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2.1 Characteristics of production in the region
2.2 Regional production data
2.3 Production systems and practices in the region
2.4 Producers in the region
2.5 Organizations of producers
2.6 Financial investment by public and private enterprises
2.7 Technical assistance projects in the sub-sector
2.8 Capital assistance projects in the sub-sector

2.1 Characteristics of production in the region

In the region there is historical evidence of traditional small-scale aquaculture activity based mainly on freshwater pond culture. Old earth fish ponds have been located in Jordan, Iraq, Iran, and PDRY, but in most cases the practices were limited to holding fish or ongrowing wild-caught fry.

In 1965 the Fisheries Departments in Jordan and Iraq started pilot-scale fish farms to test culture systems and suitable species. In 1972 the Government of Iran established a fish hatchery based on technology from USSR and started a sturgeon restocking programme. Small-scale trials on shrimp culture were started in Bahrain with assistance from the Overseas Development Administration (UK) in 1973, in Kuwait in 1975 at KISR with the assistance of Japanese technology and technicians, and in PDRY in 1978 with assistance from Nichiro Gyogyo, Japan. Small-scale trials on tilapia culture were conducted in Saudi Arabia in 1979, and on rabbitfish and mullet in UAE in 1981. However, it was not until the late 1970s and early 1980s that large-scale aquaculture development took place in the region.

The rate of development has, to some extent, been constrained by the geography of the area which is not particularly suitable for aquaculture. In countries such as Iran and Iraq, where there are comparatively large freshwater resources, large-scale freshwater fish culture has developed; both these countries also carry out large-scale restocking programmes for their lakes, rivers, reservoirs, and open waters. In Jordan and Saudi Arabia, where freshwater resources are limited, development has been slower.

Development has also been constrained by technical ability and resources. Good associated research programmes exist in Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and UAE with experimental and pilot production of fish and shrimp in intensive systems. Some aquaculture capabilities exist in Qatar and PDRY but there is no known aquaculture research taking place in YAR.

Development of aquaculture is also dependent on the suitability of the coastal areas and length of coastline. Countries with over 500 km of coastline bordering the Red Sea or Gulf (Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and UAE) are particularly suited for marine development. In both the Red Sea and Gulf there are shallow lagoons protected by coral reefs which are appropriate for cage and pen/enclosure culture. Low lying coastal areas are also suitable for pond and tank culture and in the oil-producing countries, where electricity, energy and oil are relatively cheap, allowing pumped water systems to be profitable.

A summary of the typical geographic resources of the countries in the region for types of aquaculture may be summarized as follows:

Length of coastline

Land area

Inland waters





1 833

1 623 930




434 934

3 500**



96 610

N. A.



17 818



1 750

212 739




11 436


Saudi Arabia

2 226

2 240 000




83 600




195 000



1 550

291 450


N. A. Figures not available
* Dams and rivers
** Rivers, lakes, reservoirs and deep marshes

In addition, the waters of both the Red Sea and Gulf are hypersaline (35-40 ppt), which is an additional constraint as this limits the number of species available for culture.

2.2 Regional production data

The FAO Fishery Statistics Unit has only received aquaculture production data from two countries in the region, Iran (in 1984, 1985, and 1986) and Saudi Arabia (in 1986). Other data have been collected from official government sources (Iraq), from reports of visiting consultants (Jordan, UAE, PDRY), published articles (Bahrain, Iran, Oman, Kuwait); there is no known aquaculture activity in Qatar and YAR.

The best estimate of annual aquaculture production in the region is approximately 14 989 t during the period 1986/7 (see Table 5). The largest proportion of this came from Iran with approximately 10 000 t, and Iraq with 4 564 t. Small quantities were cultured in Jordan with an estimated 70 t, Saudi Arabia with 36 t, and UAE with 14 t. A detailed breakdown of the species presently cultured commercially, produced on a pilot-scale or experimental production, or under research is given in Table 6. Common carp is cultured in the largest quantities with an estimated 13 584 t in 1986, followed by trout with 1 000 t, and tilapia with 83 t. A number of other species are cultured but in lesser quantities.

Iran and Iraq produce large numbers of fish fingerlings for restocking which contribute greatly to the inland fisheries catch, but the exact proportion of catch attributable to hatchery seed is difficult to assess. The 1986 FAO fisheries statistics quote the inland fisheries finfish production for Iran to be 30 294 t, and for Iraq to be 15 564 t.

