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1.1 Benefits of fish and shellfish to the consumer
1.2 Characteristics of consumption in the region
1.3 Annual consumption of fish and shellfish
1.4 Gross market data
1.5 Specific market data
1.6 Information for the trade
1.7 Technical assistance projects in the sub-sector

1.1 Benefits of fish and shellfish to the consumer

One prime reason for aquaculture is to supply and offer a choice of low-cost animal protein to meet consumer demand. Within the Middle East region as described there is no real shortage of protein, with all countries having a combined feed supply of fish and meat of over 20 kg per caput/annum. Iraq and Iran with the largest populations in the area have the most pressing need to provide additional low cost protein.

A diet containing sufficient protein to maintain health is of primary importance. However, an increased per caput consumption of fish and shellfish in any region will benefit health. Aquatic animals contain a high level of protein (17-20%), with an amino-acid profile similar to that of meat from land animals. The flesh of fish is therefore readily digestible and immediately utilizable by the human body. Compared with land animals (with some exceptions, such as shellfish), aquatic animals have a far higher percentage of edible flesh, and there is little wastage.

The flesh of aquatic animals is a source of minerals, such as calcium, iron and phosphorus, as well as trace elements and vitamins. Marine species are particularly rich in iodine. The fatty-acid content is high in polyunsaturates, and particularly those which are attributed to reduce blood cholesterol.

1.2 Characteristics of consumption in the region

Fish consumption in the region has some distinct characteristics. These are mainly due to the fishery resource and demography of the countries. The region can be defined as follows:

- coastal countries where fish is comparatively abundant and populations are mainly coastal (Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE, and PDRY) but whose populations are relatively small;

- countries with relatively large coastal and inland populations (Iran and Saudi Arabia);

- countries with larger inland populations and comparatively small fish resources (Iraq, Jordan, and YAR).

The supply of food products from livestock and fish is generally sufficient for the whole region. According to FAO Food Balance Sheets for 1985, the total annual food supply of meat and fish for human consumption per caput is:

- below 30 kg in 2 countries (Iran and YAR),
- over 30 kg and below 60 kg in 3 countries (Iran, Jordan, and PDRY),
- over 60 kg in 3 countries (Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and UAE),
- data are insufficient for Bahrain, Oman, and Qatar.

The countries of Oman and PDRY have rich coastal marine fisheries resources and have populations living predominantly along the coast; on the other hand the countries of Jordan, Iraq, and Iran have the majority of their populations living inland and with relatively well developed agriculture.

Only in PDRY does consumption of fish exceed consumption of meat. In all other countries the consumption of fish is between 4 and 30% of the total food supply of meat and fish.

1.3 Annual consumption of fish and shellfish

Although the total fisheries catch for the region during 1982 to 1984 (average 444 333 t) was sufficient to cover the fish consumption (424 682 t), 28% of the fisheries catch was not utilized for human consumption and the majority was sun-dried for animal feed or fertilizer, or converted into fish meal. During the same period 138 240 t of fishery products were imported and only 33 513 t exported.

The annual consumption of fish and shellfish for the region averages 5.11 kg per caput per annum, which is less than half the average figure of 12.1 kg for world consumption.

The demographic characteristics of the countries are reflected in the annual fish consumption figures which vary considerably within the region. The data on the yearly supply of fish for human consumption per caput (from the FAO Provisional Food Balance Sheet of Fish and Fishery Products) during the years 1982-1984 are summarized in Table 1.

Fish consumption patterns changed significantly between 1980 and 1983 with an overall increase in annual fish consumption per caput and with over 3 kg increase registered in Oman, UAE, and PDRY. However, a decrease in consumption was registered in Bahrain, Iran, Kuwait, and YAR.

1.4 Gross market data

The total population of the region described was 83 184 000 in 1985. The individual populations of the countries range from Iran with over 40 million to Qatar with only 275 000. The UAE is a union of small independent states. The populations of the various countries are given in Table 1.

Due to the oil resources of the region some of the countries are comparatively rich. This wealth increased rapidly throughout the 1950s and 1960s as the price of oil and quantity of oil pumped increased; however, oil prices dropped during the 1970s which reduced GNPs. Since then many oil-producing countries have diversified into industrial production (Saudi Arabia) and investment (Kuwait).

