“Aquaculture is the fastest growing food processing industry in the Middle East, with the most recent fisheries’ data indicating that farmed fish output across the region has grown five-fold in a ten year period, from 194,000 tonnes in 2002 to 1.1 million tonnes in 2011,” said Richard Pavitt, exhibition director at Agra Middle East.
He said fish supplies would need to grow by 20% to match regional demand for seafood, with the Arab world consuming an average of 10kg of fish per capita.
In December Saudi Arabia announced it will invest US$10.6bn in aquaculture projects by 2029, while Oman revealed it plans to spend US$1.3bn on fisheries by 2020.
The UAE has also made significant investments in aquaculture; last year Emirates AquaTech launched the largest fish farm in the world.
“Up to 30% of seafood provisions in the Middle East already come from aquaculture sources, and investors are now turning their attention toward the likes of Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan, and oil-rich markets like the UAE and Saudi Arabia,” said Pavitt.
Saudi Arabia has suffered from sharp declines in fish stocks in the Red Sea – a report last year suggested stocks had declined by 70% in the last 20 years, due to pollution from sewage outfall. Despite government intervention to stop sewage being pumped into the Red Sea, fish populations have not recovered.
The Saudi Ministry of Agriculture plans to increase farmed fish production to 1m tonnes by 2029, a ten-fold increase from its current level of 100,000 tonnes, according to ministry undersecretary Jabir Al-Shihri.
Pavitt suggests the UAE will also announce major aquaculture investments in the near future, following on from the unveiling of its new fish farm.
The 56,000 square metre Emirates AquaTech Caviar Farm can produce up to 700 tonnes of sturgeon meat, and 35 tonnes of caviar, per year. The caviar will be marketed under the Yasa Caviar brand.
Emirates AquaTech chairman Mohammed Hazzam Al Dhaheri said: “Our inspiration was to contribute to [the Abu Dhabi rulers'] long term strategy set out in Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 and to play a role in building of a sustainable, diversified and value-added economy.”
In addition to its fisheries investments, the Omani government also announced a partnership with Vietnam to improve Oman's aquaculture industry.