Fish Farming Centre, P. O. Box 9612 Jeddah 21432, Saudi Arabia

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The Role of the Fish Farming Centre in the Development
of Aquaculture in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Salem A. Al-Thobaiti
Patrick G. White

Fish Farming Centre, Department of Fisheries,
Ministry of Agriculture and Water
P.O. Box 9612, Jeddah 21432
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

The Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been actively promoting an ambitious food self-sufficiency programme and provides financial incentives and appropriate technical support to the private sector. Aquaculture has been included in this programme and therefore the Ministry of Aquaculture and Water together with the cooperation of F.A.O. established the Fish Farming Centre (FFC) in 1982 on the Red Sea coast, 50 Km north of Jeddah.

The Centre is a marine aquaculture research institution which undertakes research and development programmes to identify the most suitable fish and shrimp species for culture and the optimal culture systems suited to the conditions found in the Kingdom. It undertakes the initial research programmes, then scales up to pilot scale to test and demonstrate the production systems and techniques. It has a marine hatchery facility, four culture systems (ponds, pens, cages and tanks), Baobab tilapia culture facility, laboratories and aquarium display area.

It pioneered commercial techniques for marine culture of tilapia in pens and cages, and the culture of giant tiger prawn in lined ponds, which has led to commercial farms being established in the Kingdom using these techniques. It has worked closely with local feed manufacturers to develop standard fish feeds.

The Centre aims to support the growing aquaculture industry by continuing the development of successful culture systems and techniques, by providing practical training courses for local farmers, and by providing information in the form of Operational Manuals and Guidelines.

Aims of the Centre

The purpose of the project is to create within the Ministry of Agriculture and Water, a centre of technical expertise for fish and prawn culture which can direct and support the development of aquaculture in the Kingdom with research and development projects. This team of specialists will develop the application of existing technologies and production systems suited to local environmental conditions. They will advise and guide investors and entreprencurs for the growth of the aquaculture industry in the Kingdom.

The Centre will conduct research and development programmes as well as extension services to support the development of a national aquaculture industry.

The Fish Farming Centre presently has a full programme of research and development projects which include the following;

Achievements of the Centre

Since the establishment of the Fish Farming Centre in 1982, a number of important achievements have been made. This has contributed to the development of commercial marine aquaculture ventures along the Red Sea coast.

The Centre has established a successful commercial technique for the culture of Tilapia in seawater in fish cages, fish pens and fish tanks. This entails the breeding of Tilapia in freshwater and then acclimatising the 20 day old fry to full strangth seawater (40 ppt.). The Tilapia are then ongrown in cages pens ponds or tanks in seawater until market size.

The Centre has successfully demonstrated the feasibility of different culture systems in the Red Sea. Fish and shrimp have been successfully grown in floating cages, fixed fish pens, fiberglass tanks and plastic lined ponds. Research has been carried out to establish the optimal stocking density, water exchange, feeding systems etc.

The Centre has pioneered the nursing and ongrowing of giant tiger prawn at high salinity (40 ppt.). Post larvae (Pl 15) were imported from Malaysia and nursed in fibreglass raceways prior to stocking in plastic lined ponds at 45 pieces/m2. Growth and survival were good and the resulting market sized shrimp were marketed locally and exported by air to London.

The Centre has worked together with local feed manufacturers to develop a suitable fish feed using locally available ingredients. The Centre is also developing fry diets for Tilapia and rabbitfish.

The Centre has estabished, by research, the benefit of fish and shrimp polyculture for maintenance of water quality and pond hygene. When the prawn (P. monodon) is grown in conjunction with rabbitfish (S. rivulatus), both species have improved growth rate and survival rate. This finding will be tested on a commercial scale.

Marine Fish Hatchery

The marine fish hatchery comprises of five sections, the broodstock holding tanks, the egg incubation tanks, the live food production unit, the larval tanks and the fry tanks. The hatchery is designed to produce approximately 500,000 fry per year. It is designed to allow the production of different fish species.