The cumulated Gross National Product of the region in 1985 amounted to approximately US$ 281.31 billion (see Table 2).

Due to the comparatively low population of these countries they include some of the wealthiest in the world in terms of GNP per caput (see Table 2). In world ranking the UAE is the richest, with Kuwait fourth, Saudi Arabia sixteenth and Oman twenty-second among the wealthiest populations.

The relative wealth of some countries, together with a national commitment to build infrastructure (roads, airports, etc.) within the country and to diversify out of oil-based industries, has led to the immigration of large populations of temporary expatriate workers. This has influenced the statistics for population growth within the region, giving UAE, Saudi Arabia and Oman, for example, the highest population growth rates in the world.

The population growth rates for the countries during the years 1973 to 1985 are also given in Table 2.

The expatriate population of certain countries is quite substantial, particularly within the GCC countries, and is estimated to be between 15 and 20% of the total population of these six countries. Increased industrialization has resulted in the immigration of large numbers of non-Arab expatriate workers from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Philippines, and Arab expatriate workers from the Yemen, Egypt, and Lebanon. This has increased fish consumption figures and influenced consumer demand for non-indigenous fish species, such as tilapia, and introduced new fish preparation methods and new eating habits.

National and individual wealth has also influenced fish and shellfish consumption. In some countries it has increased the purchasing power for imported fish and fishery products, including luxury processed products.

The preference throughout these countries is generally for fresh fish. However, in recent years chilled and frozen fish have become widely accepted and are now sold through retail shops and supermarkets. Cured fish are also popular but mainly in remote areas. In Iraq smoked carp (masgoof) is popular and commands a high price, and generally freshwater fish are preferred and fetch higher prices than marine species. In Iran, a brackishwater cyprinid, kutum, commands the highest price, but salmon, trout, carp (common and Chinese), and sturgeon are also popular.

Fish species preference is to some extent based on traditional availability. In the countries bordering the Red Sea, rabbitfish, groupers, mullet, snappers, emperors, and shrimps are popular, whereas in countries bordering the Gulf, rabbitfish, pomfret, groupers, shrimp, and lobsters are popular, and command high prices (see Table 3).

1.5 Specific market data

In most of these eleven Middle East countries, with free markets and flexible price policies, fish are normally auctioned at the landing site at a wholesale or retail market. The price of fish is generally market driven depending on supply and demand.

In general, government participation in marketing operations is limited to the provision of markets, market facilities, and other related services, and the authorities rarely intervene in the daily pricing processes. There are exceptions, such as PDRY, where the Government controls most of the production, marketing, and pricing of fish. In Iraq the Government enforces fixed price arrangements in an effort to keep fish prices to the consumer as low as possible.

Traditionally most fish markets were sited near the fish landing areas but recently fish markets have been modernized or constructed next to other central markets in the larger inland cities. General economic development and urbanization has resulted in the construction of improved infrastructure facilities, including ice plants, cold stores, communication networks, refrigerated trucks and good roads to allow quick transportation of fish from landing areas to inland populations. Distribution of fish is also improving between neighbouring countries in the region with improved road links and comprehensive air freighting networks by airline companies.

Recently the respective government agencies responsible for fisheries (sometimes in joint venture with private investors) have set up fish marketing and retail companies, such as Bahrain Fishing Project, Saudi Fisheries Company, Oman National Fisheries Company, United Fisheries of Kuwait, Qatar National Fishing Company, and Iran Shilat Fish Marketing.

The Middle East region as described is a net importer of fish and fishery products (see Table 4). Data on interregional trade between countries are not reliable as records are not always kept. A large proportion of fish imported into member countries of the GCC is from Oman, while Kuwait re-exports a significant quantity.

Fish and fishery products imported into the region are fresh, chilled, and frozen. Among the many imports are a variety of shrimp, fish (such as pomfrets and mackerels), canned, cured, dried, or smoked fish (such as sardines, tuna, and mackerels), prepared and preserved Crustacea and molluscs, and other fishery delicacies, particularly caviar.

A major share of imports is from developing countries in South and Southeast Asia, South America, and Africa. Imports of frozen fish come from Korea, Thailand, Philippines, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Argentina, and from Arab countries, such as Morocco, Somalia, YAR, Egypt, PDRY, and Sudan.

