caught the attention of the Omani public and private sectors. Some estimates suggest that 15-20% of the total job generation capacity of fisheries during the period will come from direct employment on aquaculture projects. The MAF's interest in developing aquaculture in Oman aims at generating the necessary expertise in the following 15 years in order to build up the capacity for aquaculture production to 220,000 tons by 2030-2040, which, according to estimations highlighted on MAF's recent Investment Guidelines for Aqua Culture Development in the Sultanate of Oman, puts the estimated market value for aquaculture production at around USD900 million, with a total sector contribution of USD2 billion to Oman's GDP.

Having a long fishing tradition, aquaculture is still a relatively new activity in Oman. Commercial fish production in the Sultanate began in 2003, and the first shrimp farm commenced farming in early 2007. In 2014, a stronger push started to take shape in the form of a plan created by the government in conjunction with the World Bank in order to improve livelihoods and make the sector ecologically sustainable and a net contributor to the national economy. After a series of workshops where different stakeholders and actors of the sector were involved, ministers, fishermen, and technical experts discussed and agreed on the future vision for fisheries and aquaculture toward 2040.

In order to realize this vision, Oman will need to pay special attention to the sustainable maintenance of the industry, which involves the appropriate use of resources in an economic and ecological manner. Some of the most promising projects in the Sultanate are tilapia farms that use fresh water, which can later be used to irrigate crops, as the water from the fishponds is rich in organic nutrients and reduces the need to use fertilizers, making these projects economically viable by increasing farmers' income while contributing to food security in the Sultanate. Researchers from MAF's Fisheries Quality Control Centre are pursuing another exciting venture, through the development of herbal antibiotics using various indigenous herbs in order to treat diseases in fish. On another front, Oman's aquaculture industry is also looking at complementing the offerings of another priority sector, with the expectation of introducing high-valued shellfish farming projects, such as oysters, in order to supplement the country's upscale tourism plans and developments.

As aquaculture continues to expand into new areas, the focus on maximizing the efficiency of production to elevate profitability needs to be accompanied by the appropriate legal and commercial framework, which ensures the correct implementation of aquaculture projects with the appropriate licenses, the necessary capital, and technological capacity to realize these ventures. Until August 2016, MAF has received up to 17 applications for the development of new aquaculture projects for various marine species, worth OMR234 million and with an estimated production capacity of 35,000 tons.

Aquaculture projects are now a key piece in the successful development of Omani fisheries, as the industry continues to catch the attention of local and international stakeholders interested in investing and developing this sector in Oman, strengthening the country's food security, job creation, and its export-driven revenue potential.