FAO Home>Fisheries & Aquaculture
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nationsfor a world without hunger
  1. Characteristics, structure and resources of the sector
    1. Summary
    2. History and general overview
    3. Human resources
    4. Farming systems distribution and characteristics
    5. Cultured species
    6. Practices/systems of culture
  2. Sector performance
    1. Production
    2. Market and trade
    3. Contribution to the economy
  3. Promotion and management of the sector
    1. The institutional framework
    2. The governing regulations
    3. Applied research, education and training
  1. Trends, issues and development
    1. References
      1. Bibliography
      2. Related links
    Characteristics, structure and resources of the sector
    The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is one of the pioneers in aquaculture among the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (the GCC was founded in 1981 and includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the Sultanate of Oman). The country is endowed with many natural lagoons, bays and creeks, most of which are encircled by mangrove swamps providing ideal spawning and nursery grounds for a wide variety of fish and shrimp species.

    With a view to utilizing this natural environment for the development of fisheries, the Ministry of Environment and Water (MOEW) established the Marine Environment Research Centre (MERC) in Umm Al Qaiwain on the west coast of UAE in 1984. Aquaculture is one of the main developmental activities undertaken by the MERC since its inception. Fingerlings of locally popular fish species such as white-spotted spinefoot (Siganus canaliculatus), orange-spotted grouper (Epinephelus coioides), large-scale mullet (Liza macrolepis) and Sobaity seabream (Sparidentex hasta) are produced during their natural spawning season at this experimental research station.

    In compliance with the policy of the Government, a major part of the fingerlings produced at MERC is released at suitable locations along the coastal waters of UAE.

    The MERC retains in its facilities tilapia broodstock. The fry and fingerlings produced under natural conditions are widely distributed to all interested fish farmers for ongrowing.

    Commercial scale aquaculture using sea net cage is being carried out off Dibba on the eastern coast of UAE, facing the Gulf of Oman. Although a number of fish species have been tried since 1999, the main species currently cultured in these facilities are the Gilthead seabream (Sparus aurata), the European seabass (Dicentrarchus labrax) and the Sobaity seabream (Sparidentex hasta). Commercial size fish harvested from these cages are for the local and international market.

    The MOEW has been promoting aquaculture by offering fingerlings and imparting technical know-how to those who are interested. The environmental conditions in the country are favourable for aquaculture projects and the authorities hope to attract more investors in the coming years.
    History and general overview
    Aquaculture activities in UAE started with the establishment of the Marine Environment Research Centre (MERC) in 1984. The Centre was initially supported with the technical co-operation from the Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA). The role of the MERC includes conservation, replenishment and development of marine resources in the territorial waters of the country. Between 1985 and 1996, regionally important marine finfish species such as the white-spotted spinefoot (Siganus canaliculatus) and the orange-spotted grouper (Epinephelus coioides) were selected for fingerling production. Subsequently from 1997 to 2000 the following seabream species, Rhabdosargus sarba and Acanthopagrus latus, were also cultured. Fingerling production of the Sobaity seabream (Sparidentex hasta) and large-scale mullet (Liza macrolepis), started in 2001 and 2003, respectively. The International Fish Farming Company (Asmak) started the first commercial cage culture farm in 1999 and Mubarak fisheries is the second. There are other big investments coming though private sector, one being the first UAE Caviar Farm, that will be producing Sturgeon for the caviar and Meat for the first time in UAE and biggest in GCC.

    The MERC has been producing post larvae of the locally predominant shrimp species Penaeus semisulcatus and Penaeus indicus since 1985, raising them to adult size. Shrimp culture was temporarily halted in 2001. The release of fish fingerlings produced annually at the Centre makes a partial contribution to compensate for the loss due to exploitation by the capture fishery sector. Other than this MOEW had also being doing experiments on coral reefs restoration through culturing and transplanting.

    The MERC has also been providing the necessary assistance for establishing aquaculture facilities in the private sector in UAE.