In Iran the estimated present annual production of freshwater fish from aquaculture is 10 000 t, consisting mainly of common carp, but also some Chinese carps (bighead, silver and grass), and approximately 1 000 t of trout. Large numbers of kutum (Rutilus frisii kutum), Chinese carps (Cyprinid spp.), sturgeon (five Acipenser spp.) and Caspian salmon (Salmo trutta caspius) are released annually into rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and open waters and contribute to the inland fisheries catch. This is also the case for sturgeon; over 2 million fingerlings are released annually and contribute to the average sturgeon catch of 1 774 t (1980-85). This fishery produces approximately 250 t of caviar annually, of which about 150 t is exported with a value of US$ 20 million.

In Iraq there has been a gradual increase in aquaculture production from an estimated 3800 t in 1983, 4000 t in 1984, 4 476 t in 1985, rising to 4 564 t in 1986. This production is predominantly common carp. Recent changes in government policy toward aquaculture are encouraging the rapid development of fish farming. A large number of fingerlings are produced by hatcheries for restocking. These consist mainly of silver and grass carps (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix and Ctenopharyngodon idella); the grass carps are stocked in irrigation and drainage ditches. There is also a small number of indigenous fish cultured to restore the inland fishery in certain areas. This contributes to an estimated 16 000 t inland fisheries catch in 1985.

For Jordan there are no official statistics but estimates indicate that approximately 20 t of carp (Cyprinus carpio) and 50 t of tilapia (the hybridized red strain) were produced in 1987.

In Saudi Arabia statistics show a national production of 36 t for 1986, comprising 34 t of Cilapia (Oreochromis niloticus and O. spiluris), 1.6 t of rabbitfish (Siganus rivulatus) and 100 kg of penaeid shrimp (Penaeus monodon). This production rapidly increased during 1987 due to the establishment of many new commercial farms for tilapia, and the estimated production in 1987 was 330 t.

In Oman the only existing commercial aquaculture farm was established at Sur in 1984. The first production of shrimp (P. monodon) was approximately 100 kg in 1986, but the future of the farm is uncertain.

2.3 Production systems and practices in the region

A summary of production systems and practices of the major farmed species is given in Table 6.

The majority of fish cultured within the region are farmed semi-intensively in earthen ponds and concrete raceways. In Saudi Arabia and Oman ponds are lined with impervious material to prevent seepage. Average annual harvest rate from earth-pond culture in the region is 2.2 t/ha.

In Iran there are estimated to be 4 000 ha of carp fish ponds in operation with annual production rates of 2 to 3 t/ha, and 60 ha of trout ponds and raceways producing 1 000 t/year. In addition to this Shilat, (the National Fisheries and Fish Culture Section of the Department of Fisheries), is stocking 300 000 ha of rivers, lakes, and reservoirs with hatchery reared fish. The aim of the Government is to increase the productivity of the fish ponds as well as increase the total pond area to 35 000 ha within the next 10 years, giving a projected annual harvest of 100 000 t/year.

In Iraq there are 2 625 ha of fish ponds with an approximate annual production of 2 t/ha, giving 4 564 t of carp production in 1986. In 1985 a production of 33 t was recorded from cages moored in a freshwater reservoir. Both the State Board of Fisheries, part of the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, and the Iskandaria Agricultural Company, a private company, are promoting the development of small-scale fish farming in Iraq, particularly among individual farmers.

In Jordan carp culture primarily takes place in earthen ponds and tilapia culture in concrete tanks. In Saudi Arabia the majority of the tilapia production is integrated with agriculture. Fresh water is pumped from ground water, by deep borehole pumps, into ponds in which tilapia is cultured. The fertilized effluent water from these ponds is then used to irrigate crops of wheat, barley, or alfalfa. There is also intensive pilot-scale production of tilapia and rabbitfish in saltwater in cages, pens (enclosures), and fibreglass tanks.

There are small quantities of shrimp cultured in saltwater ponds in Oman and Saudi Arabia.

In the GCC countries many different aquaculture technologies have been brought in, either by private companies employing foreign consultants or developed by national research stations. These include water recirculation systems (from UK and Germany), hatchery production of marine fish and shrimp (from Europe, Japan, and Taiwan), open-sea cage systems (from Japan), pen culture systems (from the Philippines and Ivory Coast), etc. A more detailed list is given in Table 7.

2.4 Producers in the region

There are estimated to be approximately 1 300 fish farms in the region. These range from small owner-operated subsistence farms in Iraq to farms such as Sefid Rud in Iran which has appoximately 1 000 ha of ponds.

