The UN Food and Agriculture Organization says building a large scale fishing industry involves a mixture of three things — technology, environment and business.
Lionel Dabbadie, the senior fisheries and aquaculture officer at the international body is tasked with helping governments across the Gulf boost their seafood sectors.
“We work at a technical level with regional governments,” Dabbadie, originally from the French island of Reunion but now based in Abu Dhabi, told Arab News.
He added: “We try to identify business models that can work in the Gulf and how countries can generate economies of scale, that includes the private sector, to improve profitability.
Saudi Arabia, for instance, plans to attract over $4 billion of foreign and local investment into its fishing industry as part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 scheme to diversify the economy.
According to Dabbadie, Gulf seas are challenging for aquaculture because of their warm temperatures and high concentrations of salt.
He said: “We need to identify where it makes sense to introduce aquaculture – and then develop business models in terms of the most appropriate species, and what technologies can be used to maximize profitability.”
Dabbadie lists three conditions for a successful seafood industry in a Gulf country.
“The first is to have suitable technology”, he added. “What works in China will not necessarily work in another part of the world. It could be an offshore cage, an inland farming operation using a combination of solar panels and tanks, or a water recycling (fish farming) technique known as a recirculated aquaculture system. The technology must fit both nature and people.”
He added: “Then you need what we call an ‘enabling environment’, for example, large volumes of fish seed and fish feed – in the thousands of tons – and a logistics and supply chain.
“And finally, you need a healthy business culture in which companies exchange knowledge and information and can tackle the challenges they're going to face.”
Dabbadie believes a successful fishing industry in the region needs cooperation.
“This will avoid wastage of human and natural and financial resources, enable faster results, build up regional trade and prevent disease from entering the supply chain from other parts of the world”, he said.
The UN officer also recommends government support for smaller firms.
He added: “2022 is the international year of artisanal fisheries. This is aimed at highlighting the fact that most of the fish produced today comes from small firms. But they are not very well recognized, so we are organizing several conferences this year to highlight the importance of the sector.”
Dabbadie is optimistic about the commercial potential for Saudi Arabia’s aquaculture and fisheries industries, particularly when around 179 million tons of aquatic food are produced globally per year.
“Saudi Arabia currently accounts for a small portion (around 140,000 tons a year, according to government data) – but it also means a lot of room for growth.”