    Freshwater aquaculture in UAE is confined to a few irrigation channels, ponds and tanks adjacent to agriculture farms. There is a surge in interest in the rearing of tilapia in such facilities as it provides dual benefits by fertilizing the irrigation water while producing farmed fish.
    Human resources
    The 2008 records of the Ministry of Environment and Water indicate that the UAE has a fishing force of about 20 649 and an estimated total annual catch of 74 075 tonnes. Since aquaculture in the UAE is still in its infancy, the workforce engaged in aquaculture activities is limited compared to other fields of the industry. The workforce employed in the various aquaculture activities consists entirely of men, with the presence of skilled workers, graduates and post-graduates. The total staff in commercial aquaculture of 46 persons.
    Farming systems distribution and characteristics
    The Marine Environment Research Centre is well located and occupies a land area of 127 000 m² (latitude 25º 30' north; longitude 55º 30' east) on the western side of the main sea channel of the Umm Al-Qaiwain Lagoon. The facilities available at the Centre include four culture ponds, each with a capacity of approximately 2 500 m³, six 100 m³ larvae rearing tanks, five 50 m³ broodstock tanks, twenty six 8 m³ and ten 5 m³ fibreglass tanks for the culture of algae and other micro-organisms.

    The existing finfish cage culture project is located in the sea off Dibba (latitude 25º 37' north; longitude 56º 15' east) on the east coast of UAE.
    Cultured species
    The main species currently selected for aquaculture purposes at the MERC are the white-spotted spinefoot (Siganus canaliculatus), the Sobaity seabream (Sparidentex hasta) and the orange-spotted grouper (Epinephelus coioides). The finfish species commercially cultured in the Dibba cages is the gilthead seabream (Sparus aurata).
    Practices/systems of culture
    At the MERC, fish larvae are produced either through natural or induced spawning. The larvae are then reared to fingerling size in 100 m³ tanks and later transferred for grow out in ponds. A series of research activities is being conducted to stock the larvae for further rearing directly in larger culture ponds of 2 500 m³. The results achieved so far have been encouraging, probably as a result of better environmental conditions prevailing under pond culture. A large number of fingerlings are released annually to the sea under a sponsored governmental policy.

    In the cage culture project at Dibba, fingerlings are stocked in cages and farmed to commercial sizes. In general, the hydrographical conditions along the east coast of UAE are favourable for commercial aquaculture. At present about 5 circular sea net cages measuring 19 metres in diameter (depth: 12 metres). The nearest cage is located approximately 1.5 km off the coast of Dibba.
    Sector performance
    The fish fingerling production target at the MERC in 2010 was about 130000 for the following finfish species: Sobaity seabream (Sparidentex hasta), white-spotted spinefoot (Siganus canaliculatus) locally known as "safi" and the orange-spotted grouper (Epinephelus coioides) locally called "Hamoor".

    The graph below shows total aquaculture production in United Arab Emirates according to FAO statistics:

    Reported aquaculture production in United Arab Emirates (from 1950)
    (FAO Fishery Statistic)

    (Source: FAO Fishery Statistics, Aquaculture production)