The broodstock facility consists of 4 circular tanks with a capacity of 25 m3. The tanks are 2 meters deep to give improved environmental conditions for spawning. Each tank is supplied with ambient and cooled seawater to allow control of egg release during the spawning season.

The egg incubation facility consists of 6 conical tanks of 210 l capacity. The facility is designed to cope with the incubation of up to 1,000,000 eggs per day. Each tank is supplied with ambient and cooled seawater, freshwater and air. This allows full control of the environmental conditions during incubation.

The live food production unit cultures various species of algae, two strains of rotifer and hatches Artemia. This facility is housed in an insulated concrete building in separate rooms each provided with a heat pump heating/cooling unit which can maintain constant temperatures throughout the year.

The larval rearing facility consists of 12 circular tanks with a capacity of 2 m3 each. Depending on the species being reared, these tanks can be stocked directly with eggs of newly hatched larvae. The larvae are fed with live feeds and then are weaned on to inert feeds prior to transferring to shaded nursery tanks.

The fry nursery facility consists of 9 circular tanks with a capacity of 9 m3 each. These tanks are provided with pumped seawater from deep borcholes located adjacent to the lagoon. Fish are reared to a size of 2 g prior to being transferred to ongrowing facilities.

Marine Prawn Hatchery

The marine shrimp hatchery is located in the same building as the fish hatchery but in separate rooms. It also comprises of a broodstock holding facility, larval rearing facility and postlarval nursery facility sharing the live food production unit with the fish hatchery. The shrimp hatchery is designed to produce approximately 250,000 postlarvae per month.

Three main species of Penaeus occur in the Red Sea, Penaeus semisulcatus the most common species, P. indicus and P. monodon in lower quantities. The culture of P. semisulcatus has been attempted in Kuwait with success in the hatchery production of postlarvae but with problems in the grow-out phase. At the Fish Farming Centre emphasis is being placed on the culture of the glant tiger prawn, P. monodon.

The broodstock facility comprises of two small plastic lined ponds and two circular fiberglass tanks. Shrimps will be matured first in the ponds then suitable stock selected and transferred to the tanks for eyestalk ablation. Spawning females will be transferred to conical tanks and then removed from the tanks after spawning.

The larval facility comprises of 12 conical tanks with a capacity of 750 l each. The larval tanks are supplied with ambient and cooled seawater, freshwater and air inorder to allow control of temperature and salinity. The larvae will remain in these tanks until Pl 5 and then transferred nursery tanks.

The nursery facility comprises of 3 large circular fiberglass tanks with a capacity 9 m3 each. The post larvae will remain in these tanks until they reach Pl 25 and then they will be transferred to ongrowing facilities.

Onshore Culture Facilities

The shore based culture facilities consist of large semi-intensive earth ponds and intensive tanks and raceways. The Centre pumps its seawater supply from deep boteholes located adjacent to the lagoon. This water is therefore filtered through the coral, has a relatively stable temperature and salinity but suffers from low oxygen levels.


The pond facilities comprise of four small nursery and four larger grow-out ponds. These ponds are lined with EPDM plastic liner to prevent water loss through seepage. Half of the ponds have medium sized gravel substrate and half are clean. This will allow research into the effect of substrates on growth performance. Trials carried out have included shrimp production at 45 pieces/m2, polyculture of fish and shrimp, and production of rabbitfish.


The tank facilities comprise of fiberglass raceways and tanks. These tanks are provided with pumped water and air. Research on intensive culture techniques can be undertaken in these facilities. Trials already carried out have included the culture of shrimp at 45 and 90 pieces/m2, Tilapia and rabbitfish production, and shrimp and fish polyculture.

Offshore Culture Facilities

The off-shore culture systems at the Centre comprise of fish pens located in the shallow area and fish cages in the deeper area of the lagoon. The lagoon is protected from the open sea by a band of coral reef that breaks up the larger waves giving protection for the cages and pens.


