Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Oman running out of fish?

There have been many reports lately about the large price rises and unavailability of fish in Oman. Oman used to have one of the world's best fisheries, with lots of coast line (3200km), nutrient rich waters, and the large expanse of the Indian Ocean beyond. Omani have fished for millenia.

But now, Oman is having to import fish from India in order to supply local demand. See todays report in the
Times of Oman .

Oman importing fish. This is crazy. And is another example of cheap talk and market intervention from the responsible ministry in an attempt to be seen to do something rather than actually fixing the root causes. Which is a pity, because Dr Hamad bin Said Al Oufi, the Undersecretary, actually has a PhD in Marine Biology and knows a lot about fish. There are laws in place on many fish species, rules banning dumping of by-catch or finning of sharks, seasons on abalone & lobster, observers on Foreign industrial vessels, etc. But enforcment is weak. What a surprise. And the Foreign companies are protected by powerful local sponsors who take their cut and make sure the Ministry of Fisheries is controlled by people sympathetic to increasing the quotas for the big industrial fish vacuum cleaners. Thats probably why Dr. Al Oufi is not the Minister...

Landings of Tuna, Kingfish, shark, lobster, etc etc are all significantly down in recent years, as over-fishing and reduction in mangroves take their toll.

So what should be done?
Oman should get rid of the Foreign industrial fishing vessels. Officially they catch over 20% of the total tonnage harvest reported. But the incentive to catch more than their quota and offload in international waters while the observer is 'sleeping' must be huge. Their interest is to catch as much as possible, and they have little interest in the long term sustainability of Oman's fisheries. At present they only pay 12% tax. Could their be something fishy in the Ministry of Fisheries?

Also there should be controls on local near-shore fishing, principally by having some zero-fishing marine reserves to preserve the hatcheries. And educate the local fishermen on how to more sustainable catch fish, enforcing minimum net mesh sizes, cleaning up lost nets. And do more to encourage fish farming. We could use the current, mostly wasted, shark catch to feed them.


  1. Bravo!!!

    I agree, it's rediculous that we ever sold off our fisheries to foreign trawlers. Also rediculous is how much of our catch caught by locals makes it's way up to Dubai, where I gather the price is much higher.

    We should be treating the fish as a natural resource, like we treat oil. The beauty of the fish resource = if the fishery is managed properly, it's a resource that will be with us in 200 years, long after the last drop of oil has gone.

  2. There are many new ways of replishing stock to the ocean. Texas A&M, N.C.State and other southern universities in USA have research on growing many ocean fish fingerlings either right on the ocean front using sea water, or inland using fresh water. It is being done in Israel.
    If it is done inland, you can even grow 'chemical free', 'soil-less' vegetables of high quality, simulaneously.

  3. I work with some fish exporters and 2007 has been a horrible year. Forget about all those years when there's been massive amounts of Omani fish that find their way to export markets while Oman's fish market is kept empty, in the past year the catch has simply disappeared. The evil trawlers have left Oman's shores and went elsewhere because they don't fish here in large quantities anymore. Some of the large fish suppliers have been importing fish for months, long before the ministry's announcement.

    I don't think Oman ever had enough fish for it to be considered a natural resource. Whatever we had has been mismanaged and squandered. Whoever was the minister at the time got himself a lot of credit bringing trawlers. The trawlers' agents made lots of money. The government made money selling fishing rights. Now the fish are gone, the trawlers are gone, we're left importing fish, and the current minister of fisheries has a huge mess on his hands. Unlike those who were their before him, he has to actually come up with a solution. I wouldn't want to be in his shoes.

  4. Hi, are any of these fishing companies owned by ministers by any chance? Hmmm?

    I's be interested to know where you got the stats from please. I'm looking to do my dissertation on Urban Renewal in Muscat bu have been unable to find anything.

    Merci beacoup


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