THE GCC MARKET
The Middle East’s demand for seafood has grown significantly due to its economic development, market demand and effective distribution. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), seafood consumption in the Middle East is already way above the world average and increasing rapidly.
The GCC region in particular (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE), has seen a substantial rise in per capita seafood consumption over recent years.
There is an increasing focus in the Middle East on healthier eating and it is acknowledged that seafood provides a healthy balanced diet.
In general, fresh whole (round) fish is the main product form required locally. In recent years whole individually chilled, frozen and processed fish products such as fillets, cubes, pre-cooked, etc. have become widely accepted.
Some higher-value species are being taken off the menu in many GCC restaurants because of supply shortages. This means that customers cannot buy the fish they want, and traders cannot sell some of the highest value fish in the trade.
In the UAE Hammour usually costs between AED50 (AUD14.60) and AED70 (AUD20.40)a kilo in supermarkets other retail suppliers. Hammour fillets can cost as much as Dh110 (AUD35).
The region’s growing seafood consumption and dependence on imports makes it highly reliant on the global seafood market.
Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, the UAE and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia all import at least 70% of their seafood needs. The balance comes from local production. In 2011, out of a total of 3.4 million tonnes produced in the Middle East, 56% was from capture fisheries while 44% was contributed by aquaculture.
It is estimated that nearly two-thirds of the wild-catch is made up of species that are fished beyond sustainable levels, and many of the most valuable commercial fish are being overexploited. Hamour is fished at well over the sustainable level and najil has almost completely disappeared from local markets.
Restrictions apply in the UAE (via a Royal Decree 16 of 2010) on the catch and sale of hammour under 45cm, and seasonal fishing restrictions also apply.
With consumption likely to continue to rise, aquaculture has become the most realistic way to meet demand.
Recently, government initiatives to enhance domestic production in the region have been increasing with many Middle Eastern governments investing in aquaculture. This could position the GCC region as a global leader in aquaculture industry growth and technology development.
- The Saudi Arabian Ministry of Agriculture said in December 2013 it would inject an additional US$10.6 (€7.773) billion into aquaculture projects to produce one million tons of fish by 2030
- Oman, which has long been at the forefront of aquaculture in the Gulf region, announced that it plans to invest US$1.3 (€0.953) billion in fisheries development up to 2020.
- The Ministry of Environment in Doha, Qatar, also has plans to boost production and is building a large fish breeding farm and research center. Also, via Hassad Foods, Qatar has committed US$1billion with a focus on the acquisition and development of existing agribusiness companies.
- The UAE recently allocated US$27 million to support and finance the use of modern farming techniques