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Sea wealth the key to prosperity.

Muscat: Oman's aquaculture sector has great scope for growth and the efforts that are underway to develop it can turn the country into an important aquaculture hub for the whole region, says Lorenzo M Juarez, a US-based aquaculture expert.

Juarez, past president and fellow at World Aquaculture Society and deputy director, Office of Aquaculture, National Marine Fisheries Service was in Oman to participate in a workshop organised by the US Embassy and the Sultanate's Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Wealth.

This 'speaker programme' is run by the US Department of State's Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP), where US experts are selected to deliver lectures, serve as consultants and conduct seminars.

Juarez, who spent around a week's time in Oman, said, "With 3,000 km of coastline, Oman has a strong ocean-oriented tradition, and seafood consumption is high, which carries many health advantages. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that seafood consumption in Oman is quite high, about 28 kg per person per year. This is much higher that the world's average of 17 kg/pp, and about four times higher than the US consumption of about 7 kg/pp. With wild fisheries already limited, it's unlikely that the domestic fish supply can be increased from wild fisheries, and aquaculture represents a better alternative than increased impartation to maintain per-capita consumption for a growing population."

Elucidating that Oman has the natural resources, climate, coastline, infrastructure, location, and political-economic climate to become a regional aquaculture hub, Juarez said, "The aquaculture sector in Oman is currently small, but there is great opportunity for growth and a large effort is underway to develop it and turn the country into an important aquaculture hub for the whole region.

"The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Wealth has for some time been laying the groundwork and creating the necessary support systems for an industry to establish and thrive. The fact that Oman starts with a clean slate can be seen as an advantage and an opportunity to do things right from the start. I see great opportunity for Oman in the areas of marine finfish, shellfish and shrimp. Aquaculture can become a source of safe and sustainable seafood produced in Oman, promoting food security and employment, reducing imports, and contributing to the health and wealth of the country."

Juarez says the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries has reworked aquaculture farming regulations to encourage investments, both locally and internationally.

Having been actively involved in commercial marine aquaculture and research, Juarez says that it would be beneficial for the authorities here to continue learning from the experiences of aquaculture in other countries, and to avoid the mistakes.

He advises, specifically, to promote aquaculture that is economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable. Juarez also calls for continuing to create the required frameworks for aquaculture on the policy, regulatory, legal, and financial arenas. He also favours continuous efforts to promote investment via tax, credit and import incentives and to also continue promoting ancillary infrastructure and capabilities such as feeds, genetics, hatcheries, veterinary capabilities.

"Oman should continue strengthening the virtuous circle of research, training, and industry support, or extension, that is key to the development of a domestic industry." He adds: "Paying special attention to a few, key projects that generate stories of success would go a long way towards attracting others to invest."

About Oman's aim to increase its aquaculture sector production to 220,000 tonnes by 2031, he says, "This is an ambitious, but achievable goal. Comparable rates of growth have been achieved by other countries (for example, Norway, Chile and Egypt), which strategically targeted aquaculture as an industry in the national interest.

The Omani Government has for some years been laying the foundation for this to happen and there is a strategic plan in place with realistic milestones and performance measures. The government plans to achieve this growth by bringing in the best of global technologies and know-how, by attracting foreign and national investments, by establishing ancillary support industries like hatcheries and feed producers, and by identifying suitable sites for farming and speeding up permitting procedures."

Attractive incentives

To achieve this goal, the government's focus area should be "offering attractive incentives to investment, promoting the creation of ancillary support industries (feeds, hatcheries, etc, as mentioned above), and promoting demonstration projects that generate stories of success with different species and forms of aquaculture; also, building domestic capacity and knowledgeable human resources via training," says Juarez.

Talking of his visit to the abalone breeding centre in Marbat, Salalah, Juarez says, "This was very interesting because we face similar issues with declining abalone populations in the United States, and we conduct similar studies aiming to conserve these populations.

Worldwide, abalone species are at risk, due to their high value and relatively ease of capture; they are also very sensitive to harmful algal blooms and changes in ocean conditions.

"In Salalah, the Ministry conducts studies on the local abalone species geared towards better understanding their biology and to developing stock enhancement efforts. They have already had some encouraging preliminary results. This is an area that could be explored for future cooperation and exchange with US governmental and academic institutions, not only on abalone biology and management, but also on the sharing of regulatory and enforcement experiences of abalone fisheries."

About environmental and safety standards, Juarez says, "Aquaculture has come a long way in the last 30 years and we have learned much from early experiences. Today, there are good management practices for every aquaculture system and the environmental impact can be managed and made sustainable as long as things are done in the correct way. Oman has the opportunity to learn from the global experiences of the past and to establish and brand itself as a center of excellence for sustainable, healthy aquaculture production."

Pointing out that hatchery capacity is often a bottleneck for the development of marine aquaculture, Juarez says, "Some sort of national hatchery programme would help bypass this constraint, I understand the Ministry is already working on this concept. Also, for other species, like shrimp, a bio-secure, disease-free, genetic improvement programme is one of the keys to success. This is normally too expensive for one single company to do, and therefore a national effort would promote the development of a competitive industry." Juarez, who met with several authorities here, sees several areas to follow-up.

"As you know we had a webinar from the US embassy geared towards US investors that attracted a lot of attention and participation. It could very well lead to private US and joint Omani-US investments in aquaculture. There are also leads already being pursued for training of Omanis at US academic institutions, and discussions of other training opportunities.

There are certainly many areas for scientific and technological cooperation between the two countries, and interest in US expertise and equipment.

It may be noted that the US Embassy had also organised a similar programme last year on Road Safety and is planning to organise another programme next month in October, on hereditary diseases in coordination with the concerned Omani organisations.

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Publication:Times of Oman (Muscat, Oman)
Geographic Code:7OMAN
Date:Sep 26, 2012
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