The Centre has a variety of different designs of cages. Locally constructed commercially sized cages (5 m × 5 m) were made from wood with barrel flotation and smaller research cages (2.5 m × 2.5 m) of similar design. Scottish designed Kames cages were also imported and are used for research purposes. Reinforced netting is used for all netting as nylon netting is quickly damaged by holes created by wild reef fish. trial undertaken have included the production of tilapia and rabbitfish, prawn culture at 45 and 90 pieces/m2, and density trials for Tilapia and rabbitfish.


The Centre has developed a design of fish pen that is suited to the local environment and presently has 4 commercial sized pens (1,250 m2) and 6 smaller research pens. The pen frames are made from PVC pipe filled with concrete and iron reinforcing rod. A trial was conducted to ascertain the most suitable reinforced netting and so HDPE (Netlon) netting is used.

Baobab Tilapia Culture Unit

The Baobab culture system was developed in Kenya for the breeding and production of Tilapia in brackish water conditions. the design and technology was brought in to the Kingdom and is presently being tested and adapted to the local environmental conditions found along the Red Sea.

The facility comprises of a large breeding arena, larval raceways, nursery raceways and ongrowing tanks. The original design is solely for the culture of Tilapia and allows for the conservation of freshwater used for the breeding and the re-use of water in the nursery and growing facilities. The design has been altered from the original to allow for the culture of other species at a later date.

The breeding tank is 15 meters in diameter and is stocked with between 300 and 400 Tilapia (Oreochromis spilurus) at a ratio of 3 females to 1 male. The water is exchanged regularly to renew the water and allow for loss through evaporation. Approximately 50 % is replaced twice weekly with effluent water used for plant and tree irrigation. The arena is designed to produce approximately 250,000 larvae per year. Larvae are caught automatically by overflow into a perimeter drain flowing into a collecting tank. Larvae are then graded and stocked in the larval raceways.

The larval raceways comprise of 10 concrete raceways of 15 m3 capacity each. The tanks are filled with freshwater and inoculated with Chlorella algae. Approximately 15,000 larvae are then stocked into each tank and are remain in stagnant freshwater until they reach a size of 0.4 g. At this time, saltwater is gradually introduced over a one week period until it reaches full salinity. The fry are then transferred to the nursery raceways.

The fry are reared in raceways provided with flowing seawater until they reach 2 g size when the are then transferred to different growing facilities. The Baobab ongrowing system comprises of large round concrete tanks of 6 m diameter provided with water flowing from the fry raceways.

Training and Extension

The Centre arranges three types of training for its staff and other interested people, comprising of short courses conducted at the Centre by external specialists, short practical courses at the Centre conducted by local staff, and short to medium term training for local national staff at farms or institutes abroad.

Up to the present time short courses have been held on Tropical Fish Disease Diagnosis, Prevention and Treatment, Aquaculture Design and Engineering, Use of Computers. Training Manuals are prepared in Arabic and English and distributed. These include the following;

Short practical individual courses have also been arranged for technicians from local fish farms.

The staff of the Centre make visits to local farms to give advice and have undertaken disease diagnosis, broodstock development, and other advisory work. Staff have also visited other regions of the Kingdom to give advice on the potential of developing aquaculture in those regions.

The Centre is presently collecting and compiling aquaculture production statistics for the Ministry and FAO.

Library and Information

The Centre has collected a large reference library of books, journals and FAO publications. The library specialises in marine warm water aquaculture. This library facility is made available to interested local citizens. Information on Arab aquaculture is collected and placed into Country files together with publications of other Arabic aquaculture research institutes.

A number of Manuals have been prepared in Arabic and English which are either operational guidelines, training, or information directories Publications produced by the Centre include;

The Centre will also produce a newsletter on Arab Aquaculture which will be circulated to investors, other Research Institutes, Universities and Fisheries Departments in the Arabic region to try and encourage cooperation in the development of aquaculture. It is hoped to produce 6 newsletters per year.

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