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Saudi Fisheries: The Middle East's Success Story

Asian Seafood Review Issue 1 July-August

By Asim Ghani

In 17 years, the company has transformed Saudi Arabia's traditional fishing into a modern, export-oriented industry.

Saudi Arabia is a newcomer to the seafood business, but it has already established a niche. The people who put it on the map as a seafood exporter are Saudi Fisheries Company. The firm was established in 1980 as a joint-stock company (in which the state has a 40% holding), with a paid-up capital of 100 million Saudi riyals ($27.7 million). It began operating in 1981, when it hired a trawler. Today it has 35 trawlers and a large number of fishing boats which operate in the Gulf and the Red Sea. Two other figures demonstrate the company's growth: in 1986 aquaculture accounted for 0.084% of the country's seafood production; it rose to 9% in 1995.

The company processes and packages its own products. They are marketed throughout Saudi Arabia and, increasingly, abroad. Among their foreign importers are countries belonging to the European Union, which has the toughest regulations on seafood hygiene. The company has two processing plants, in Dammam - its headquarters situated on the Gulf - and in the Red Sea port of Jizan. Each has a capacity of 90 tons a day. (Saudi Fisheries also rear freshwater fish at their farm in the inland town of Qatif.) The plants use the IQF (individual quick-freezing) technique. Their processing and packaging strictly comply with international specifications.

To distribute the products, the company runs a network of 56 retail shops in the country. (Some of them offer special services to customers, such as frying, roasting or grilling.) It also has retail counters in many supermarkets. To cover places where it has no retail shops yet, the company has a fleet of refrigerated vans. At the same time, it owns and operates the largest network of retail outlets in the Middle East.

Saudi Fisheries Company made a notable advance in 1994, when it started the Red Sea Shrimp Farm Project north of Jizan. One of the most modern in the world, it has a yearly capacity of 1,500 tons. The farm covers 10 square kilometres, with a water surface of more then 220 hectares. It produces P mouton, known as tiger prawn, and P indicus, or white shrimp. Both are native to the Red Sea. The company doesn't just work for profit. It also cares about the ecology. For removal of organic and other wastes, the outflow from the farm's rearing ponds is treated biologically-with no chemical or medical substances used. So the water drained back into the sea is ecologically safe. The rearing ponds-two metres deep and covering a hectare-are circular. The shape makes for smooth circulation, which keeps the water oxygenated. The circulation is achieved by a series of paddles. While the current generated by the devices carries away waste to the middle for drainage, fresh water is continuously admitted. Even so, the ponds' water is frequently monitored for purity.

The company plans more ventures like the Red Sea Shrimp Project. One of its other objectives is promotion of collaboration with foreign companies in production and marketing. Having franchises in Saudi Arabia, it is looking for a franchise network abroad, initially in other Arab countries. Saudi Arabia has a comprehensive policy on marine conservation. Government regulations specify fishing gear to prevent random fishing, for example, and restrict the harvesting of rarer species. Accordingly, the Saudi Fisheries Company practices responsible exploitation of marine resources.

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