The region also exports fish and fishery products, with shrimp, lobster, cuttlefish, squid, abalone, and caviar being some of the important items. The largest market for Arab fishery products is Japan, with exports of frozen shrimp from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, frozen lobster from Oman, frozen cuttlefish from PDRY, Oman, and UAE, frozen sea-bream and other fish from Oman, and dried or salted fish from PDRY. These exports alone are valued at over US$ 12.5 million. In addition Iran exports approximately 150 t/annum of caviar with a current value of US$ 20 million.

1.6 Information for the trade

The principal marketing information service in the region is INFOSAMAK, although it does not differentiate aquaculture products as yet. INFOSAMAK assists the fishing industry and governments in the region by establishing contacts between buyers and sellers of fish products, and providing technical information and advice on post-harvest aspects of fisheries, such as handling, processing, equipment selection, and quality assurance. INFOSAMAK is based in Bahrain, and its working languages are English, Arabic, and French.

INFOSAMAK is one of four regional services (in Africa, Asia/Pacific, Latin America, in addition). This network of services produces a fortnightly news bulletin, called Trade News, in English, French, Spanish and Arabic. This deals with prices, cold storage holdings, short-term market trends, and business opportunities. The network also publishes a two-monthly magazine called INFOFISH International (incorporating Marketing Digest) in English, which contains articles of market analysis, new products, processing, packaging, equipment, and other aspects of fisheries including aquaculture with summaries in the other three languages. Again, as yet, little information is relevant to aquaculture in the region.

A fifth member of the service is the FAO computerized system of fish marketing called GLOBEFISH. This database stores original information collected by INFOSAMAK and the other regional services on such things as production and trade statistics, price series, the supply and demand situation, information on aquaculture, investment, joint ventures, and general economic data relevant to fisheries. Specific searches are made on request. FAO also produces Globefish Highlights, which is a quarterly analysis of medium trends. It is based on the information in the databank and is distributed as a supplement to the Trade News (above) in four languages.

Annual fishery statistics are also stored on an FAO database called FISHDAB. As yet aquaculture statistics are not separated.

The Arab Federation of Fish Producers is based in Baghdad, Iraq, and was established to encourage fish production, development, and trade between Arab countries. It publishes a regular journal and some studies and reports. The United Fisheries of Kuwait and the Saudi Fisheries Company also publish promotional material such as posters and books of commercial fish species, recipes, etc.

The Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research produces technical reports on aquaculture and fisheries, some of which deal with fish consumption and marketing in Kuwait. A number of other marketing studies have been conducted for cultured species as part of feasibility studies for aquaculture ventures in Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Eurofish Report is a fortnightly review (published in the United Kingdom) of European fisheries and world fishing news. In addition to items of current news in the industry, including aquaculture, it contains data of supplies and prices of commodities, including aquaculture products.

Many of the international markets relevant to the interests of the region are covered by Seafood Business (USA), Seafood International (UK), Seafood Leader (USA), and II Pesce (Italy). All these commercial publications are available through subscription and, in addition to prices and market trends, etc., often have relevant articles about aquaculture production worldwide.

1.7 Technical assistance projects in the sub-sector

The main project in the region supporting fish trade, identifying markets, etc., is INFOSAMAK. INFOSAMAK was established by UNDP/FAO to help 21 Arab countries. It has 13 active members of which six are in this region as described, namely, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, PDRY, and YAR.

INFOSAMAK was established in 1986 as a regional project and part of a worldwide fish marketing and promotion network (see 1.6), and provides guidance for such investments and production decisions, and identifies important opportunities in export-oriented fisheries and aquaculture. INFOSAMAK can, on request, provide specific advice with regard to handling and marketing of fish and aquaculture products.

Two other UNDP/FAO regional projects have covered the region but recently ended. A project on fisheries development in the Gulf involved Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and UAE produced studies on stock assessment, fish marketing, and prospects for market development in the Gulf area. Nothing was directly specific to aquaculture products. The other project, for the Development of Fisheries in Areas of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden covered the bordering countries including Jordan, Saudi Arabia, YAR, and PDRY from the region; Djibouti, Egypt, and Sudan were the other participating members. This project conducted socio-economic and research related studies for Jordan, YAR, and PDRY, and included aquaculture components.

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