Oman agriculture ministry to kick off fisheries labs

Government officials and experts, as well as representatives from the private sector will participate in the six week long exercise. Photo-ONA
Muscat: Continuing the efforts of the Sultanate to promote economic diversification, the Fisheries Labs start on Sunday, September 17.

Government officials and experts, as well as representatives from the private sector will participate in the six week long exercise. The fisheries labs come as a government initiative given the importance of the sector, and it being one of the promising sectors included in the Ninth Five-Year Development Plan (2016-2020).

The labs are being organised by the Ministry of the Agriculture and Fisheries, in cooperation with the Implementation Support and Follow-up Unit.

The fisheries sector in the Sultanate witnessed a quantum leap during the past six years 2011-2016 represented in the growth rates of fish production, production value, contribution to GDP and other performance indicators, achieving rates higher than expected. The labs will focus on three main aspects to discuss and explore their challenges trying to come out with initiatives on aquaculture, catch, processing and export.

The artisanal fishermen are a vital part of the fisheries sector in the Sultanate as the artisanal fishing fleet contributes with a large percentage of fish production, which is estimated at 99 per cent of the total production.

The importance is not only economic, but also have some social and cultural aspects. The artisanal fishing fleet contributes greatly to the supply of fish in the local markets and provides employment opportunities for national manpower. And when looking at the number of artisanal fishermen in the coastal states of the Sultanate, one can realize that these fishermen help in social and economic stability of their families.

In order to provide fish in the local markets and ensure food security in the Sultanate, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries conducts various programs and projects to develop the capabilities of artisanal fishermen in the coastal governorates, boost up total production and encourage fishermen to keep on their long tradition.

The circle of interest also includes the children of those fishermen as it is important to ensure the succession of the fishing profession throughout generations. Therefore, the Ministry has organized a number of training workshops for the children of fishermen and received a positive feedback from the targeted families.

According to the statistics of the Ministry until the end of 2016, the Sultanate’s total production of fish amounted to about 280,000 tonnes that is a growth rate of 9 per cent compared to 2015 production that amounted to 257,000 tonnes.

There are currently 24 ports on the shores of the Sultanate contributing to the increase of the fish production from 158 thousand tonnes in 2011 to approximately 280,000 tonnes by the end of 2016 that is a growth rate of 12 per cent .

With regards to the fisheries stocks and consumable quantities, the Ministry estimated that the biomass of benthic fish is around 330,000 tonnes, of which about 95,000 tonnes can be used. Currently, used quantity is more than 63,000 tonnes. The stock of small pelagic fish is more than 1.9 million tonnes, of which 970,000 tonnes are consumable and currently only about 119,000 tonnes are used. Finfish are estimated at more than 5 million tonnes in the Arabian Sea and the Sea of Oman. More than 1.2 million tonnes can be used in many industries related to food production for fish farming.

When it comes to production components and activities related to the fisheries sector, Omanis constitute 91 per cent of the workers in this sector 47,899 Omani and 4,699 expatriates. As of the end of the year 2016 and according to the ministry’s statistics, there are 22,720 small fishing boats, 688 artisanal fishing vessels, 134 coastal fishing vessels, 4,115 fish transport vehicles, 402 marketing outlets, 59 fish markets and 6,044 fish establishments.

Regarding unloaded fish species, the statistics indicate that the small pelagic fish accounted for 51 per cent of the total artisanal catch during the first quarter of 2017 with a quantity of 47,666 tonnes and a rise of 13 per cent compared to the quantities unloaded in the same period last year. This type of fish amounted to 43 per cent of the total unloaded fish in 2016. In January 2017, the largest quantity of fish catch through artisanal fishing was recorded reaching 33,708 tonnes with value of OMR22.842 million, of which 35 per cent were from the Governorate of Al Wasta and 24 per cent from the Governorate of South A’Sharqiyah. The total value of fish unloaded from the artisanal fishing sector during last year 2016 amounted to OMR200.358 million compared to OMR169.422 million during the year 2015 representing an increase of about 18 per cent .

