Interpreting Middle East Economic News and Analyzing Market Trends

Salmon and caviar farming in the desert


Fish Farming in UAE


The UAE is back on track with its grand plans.  The latest of these plans calls for setting up salmon and sturgeon farms in the desert.  There are both economic and environmental reasons to support this.  There are also negative economic and environmental reasons that need to be considered.



 After golf courses in the desert and a ski slope in a shopping mall, the United Arab Emirates is now turning its hand to farming cold water fish such as salmon.

That’s the goal of one Abu Dhabi company which plans to farm the fish in chilled onshore pools at prices that can compete with imports flown in from Norway or Ireland.

Asmak, which already runs offshore fish farms, is harnessing technology honed in Scandinavia to set up the Middle East’s first onshore fish farm in a bid to provide affordable alternatives to popular local fish such as grouper.

“Within six to eight months you will be able to eat salmon that is locally produced here,” Tamer Yousef, its marketing and business development manager, told Reuters in an interview.

While Gulf companies are used to taking on the elements for projects such as golf courses and even an indoor ski slope in Dubai, Asmak’s plans pose a new challenge – keeping water at a temperature of 13 degrees Celsius in a region where sea water temperatures can go up to 40 degrees.

The project, with a price tag of 100 million dirhams ($27.2 million), involved building what is dubbed a land-based recirculation aquaculture system (RSA) farm on an area of 500,000 square metres, which essentially takes sea water, chills it and then re-uses it.

“The advantage of having the farm onshore is that I will be able to control the environment so I won’t have to deal with issues like high tides or acid rain effects and most importantly the elevated temperature levels,” Yousef said.

While fish farming typically relies on tanks built offshore, this new onshore farming technique has been making headway in Europe and North America as it causes less harm to wild fish since there is no likelihood of spreading diseases into the sea or of farmed fish escaping into the wild.

And while some critics see the new technology as too expensive, Yousef believes the project makes financial sense.

“Even when you factor in the cost of keeping the tanks cooled, the price of locally produced salmon will be competitive with the imported salmon now available in the market,” he said.

Salmon available in local markets now is flown in chilled at temperatures between -5 degrees and 0 degrees Celsius. The cost of flying the salmon from mostly Norway and Ireland is around $4 to $5 per kilogram.

Experts from these two countries will work closely with a team of local fishermen to constantly update them on international practices, Yousef said.

Still, although local salmon is set to be on the menu in a few months’ time, it will take longer for the project to produce salmon of a size that would generate large revenues.

“We need at least two years to be able to harvest a salmon that is around 4 kilograms in size, which is the size that would bring the highest revenues,” Yousef said.

Read the full story from Reuters.


Also consider this, farming sturgeon for caviar:


Emirates Aquatic has launched the world’s biggest fish farm to produce luxury Siberian caviar and sturgeon fish in Abu Dhabi on 56,000 square metres of land.

Emirates Aquatic, a company specialising in fish farming and production of caviar, hosted a ceremony on this occasion at  Emirates Palace to launch the project, which produces caviar in the farm under the new UAE brand name of “Yasa Caviar”, with the maximum production capacity of 35 metric tons of caviar and 700 tons of sturgeon products each year.

The company uses the latest technology and best operational practices in the world to provide fresh products throughout the year, reinforcing the status of Abu Dhabi and the U.A.E. as the world’s leader in the production of caviar and the adoption of the latest farming techniques of fish in the world.

Read the story from Emirates 24/7.


 With the world’s fish supply declining at an ever increasing rate and consumption rising, the economic and environmental benefits make sense.  Fish farming is being promoted worldwide in an effort to combat the depletion of the world’s fish resources.  The UAE is taking major efforts to build up its fish farming capabilities, which until recently have been focused on raising local fish.  This new push into more exotic and valuable fish highlight sthe importance of replenishing the fish stock, especially sturgeon, which according to the IUCN has become critically endangered.


On the economic side, it makes sense in the UAE only because electricity is highly subsidized.  In some cases the land and/or facilities where the farm will be located are also subsidized in order to attract such projects and help make them viable.  The economics of such a project will not make sense in a country like Tanzania.  Thus, there’s a huge carbon footprint to such projects.


On another note… Is farmed fish just as safe and healthy for you?  This is a different topic, but studies show that farmed fish do not offer the same health benefits as wild fish, and in some cases can even be toxic.  Click on the links below for details on farmed salmon vs. wild salmon: