JEDDAH: Saudi shrimp roam European and East Asian countries, traveling between the world’s finest restaurants and hotels, and are given a warm welcome in 32 countries.
The story behind the rise of Saudi shrimp started 36 years ago. In the 1970s, a Saudi engineer with a vision and an enthusiasm for marine products traveled to the Philippines to recruit workers for civil engineering projects in Saudi Arabia. During his stay, he went to a restaurant where the Red Sea shrimp was on the menu, which gave him the idea of establishing farms on the Red Sea coast to produce shrimp in his country.
His enthusiasm encouraged Filipino technicians to start working on the shrimp-farming project on the Red Sea. Then came the launch of the National Aquaculture Group. It is considered one of the largest integrated aquaculture projects on the Saharan coasts in the world and the largest in the Middle East and Africa. The group is also the leader in aquaculture in the Kingdom.
The group consists of a staff of nearly 3,000 employees from 32 countries who speak 19 languages; 500 of them are Saudi nationals (21 percent) and 149 of them are women. The group is a founding member of the Global Aquaculture Alliance and had a key role in the establishment of the Saudi Aquaculture Society.
Ahmed Al-Ballaa, the CEO of National Aquaculture Group, said: “The Kingdom launched Vision 2030 as a roadmap for economic and development work. The vision set the Kingdom’s general directions and policies in addition to their objectives and obligations.”
“Among these objectives is the development and expansion of the aquaculture field,” he said. “That’s where the vision is in harmony with the program of the National Agricultural Research and Development Fund under the supervision of the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture. The ministry focused on the aquaculture sector for it to become one of the Kingdom’s development branches. This comes at a time where the Kingdom is witnessing a complete renaissance in various parts of the aquaculture sector,” he said.
“This became possible due to the support of King Salman and his crown prince and their government.”
Al-Ballaa said: “The Kingdom’s fish stock is considered one of the strategic pillars of economic and social development, self-sufficiency of marine products and food security, in addition to providing job opportunities, especially in remote rural areas.”
“This can be accomplished through the development of aquaculture rules and the diversification of outputs. These objectives can also be reached by enhancing economic and marketing efficiency, benefiting from the important comparative advantages and resources found in the Kingdom. These resources are particularly found on the maritime coastlines, the solid base of expansion of the aquaculture industry.”
“The state has encouraged investment in the aquaculture sector through different strategies and policies. The latest was the government’s decision issued in September 2015. It approved the establishment of a national program to develop the fish stock sector in the Kingdom. The program is managed by the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture in collaboration with any party it sees relevant,” Al-Ballaa said.
“As a response to the growing demand for marine products due to population growth, the ministry focused on aquaculture. It pointed out its economic usefulness, profitability and necessity to provide citizens with high-quality healthy food, especially after the shift in consumption patterns.”
Al-Ballaa said that the project “is located 180 kilometers south of Jeddah in Al-Lith province. This project is one of the largest integrated marine farms in the world.”
“The group was established 35 years ago as a project that studied the possibility of shrimp farming from 1982 till 1987. It then established some private facilities to start experimenting with different kinds of shrimp. The first successful breeding was of the Indian white shrimp in 1984 followed by the breeding of Penaeus semisulcatus shrimp in 1985. The last successful breeding trial was of the Penaeus monodon shrimp in 1987.”
“To conduct more experiments, they needed private land. At the time, they had 10 hectares of land and started building 4,000-square-meter tanks. Female P. monodon shrimp were produced and completed 300 shrimp-farming cycles. The greater accomplishment came with the first shipment of farmed shrimp from Saudi Arabia to European countries in 1992,” Al-Ballaa said.
“In the light of the unprecedented success in the Saudi aquaculture sector from 1995 till 2001, the group transitioned to a new phase. It was the commercial operations phase which started with the building of a complete shrimp project.”
“The project included a nursing unit, a shrimp hatchery unit and 100 shrimp-farming tanks. It was made to have a daily shrimp production capacity of five tons. It included laboratories specialized in testing shrimp. The group then moved to the industrial phase that transformed the farm from a small operation that worked in a traditional manner to a complete industrial farm. It was built on scientific and sustainable grounds, contributed to the realization of food security and support of the national economy. The group then changed again from a shrimp-producing company to a number of companies that work to produce a complete marine-products basket. They produced shrimp, different kinds of fish such as Asian sea bass, European sea bass, Dennis fish, in addition to sea cucumber and sea algae.”
Al-Ballaa said: “In March of 2003, the late King Abdullah visited the project to inaugurate the first stage and lay the foundation stone of its second stage.”
“It is considered the main pillar of the group and its main income source. The project’s production capacity reached about 41,500 tons of shrimp in 2017, with a goal of 60,000 tons set for 2018.”
The shrimp project has 17 farms with 547 tanks. The project also includes a specialized unit for mother shrimp and larvae production units (960 larvae produced monthly equal to 32 million larvae daily). It is the largest plant in the world to process and supply shrimp with a capacity of 560 tons daily. The group is working to raise the production capacity of the plant to 700 tons daily.