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The capture fishery production in the kingdom has stood at an average of 68,000 tons during the last two years. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Out of 30,332 fishermen in Saudi Arabia, 3,729 are Saudis which is 20 per cent of the total workforce in fisheries and fish farms in the kingdom. The remaining 17,801 workers (80 per cent) are foreigners, according to statistics released by the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture.

With a total population of 34.2 million, Saudi Arabia tops the six countries in the proportion of citizens to expatriates, with 21,100,000 citizens or 61.6 per cent of the total population, while the number of foreigners reached 13.1 million or 38.4 per cent.

It has a land territory of 2,149,690 km2,b orders the Arabian Gulf on the east and the Red Sea on the west, and has coastlines of 2,640 km. The capture fisheries and aquaculture sectors contribute to the food security of the Saudi population.

The capture fishery production in the kingdom has stood at an average of 68,000 tons during the last two years. Shrimp, mackerel, emperor fish and swimming crab are the main species caught. Artisanal fishing vessels form the large majority of the Saudi fishing fleet of close to 11,200 in 2010, with mainly small boats operating in shallow coastal waters. The number of fishermen were around 29,000 in 2010, of which 68 per cent were foreign workers.

Aquaculture production increased steadily from 6,000 tonnes in 2000 to around 26,000 tonnes in 2009 and 2010, followed by a drop in production to less than 16,000 tonnes in 2011 due to the viral white spot disease outbreak in marine shrimp, the most farmed species in the country. After a recovery to 21,000 tonnes in 2012, the total production further recovered to 30,000 tonnes in 2015, 26 per cent up from 2014. Marine cage culture is a relatively new development with several large farms established along the coast of the Red Sea, farming mainly the exotic gilthead seabream and the Asian seabass. The interest in finfish cage farming using other species, including grouper and amberjack, is increasing.

Imports and exports of fish and fishery products by Saudi Arabia showed an increasing trend in recent years. In 2015, imports were valued at $633.1 million, while exports were valued at $100 million. Saudi Arabia is an approved exporting country to the European Union (EU). Farmed shrimp products are exported to the EU, Japan and US.