The first juvenile fish from the Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Centre for Marine Research in Umm Al Quwain will be released this year, it was announced at the Agra ME conference in Dubai yesterday.
“We will see our first fish from the hatchery by the end of the year,” said Dr Rashid bin Fahad, the Minister of Environment and Water on the sidelines of the Agra ME conference in Dubai. “This marine research centre is not all about self-sufficiency, it is about business.”
The UAE’s first hatchery and marine research centre is expected to help fishermen and commercial enterprises and grow the aquaculture sector.
The minister said the first phase has an investment of Dh75 million to produce fingerlings (juvenile fish), which will be used for restocking programmes in the Gulf and the sustainable development of aquaculture in the UAE. “Ideally we would like to convert fishermen to fish farmers,” he said.
Industry specialists said that historically fish farms in the UAE suffered from lack of investment offered by finance houses and lack of raw materials. Fingerlings and juvenile fish had to be imported as well as the feed which made the start-up and running costs prohibitive.
“It’s very difficult to put debt on to an aquaculture project in the UAE,” said Panagiotis Tountas, the operations manager of Fish Farm UAE. “Long term, with an equity share, it makes sense but short term the return on investment is not evident and that is why financing will not come from banks.”
However, there is an urgent need to boost aquaculture locally and globally because of rising populations.
A World Bank report estimates that in 2030 nearly two-thirds of seafood will be farm-raised.
The basic economics of any investment means that there is not only local demand but also a massive export market.
“Demand outstrips supply locally and globally,” said Kaushal Dayal, consulting director at KPMG UAE. “Per capita consumption for all fish has increased, regardless of the population increase, while local production has decreased.”
Meanwhile, fish farming has met mixed success in the UAE.
Emirates AquaTech Caviar Farm in Abu Dhabi already produces 35 tonnes of caviar and 700 tonnes of sturgeon meat, but cold water fish in an intemperate climate is a challenge.
“[With] most fish farming is carried out in fresh water on land, the UAE has an advantage,” said Erik Hempel, a spokesman for the Nor Fishing Foundation in Norway. “Norway began its aquaculture programme in 1970 and today it produces 1.2 million tonnes of salmon every year. With government and private investment, something similar could happen here.”
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