Fish farming is one of the solutions adopted by the Sultanate to enhance economic diversification. The sector is one of the economic diversification sectors selected for the Ninth Five-Year Plan, as the Sultanate possesses natural assets making the country an attractive hub for investors to invest in such a promising activity. The Sultanate is viewed as one of the best Arab countries in which fish farming industry can be leveraged on. In addition to the investment climate that drives economic diversification in the country, Oman enjoys political stability and security that would ensure the sustainability of the investment business.

The Sultanate is characterized by many factors that make the country an attractive place for investment in the aquaculture sector, such as the suitable marine environment with various aquatic organisms, friendly and attractive investment environment, government commitment to support aquaculture projects and a legal and institutional framework for the aquaculture sector. The country also has qualified Omani labour trained through professional fishermen institutions and public and private collages. Moreover, the Sultanate enjoys strategic location close to the most important export markets in the region and infrastructure of high standards; e.g. roads, ports, airports and fish processing plants. This among other factors will enable the Sultanate develop the fish farming sector and will contribute to the provision of national food security and employment opportunities for citizens. The development of the sector will efficiently work towards diversifying the sources of income and revitalising the national economy through implementing projects, providing support where needed and attracting foreign investment. This will result in utilizing the vast unused areas on the beaches, in addition to producing fish with high economic value in a limited period of time, producing some types of fish off season and improving the status of the stocks of some marine organisms through rehousing. The Sultanate seeks through these opportunities to establish large-scale projects in fish farming to provide jobs for the nationals, transfer expertise and skills to those workers through the application of modern technologies. The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries has been making continuous efforts to develop aquaculture in the Sultanate from various aspects whether it being scientific, research, guidance or economic. The Ministry seeks to place the fish farming sector as one of the main pillars in the development and utilisation of fisheries resources in the Sultanate and support aquaculture sector to be able to compete and meet the needs of the consumers in a manner compatible with the environment. The ministry’s target could be summarized in finding appropriate investment opportunities for aquaculture and enhancing the execution of sustainable projects that could compete and blend in with the environmental, social, economic and historical values of the Sultanate. This could be achieved through adopting the best practices in aquaculture project management and control.

Over the past years, the Ministry has sought to develop the fish farming sector in a sustainable and environmentally compatible manner, and attracting foreign investments through providing investment incentives. The Ministry also works on promoting the establishment of small self-projects of youth, creating employment opportunities for citizens and developing the capacities of the manpower, with an objective to focus on the development of local communities close to the projects and ensure their participation in the ministry’s efforts. The Ministry is also working diligently through its plans and studies in the area of aquaculture to achieve an increase in production from fish farming to 100,000 tonnes by 2023. In addition, the ministry aims at maximising the sector’s contribution to GDP, diversifying sources of income, increasing the competitiveness of the Sultanate, enhancing sectors related to fish farming and providing additional job opportunities for citizens by about 11,000 jobs.

As part of the Sultanate’s efforts to develop this vital activity, the Ministry has carried out scientific research that provided the basis for the commercial growth in the field, helped identify and allocate fish farming sites, in coordination with the competent authorities and facilitated the publication of an atlas for suitable aqua cultural sites and issuance of the aquaculture regulations.

The ministry has also formed a committee for aquaculture that consists of a number of relevant government entities. Furthermore, many strategic studies have been conducted, in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), one of which is the Strategic Plan for a Sustainable Aquaculture Development. In order to develop the infrastructure of the sector, the Ministry has established the Aquaculture Development Department to deal with investment applications and develop the sector in a sustainable manner. The Fish Farming Centre was also established to carry out scientific research, as well as the Omani Company for Aquaculture Development.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries pursues fish marketing and investment system development in the Sultanate in order to boost up the quality of fish, provide fish products to the consumer and contribute to ensuring food security and desired contribution percentage to the gross domestic product, helping the Sultanate achieve its economic diversification goals.

In this regard, the Ministry has developed a plan to improve the efficiency of the fish marketing system, renovate existing fish markets, enhance the management and operation of fish markets, establish modern markets (wholesale and retail), design an integrated management system, as well as encourage local and foreign fisheries investments.

Statistics show that the Sultanate’s fish production in 2016 amounted to about 280,000 tonnes with a growth rate of 9 per cent compared to 2015. The total production value was estimated at OMR225 million, an increase of (18.7 per cent ) compared to the total production value for the year 2015. The total quantities of fish unloaded in local fish markets in the Sultanate amounted to about 128,000 tonnes for the year 2016.

