RIYADH: The Saudi International Marine Exhibition & Conference, to be held in Riyadh from Jan. 30 to Feb.1, will showcase the Kingdom’s seafood industry as a major investment draw.
While fishing has been practiced in the Gulf region for millennia, a range of new technologies and methods herald rapid growth of this sector.
A case in point is the Red Sea Aquaculture Co., operator of a shrimp and fish farm situated near the Kingdom’s southwestern port of Jazan. RSACO has invested six years of research and development into the implementation of the Biofloc system, a form of biotechnology utilizing “good” bacteria and algae to improve water quality, waste treatment and disease prevention in intensive aquaculture systems.
Aquaculture — the farming, harvesting and processing of marine products — is driven by two factors in the Kingdom.
First is the effort to reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil and to diversify its economy, with smart agriculture and food production being a key pillar of the Vision 2030 program for economic and social reform.
Second is the value of seafood as a healthy and, if managed properly, sustainable source of protein, minerals and vitamins — improved health of the Saudi population being another central aim of Vision 2030.
Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture wants to expand the Kingdom’s aquaculture sector from the current 77,000 tons to 600,000 tons per annum, while doubling per capita fish consumption from 11 kg per annum — as estimated by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization — to the global average of 22 kg by 2030.
RSACO is taking up the challenge. CEO Ziyad Al-Rahmah told Arab News: “We’re a 100 percent Saudi-owned company, with SR30 million ($8 million) worth of private investment to date.”
The company’s R and D has been evaluated by the Global Seafood Alliance, a not-for-profit organization advocating responsible seafood practices worldwide, which concluded that “implementing Biofloc technology is feasible for shrimp production in the desert environmental conditions of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
RSACO is now at the stage of soft production of shrimp and tilapia fish, with plans to reach 5,000 metric tons of marine products per annum, and is now reaching out to institutional investors to enable a fully commercial operation within a matter of months.
“Aquaculture projects are capital intensive and require large investments to reach economies of scale, with a similar business model to the supply of dairy and poultry products,” Al-Rahmah noted. “To be profitable and sustainable, an aquaculture operation must also process the raw material in order to supply value-added products to consumers. Vertical diversity is a great advantage for any producer.”
Having invested considerable time, money and faith, Al-Rahman is now confident of long-term success, not just for RSACO but for the Kingdom’s aquaculture industry as a whole.
“There is a huge potential for export of seafood produced in Saudi Arabia, mainly shellfish and fish, but also seaweed, sea cucumbers, sea urchins and many other ocean species, for markets in the Far East, Europe and America,” Al-Rahmah said.
“For example, the Red Sea is the natural habitat for a variety of crab that retails at $50 per kilo, with each grown female crab carrying five million eggs with a potential market value of $250 million.”
This has positive implications for employment in the Kingdom. With the necessary levels of investment, Saudi Arabia’s aquaculture sector could generate a broad range of technical and skilled jobs for the local workforce — another highlight of the SIMEC conference.
“Vision 2030 has set an ambitious goal for seafood production,” Al-Rahmah noted, “and this presents a great opportunity for both Saudi and foreign investors.”