Saudi Arabia Aims at Fish Self-Sufficiency

As Saudi Arabia has given up its subsidized wheat program and the dream of cereal self-sufficiency, it tries to attain it in fish. The initiative is led by the Saudi Agricultural Development Fund (SADF).

Currently Saudi Arabia produces 40 percent of its local fish needs and imports the remaining 60 percent.

The initiative will focus on the Red Sea. Like the Gulf coast it is already overfished by all intents and purposes. Not only by Saudi fishermen, but also by international fishing fleets.

Hence, the initiative will need to concentrate on giant fish cultivation projects. One such project already exists with the National Prawn Company (NPC) in Al-Leith, south of Jeddah.

NPC produces shrimps mainly for export, as shrimp is not as popular in the local diet, even though the Hanbali School of law, which is prevalent in Saudi Arabia, allows their consumption, contrary to the Hanafi School of law

NPC also intends to expand abroad in Mauritania, and -possibly- in East African countries.

While fish farms may alleviate the problem of overfishing, there are potential conflicts with competing land uses (the shrimp projects are in the sabkha salt marshes, not in the open sea) and there are some misgivings about land allocation to such projects among local people as I found out during a consultancy project in 2009.

On the other hand such projects can provide an economic impetus to poor and underdeveloped rural areas along the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia.

Like the extensive livestock industry of Saudi Arabia, it imports about 40 percent of globally traded barley, the fish farms rely on imported feedstock and need to import fish meal. Hence, any increase in self-sufficiency in fish will increase import dependence elsewhere.

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