The Ministry also worked to regulate marketing procedures and fish markets in the governorates of the Sultanate, most importantly the wholesale markets, due to the fact that they are viewed to be a meeting point for all fishermen and carriers to meet and sell their products. Besides, the buyers from wholesalers in retail markets, owners of companies, restaurants and hotels visit such markets frequently. In addition to the wholesale, the Ministry exerted efforts to develop retail markets in the Sultanate’s different governorates and wilayats.

The number of fish markets supervised by the ministry is estimated at (59) markets distributed across the Sultanate, including central markets, sub-wholesale markets, retail markets, wholesale halls and local shops. The central wholesale market in Al Falaij, which is the most up-to-date wholesale market, is considered one of the most important markets in Oman as it has all the facilities to ensure the best control of fish quality. The market uses a modern electronic system for sales and purchases. It also provides good environment for investors in the field of fish marketing, limits the direct exportation of fish products and regulates the supply and demand in other markets of the Sultanate. Al Falaij Central Market contributes to the availability of fish products in the local markets, thus stabilising the prices of many fish types during the last years.

The marketing outlets vary from fish markets to fish products shops and seafood sales departments in shopping centres. These outlets play a significant role in providing fishery products to the local consumer of various governorates in the Sultanate. The seafood departments in shopping centres are able to provide properly conserved fishery products unlike fish markets. They preserve the quality and safety of the product and they are able to provide better choices for the consumer whether in terms of product type (fresh, frozen, dried, salted, canned), quantity, type of fish, service (cleaning and cutting, packaging, icing). Such departments also provide fish products throughout the day, which can suit the timing of the consumer.

The results of the fishery establishments inventory project for 2009 showed the existence of (70) shops distributed across the Sultanate. By the end of 2016, the number increased to about (402) shops.

As part of the efforts, the Ministry organizes an annual program with the collaboration of the private sector; namely fish processing and marketing companies and investors (fish carriers). The program aims to distribute fish products in local markets and seafood departments in shopping centres, especially during times the supply is low e.g. Ramadhan and summer season. The supply may decrease due to the weather conditions in some areas close to the Arabian Sea.

As for exports, the volume of fish exported increased from 2012 to 2016 by 30 per cent , with export volume reaching 152,000 tonnes, higher than 2015 by 15 per cent and with a total value of OMR72 million.

Export outlets vary in value and quantity. While the volume of exports through the Industrial Port of Sohar during the year 2016 was about (42,000) tonnes at a value of (OMR14.6 million), the amount of exports through Muscat International Airport in the same year amounted to (484) tonnes at a value of (OMR1.7 million). Exports through land borders amounted to (90,000) tonnes with value of (OMR51) million, in addition to 18,309 tonnes through Raysut Port with value of OMR5 million.

As part of the efforts, the Ministry has worked on regulating exports and providing fish in the local market through issuing decisions regulating the exportation of fish and identifying their types from time to time. These resolutions indicate the types of living aquatic resources that are prohibited for export and certain types that can be exported in certain percentages provided that a percentage of the production is marketed through local markets.

Due to the importance of the value-added fishery products, ministerial decisions allow companies that have quality control numbers to export fisheries products of added value, which can be purchased from wholesale markets approved by the ministry.

In the field of fish processing, the ministry has endeavoured to promote and encourage fish investments both in terms of setting regulations and legislations or investing in infrastructure e.g. fish markets, cooling stores and ice processing units.

In order to attract foreign investments, the ministry, in coordination with the Special Economic Zone Authority at Duqm (SEZAD), has worked on the integration and regulation of the roles and responsibilities of the two entities, ensuring the elimination of any obstacles that could face the investors and facilitating the procedures to grant licenses and approvals for fish projects.

The efforts exerted during 2016 have led to positive results reflected in an increase in the number of existing projects in the fisheries downstream compared to previous years. The number of fish factories in the Sultanate up to 2016 reached over 114 factories compared to 2015, with (13) new factories inaugurated only last year. The number of factories with fish quality control certificate is (27) factories, an increase of (4) factories compared to 2015. Besides, 24 approvals were issued for the mentioned activities.
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