Dubai: At the heart of a James Bond-style facility in Jebel Ali lies a key component of the UAE’s food security programme: thousands and thousands of salmon, swimming in circles around enormous tanks.
Fish Farm, under the support and direction of Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Executive Council, has spent the past five years growing organic sea bass, sea bream, hamour, and Atlantic salmon.
Led by chief executive Bader Mubarak, the farm is a part of the government’s attempts to wean the desert nation off its dependence on imported food and equip its population with the tools to be agriculturally self-reliant.
We’ve matched the cost of Irish imported salmon. Ours is cheaper, fresher, better likefor- like, and only has to travel 20 miles from Jebel Ali, as opposed to 4,500 miles.
With scarce arable land and dwindling water supplies, the Gulf state is forced to import 90 per cent of all its food, according to the Ministry for Food Security in interview with Gulf News in January. The UAE imports 70 per cent of its whole seafood, according to the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment.
“Right from its inception, we were tasked with a food security mandate,” said Edmund Broad, Fish Farm’s business development manager.
“We needed to try and make [fish farming] profitable,” he told Gulf News on Wednesday. “One of the big blockages was the cheap imported fish.”
Traditionally, fish farmed on land using recirculation aquaculture systems (RAS) has been capital-intensive to produce, resulting in a more expensive end product.
As of Friday, the company’s salmon will go on sale in Spinneys, a local supermarket. Broad said that it would rival imported salmon in terms of price.
“We’ve matched the cost of Irish imported salmon,” he said, adding: “Ours is cheaper, fresher, better like-for-like, and only has to travel 20 miles from Jebel Ali, as opposed to 4,500 miles.”
As a result of the company’s success in taming the cost of production, Broad said that Fish Farm had been inundated with requests from other countries around the Gulf, all seeking to bolster their food security.
“We’ve had a massive upsurge around the Gulf to our consultancy arm, especially from Saudi Arabia,” Broad said.
He added that the kingdom’s $500 billion megaproject Neom had expressed interest in the technology.
“We’ve started to open negotiations to start growing local species too.”
This growth will require an expansion of the company’s site in Jebel Ali, Broad said.
Fish Farm currently has the filtration and hardware in place to double its production but will need to add new tanks if it is to increase production.
More than 40 kilometres away from the sea, the company also produces hamour in a desert facility in Abu Dhabi.
“The beauty of these things is that they can be placed anywhere,” he said.
Describing RAS as “the pinnacle of high tech fish farming,” Broad said that the company had never had to use antibiotics or modify its food in any way.
In line with the company’s mandate to create food security in the UAE, the executive said that one of Fish Farm’s ambitions was to spread fish farming around the emirates.
But Broad also has environmental concerns: “A ton of hamour that we sell to Carrefour is a ton less hamour fished out of the sea,” he said.