Scaling up: A bold push to foster aquaculture and processing is under way

As more investment and technology has found its way to Oman’s shores, the fishing industry has seen increasing productivity. In the eighth five-year development plan (2011-15), Oman is expected to spend $259m on fisheries development, and $1.3bn in the 2013-20 period. As the country contends with the difficulties of economic diversification, such investments highlight the government’s ambition to include the fisheries sector in Oman’s quest to diversify revenue streams – with the goal of pushing the sector from 0.5% to 2% of GDP by 2020, according to Gulf Baader Capital Markets.

New Facilities

To better serve the local market while increasing exports, the development of new fishing ports and processing plants is the key item on the agenda. The government has plans to develop an additional 10 fishing ports by 2020, making for a total of 31 ports across the sultanate. In June 2013 the Omanreported that the MAF has completed the design phase for four of these new ports, and that construction is to proceed shortly for each facility. Construction of the new Taqah harbour, located in the Dhofar region, was contracted to the Turkish firm Sezai Turkes-Feyzi Akkaya, and is planned to include a 150-metre-long quay line, 1783 metres of breakwater, reclamation work, road construction, a 5-metre-deep harbour basin, and a marina facility and slipway. Contractors have also been assigned to harbour projects in Barka, Liwa and Musannah, where six additional ports are in the design and tender stages, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF). Fish production has already jumped significantly in recent years, from 158,000 tonnes in 2011 to 191,000 tonnes in 2012, so the additional capacity will likely further enhance employment levels, food security and export revenues.

Quotas

To ensure sustainable catches and domestic food security, the MAF has specific quotas for each fishery company and issues periodic moratoriums on vulnerable fish species. For example, following a 2011 temporary ban on fish trawling, Oman Fisheries Company (OFC), the largest fisheries firm with 76% of its shares on the Muscat Securities Market and 24% with the MAF, now has a 20,000-tonne annual quota for bottom fishing and a 30,000-tonne quota for large pelagic fish. In a move to control the supply of six types of fish to the local market, the MAF issued a moratorium from July 1, 2013 through the end of September for the export of tuna, king fish, Al Sahwa, Al Anqad, Al Kofar and some types of crayfish. Similarly, as fish scarcity in the local market becomes an issue in the summer months, especially during Ramadan, the OFC set aside 2000 tonnes of frozen and fresh fish to supply to Oman’s markets at controlled prices below the market value.

Oman also has a seafood quality control centre, accredited by the EU, that monitors mercury and other chemical levels in all fish exports. The Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point system is used in all factories and guarantees a proper inspection. As of 2012, 24 facilities had the system in place and more processing plants are currently undergoing approval.

Farms

Aquaculture is increasingly viewed as a top method to control fish quality and species population size. The industry remains nascent across the sultanate, with output below 200 tonnes in 2010. However, a significant portion of the $260m allocated to fisheries in the current development plan (2011-15) is set to develop aquaculture, according to the MAF. Another $1.3bn is expected in investments through 2020, illustrating that aquaculture development is a high priority to ensure food security and to diversify the economy. Aquaculture output is expected to reach 200,000 tonnes by 2030, according to the ministry, which would create an additional OR340m ($885m) in revenue.

The OFC announced it would invest OR3m ($7.8m) in developing a black tiger shrimp farm, for which it is seeking a strategic partner, according to Mohammed bin Hamad Al Masrouri, the company’s chairman. As shrimp populations are diminishing due to overexploitation, requiring the MAF to reduce the harvest season, shrimp farming is an increasingly desirable method of production and population control. The OFC, which recently received 24 new fishing licences from the MAF, also announced in June 2013 that it has plans to invest in two new fish processing plants in Duqm and Barka, each with a 35-tonne-per-day capacity.

In The Zone

The Fisheries Industrial Zone (FIZ) at Duqm Port is the showcase project for the sector’s expansion programme, and will be the largest multi-purpose fisheries facility in the Middle East. The 8-sq-km FIZ plans to include a fisheries port and a fisheries industrial estate hosting industry-specific facilities. According to Hamed Said Al Oufi, the undersecretary for fisheries at the MAF, “60 processing plants will be housed in this hub, and the government will invest in roads, water and electricity, and prepare the land for investors, including foreigners who will have to lease the land.” The total government contribution would amount to $250m, which would focus on the commercial harbour and zone infrastructure. To encourage investors, the government is set to propose long-term land leases and financial packages in the form of tax holidays, duty benefits and soft loans to international firms willing to run operations at Duqm. In mid-2013 construction for both the harbour and the estate were under review by the Tender Board, and more than 20 companies had submitted bids. A 24-month timeframe is in place for the harbour project. The fishing harbour is expected to be six metres deep and accommodate small and medium-sized fishing boats, which would be able to efficiently supply retail, wholesale and export markets at Duqm’s Special Economic Zone.

Step By Step

Aside from processing plants, the first phase of development will include storage facilities, boat repair workshops and landing zones for different sized vessels. The second phase incorporates an electronic trading platform, additional processing units, various aquaculture projects, a marine research centre and a training institute to focus on monitoring species population size, aquaculture system efficiency and training local fishermen in industry best practices. Since a majority of Oman’s fresh fish is currently exported due to the lack of local processing capacity, the combination of new processing plants, boat shops, and research facilities, in addition to the infrastructure development, would provide significant downstream opportunities and small and medium-sized enterprise prospects for the local community in Al Wusta.

Expanding infrastructure is expected to attract Oman’s fishing fleets and international fleets in the Indian Ocean. The $2.6bn Duqm Port is being developed in tandem with a multimodal transport network, including roads, an airport and a rail system, in order for production at the port city to easily enter local and foreign markets. Officials suggest that the Duqm economic zone will generate $10bn-15bn in investment by 2020.

According to the MAF, Omani fishermen caught over 191,000 tonnes of fish in 2012, a 21% increase on 2011. Over 50% of the annual catch is then exported to the UAE, where it is processed and re-exported to China, South-east Asia, Europe and the Middle East. The exports generated OR142m ($368m) of revenue in 2012, and the ministry has a $1bn export target by 2030.

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