The Middle East’s largest seafood factory is set to bolster food security, cut down on waste and open up fresh opportunities for home-grown produce.
Located in Dubai Industrial City, the recently opened 13,000 square metre plant will handle a quarter of all seafood consumed in the UAE, sourced in large part from local farms.
From sheri to hamour and king fish to shrimp, the factory, run by food distribution company Asmak, aims to process 18,000 tonnes of fresh and frozen fish in its first year.
At full capacity, it can handle up to 60,000 tonnes of fish for wholesale, food service and retail.
The sprawling site was officially opened this week in the presence of Mariam Al Mheiri, Minister of State for Food Security.
Mamoon Othman, chief executive of International Holding Company, said workers break, smoke and fillet fresh fish on site.
“We import cold water fish from north Europe, South Asia and the Mediterranean, but we have a big focus on the local catch too,” he said.
“We decided to open our biggest seafood factory in Dubai because of its centrality.
“The main driver behind it is to ensure food security within the region, with a big focus on availability and utilisation.”
About half of the fish on site is processed and distributed fresh, the majority of which is bought in from fish farms.
A lot of the produce, including salmon, Nile perch and tilapia, is filleted into exact portions to reduce household food waste.
“Minimising food waste is a big part of our mission,” Mr Othman said.
“We utilise about 90 to 95 per cent of the whole fish and we sell off fish oil for medicinal purposes and other parts for fertilisers.
“The fish industry is moving towards sustainability, so more than 90 per cent of the fish we handle comes from farms, overseas, so the waste produced from by-catch is minimal.
“About 10 per cent comes straight from the water, which we mainly buy in from local fishermen.”
The UAE is one of the biggest fish-consuming countries in the world, eating over double the global average at 33 kilograms per capita.
As more people move towards a flexitarian diet and reduce their meat consumption, Mr Othman said opening its largest fishery in Dubai made sense.
He said there is currently a huge focus on “superfoods and healthy foods”, so as people convert from carbs and meat to vegetables and fish, supplying fresh and local is a must.
Sustainable food production in the Emirates has been a major focus in recent years as the country seeks to reduce its reliance on imports.
In the next few years, he said, the factory aims to buy more fish locally.