CASTING A WIDE NET

Oman 2018 | AGRICULTURE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to HE Hamed Said Al-Oufi, Undersecretary of Fisheries Wealth of the Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries Wealth, on food security, opportunities for development in the industry, and new infrastructure projects.

HE Hamed Said Al-Oufi
BIOGRAPHY
HE Hamed Said Al-Oufi earned his bachelor’s in fisheries technology from Sultan Qaboos University in 1990 and then his master’s degree and PhD from the University of Hull, UK. He joined Sultan Qaboos University in 1991 as an academic staff member teaching courses in fisheries in the Department of Fisheries Science and Technology. After his PhD, he was promoted to assistant professor and then, in 2001, to Assistant Dean for postgraduate studies and research in the College of Agriculture and Marine Science. In 2006, Dr. Al-Oufi became the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Wealth for Fisheries Wealth.

As Undersecretary of Fisheries Wealth, what are you doing to ensure food security in the Sultanate?

Food security is one of the most important items on the agenda for this ministry and the government in general. In terms of fish, Oman is self-sufficient. We are currently exporting more than 50% of our fish production in addition to meeting local demand. When it comes to fish, we currently export around the world, including North America, Europe, and our neighbors in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Omani fish products are exported to more than 40 nations around the world. Many of our luxury products, like fresh tuna, go to Europe and North America. Other notable markets include Brazil, Vietnam, China, and Thailand. We tend to go to markets with the highest incentives and highest margins. You can find Omani fish everywhere, both frozen and exported by sea, or fresh delivered by air. We also ship fish in chilled trucks to our neighbors in the UAE, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.

Fish processing plants are said to be the next step for the fish industry in Oman. How is the ministry delivering in this field?

We have achieved double-digit growth in terms of fish production, and the average growth rate over the past five years was 12.1%. That is very big for any wild fish production industry in the world; normally, growth is somewhere around 2-3% maximum. In Oman, we have an open ocean, long coastlines, committed government, high investment from both foreign and national sources, and solid policies that ensure traders and fishermen get good benefits. For our catch to be sent to different markets, we need processing plants, and they have to adhere to international quality assurance standards. Now we have a policy to develop our fish-processing industry. We have about 114 processing plants, and at least 27 of them are accredited by the EU. Every year we inspect the facilities and, if they pass, we renew their certificates so that they can export without any restriction. We invite inspectors from Brussels to visit us every two to four years to inspect our labs and review regulations, ensuring our procedures are aligned at the international level. We are also pushing private and public sector engagement in the aquaculture industry. Aquaculture will one of the topics of discussion to streamline investment and ensure accelerated growth. We are a few steps away from creating a world-class, competitive fish industry.

What are the ministry's main goals for the fisheries sector in 2017 and 2018?

We are moving forward to complete every infrastructure project. There are a number of projects ready for tendering, but since there are some difficulties in terms of financing, we are hoping to attract more interest from the private sector. The port in Barka is ready, but we need more facilities. We have promoted it to the private sector and received some good offers. An Omani company is committed to investing in the port and operating it. For 2018, we want to see five or six new projects in aquaculture, adding 40,000 tons of fish to the mix. We are ambitious, as most fishermen are. We are also optimistic. It at least encourages people in Oman and the region to move forward and work together as a team. We also now have good international exposure; our only challenge is to speed up the process. The first salmon farming project is on the horizon and will produce 20,000 tons of high-quality salmon with 100% foreign investment from Norway. The investor wants to develop a site with us that will hopefully be commissioned in 2019. This will attract more projects as well.