    Market and trade
    There are numerous fresh fish markets built with modern amenities located in different cities, villages and in some of the main fish landing facilities in the UAE. The well developed road network in the country ensures rapid transportation of the fish to the markets ensuring that quality and freshness are retained.
    Fish harvested from the cage nets in Dibba are mainly for local market.
    Contribution to the economy
    UAE has achieved food security in the availability of fresh fish. The Government feels that the annual restocking fish fingerling programme into the sea is making a contribution to the wild fish stock of the region, which indirectly helps the economy. In addition, the export of fish through private enterprises is contributing to the country's economy.
    Promotion and management of the sector
    The institutional framework
    The Ministry of Environment and Water (MOEW), headed by a Minister, General Manager, and the Executive Managers, is the supreme authority that controls the fisheries and aquaculture sectors in the UAE. There are two main Departments in the Ministry, the Marine Environment Research Centre Department and the Fisheries Department.
    The governing regulations
    During 1999, the Ministry of Environment and water, introduced the Federal Law No.23 regarding the exploitation, protection and development of the living aquatic resources in the waters of the United Arab Emirates. This is a comprehensive regulation governing many aspects concerning fisheries, fishing activities, coastal zone management, marine resource and environmental protection, conservation of endangered marine species and coral reef areas. Aquaculture activities are also covered by this law under Articles 34 to 38 (Reference No. 7, Section 2.5). Accordingly, firms engaged in aquaculture should not cause pollution to the environment, are not allowed to introduce alien species without prior permission from the Ministry and should follow recognized hygienic procedures in handling, stocking, packing and transportation of fish.
    Applied research, education and training
    Since its early days, the MERC has been carrying out experimental studies on selected marine finfish species. Fingerlings produced through aquaculture at the Centre are used for most of these experiments. Some of the research activities include (i) growth and survival rates of fingerlings fed with different kinds of feeds; (ii) optimum protein ratios for maximum growth and best feed utilization of white-spotted spinefoot fingerlings; (iii) effect of dietary fibre and dietary fat levels on the growth of white-spotted spinefoot; and (iv) growth rate of cultured fish in growout ponds. The results of these studies are regularly published in scientific papers and circulated to interested parties.
    Trends, issues and development
    The MERC was established by the Ministry of Environment and Water in 1984 in order to boost fisheries development in the country. One of the main priorities of the MERC is the development of aquaculture, involving such diverse issues as conservation, replenishment and development of the marine resources of the UAE, research and experimental trials in species and culture practices. Another instance of the importance given to sustainable aquaculture is the requirement that the major portion of the fingerlings produced at MERC is released at suitable locations along the UAE coastline. There has been an increase in the fish fingerling production at MERC during the last few years and, correspondingly, a progressive increase in the number of fish released in the wild. This is a part of the government's efforts to maintain sustainable fisheries regionally and is expected to fetch positive results in the future.

    Freshwater aquaculture is limited to a few irrigation channels, ponds and tanks adjacent to agriculture farms. Expansion is likely in the future as people are becoming aware of the dual benefits of rearing fish such as tilapia in such facilities which will not only produce fish but also fertilize the irrigation water.

    Finfish cage culture has a recent history having started in 1999 by a private company, with a production of 1 206 tonnes in 2008. Assessments indicate that the hydrographical conditions along the eastern coast of UAE are favourable for commercial aquaculture so it is possible that this sector may expand in the future.
    Anwahi, A.A. , Yousif, O.M. , Osman, M.F. & Cherian, T. 1997. Response of two size groups of Siganus canaliculatus to diets containing varying levels of dietary fiber. Egyptian Journal of Animal Production, 34(1): 67-74.
    Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency. 2003. Fish Resource Assessment Survey Project of Abu Dhabi and UAE Waters - Project Report. Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency, United Arab Emirates.
    FAO. 2005. Aquaculture production, 2003. Year book of Fishery Statistics - Vol.96/2. Food and Agriculture organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy.
    Osman, M.F. , Yousif, O.M. , Anwahi, A.A. & Cherian, T. 1996. Effect of dietary fat level on growth, feed utilization and carcass composition of two size groups of rabbitfish. Siganus canaliculatus (Park). Journal of Aquaculture in the Tropics, 11: 291-298.
    Tamaei, S. , Akatsu, S. , Anwahi, A.A. , Rahim, M.A. & Cherian, T. 1990. Pond and tank culture of Liza macrolepis. Density and feeding experiments on Siganus canaliculatus and rearing and feeding experiments on shrimp P. semisulcatus. Technical Report of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, United Arab Emirates.
    Yousif, O.M. , Osman, M.F. , Anwahi, A.A. & Cherian, T. 1996. Optimum protein to energy ratio two size groups of rabbitfish, Siganus canaliculatus (Park). Aquaculture Nutrition, Vol.2: 229–233.
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