In Iran 459 licences for fish farms had been granted by 1987 of which 86 farms were operational, 57 were under construction, and 316 planned with licences granted. The average production of the farms is about 116 t each year. The majority of production comes from farms in the north within the Caspian Sea Basin (Glan and Mazandaran Provinces), with smaller additional production from the south (Khuzestan Province).

In Iraq the Fisheries Department of the Ministry of Agriculture has granted 1 173 licences to set up fish farms in the country. The average size of the farms is comparatively small (about 1-3 ha). These farms are all located within the Tigris and Euphrates river basins.

There are a number of commercial fish farms in Jordan and Saudi Arabia which are of a relatively large size. In Saudi Arabia the farms have planned production capacity of around 200 t per annum or more, with many new farms being initiated.

In UAE and Oman there is at present only one fish farm in each country. In UAE pilot-scale production of tilapia takes place in both marine cages and tanks and freshwater ponds; there is a commercial farm culturing marine shrimp in plastic lined ponds.

2.5 Organizations of producers

There is the Arab Federation of Fish Producers based in Baghdad, Iraq, but this organization is primarily involved in fish production by fisheries. It has produced a number of reports in Arabic dealing with subjects such as storage and refrigeration, marketing of fish and fisheries products, and the manufacture of nets.

2.6 Financial investment by public and private enterprises

In Iran and Iraq there is strong governmental support for the development of fish farming with governmental investment in hatcheries for supplying fry for farmers and for restocking purposes, and also in governmental fish farms for production and demonstration.

In Iran there are two main organizations directing the development of aquaculture. The Shilat, which operates fish hatcheries, fish farms and research stations, and Jehad Sazandegy which operates a large fish hatchery. The remainder of the fish farms are mainly privately owned. One of the largest farms in the country is integrated into a farm which is also involved with agriculture, specifically dairy and poultry production. The Fisheries Department is encouraging fish farm development by making land and water resources available through leases, supplying fingerlings, and extending credit.

In Iraq small-scale fish farms are operated by individual farmers in rural areas. The state-owned Fisheries Commission owns two fish farms with an annual capacity of over 2 000 t. One farm and hatchery is in the Babylon province, the other in Suwaira Wasit. New areas for farming are being leased by the government, and more licences will be issued.

In Saudi Arabia investments in large farming businesses are combining aquaculture together with livestock. In the GCC countries in general investment in aquaculture is primarily made by medium to large-sized businesses, and individual entrepreneurs.

2.7 Technical assistance projects in the sub-sector

There is presently only one technical assistance project which deals with production in the region. This project is the Fish Farming Centre in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, which is funded through a trust fund agreement by the Saudi Arabian Government with FAO. This project demonstrates production practices for aquaculture in the Red Sea, together with appropriate applied research. At present the project is assessing suitable fish and shrimp species for production with development of culture systems suited to the local environment. It is producing mullets (Mugil spp.), tilapia (Tilapia spirulis), milkfish (Chanos chanos) and rabbitfish (Siganid spp.), and demonstrating marine culture practices in fish pens and floating cages in the sea, and in shore-based tanks. Phase II of the project, which includes capital construction, will add a marine fish and shrimp hatchery, and intensive tilapia culture units in lined earthen ponds. Information from this Centre is available to existing producers as well as prospective fish farmers in the area.

Short-term consultancies related to improving production are made by FAO staff as part of the FAO TCP/TCDC programmes; for example, a visit of an aquaculture engineer to Bahrain and Kuwait in 1988, and another from Hungary to Iraq.

The Middle East Foundation and the Jordan Cooperative organized a workshop for farmers and others on fish production in 1987.

2.8 Capital assistance projects in the sub-sector

In Iran and Saudi Arabia capital assistance for fish farmers is available through the National Fisheries Departments or National Agricultural Banks. Capital assistance may also take place in some countries on the basis of joint venture enterprises where foreign capital and technology is combined with local finance and land resources.

The Fish Farming Centre in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia (see section 2.7) is operated under a trust fund agreement between the Government of Saudi Arabia and FAO. Funds have been allocated in Phase II (1987-1989) for the construction of new facilities, including a hatchery, production ponds, and research laboratories.

The Arab Fisheries Company was set up by 13 Arab States of which 10 are from the region as described. The initial land capital was US$ 20 million and the organization actively participates in the development of aquaculture projects. Presently two fish farm projects are planned in joint venture with a company from Germany to culture tilapia using recirculated water; one project is based in Jordan, and the other between Mecca and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.

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