Abalone farm in Mirbat targets to increase annual catch to 600 tonnes

Muscat - 

A leading South African abalone farming company Abagold, with a 50:50 joint venture with Muscat Overseas Group (MOG), is looking to harvest up to 600 tonnes of abalone in the sultanate.

The newly formed entity, Oman Aquaculture Company, will begin construction at the seven-hectare site in Mirbat, Salalah soon.

The aquaculture farm will be set up in two phases, with the initial one seeing the output at 100 tonnes and by the end of the final one it will be producing 600 tonnes of shellfish, which has the highest yield per kilogram among all Omani marine products.

In comparison, the abalone catch has dwindled over the years in Omani waters, with yearly catch hovering around 50-55 tonnes. It went up to a high of 149 tonnes in 2011, when fishing of abalone reopened after a moratorium of three years on harvest, sale and export.

With the dwindling catch, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries has imposed bans on fishing abalone from time to time, with the latest one being imposed for two years beginning 2017.

For the last few years, fishing season has varied from year to year, spanning from ten to 25 days in December.

Going through initial statutory delays, the project is now on track and Phase 1 with 100-tonne production is expected to commence fully by December 2020. “While Phase 2 will follow from there and should be completed and fully stocked by December 2023,” Tim Hedges, managing director, Abagold, told Muscat Daily.

Commenting on the timeline, Hedges said it has changed by a few months as a result of some delays experienced in the receipt and approval of all relevant licences, permits and legal documentation for this innovative Omani venture. “So many of the applications we made to different departments, were in fact, the first such applications ever received and so there is no specific experience of analysing and approving processes and applications for abalone aquaculture farming in Oman. The learning in this regard has been invaluable and we are now ready to start construction,” he said.

Hedges added that Abagold and MOG decided to implement the project in phases, so that a number of the concepts and milestones, that were jointly agreed, could be proven through Phase 1 production. “This first phase will include a large part of the infrastructure (electrical connections, pipelines, earthworks, starter buildings and a fully modularised hatchery). It will have one full unit of 160 tanks producing volumes of abalone equivalent to 100 tonnes production per year. Phase 2 will follow on directly from confirmation of all assumptions proven in Phase 1 and will be a 600-tonne farm operating from six production units.”

Talking about the challenges and success of the project, Hedges said that Oman Aquaculture Company was very confident of the results that will be achieved from the project. “Abagold has built and operated three farms in South Africa and we bring tremendous knowledge and experience to this project. Our partners in Oman are as excited and committed as us to make this operation and business a success.

“We see the direct benefit being the possible reseeding and restocking of the ocean with Abalone again in a well structured joint partnership with the ministry in Oman as well as local fishermen, whose livelihood has been destroyed by the reduction in the natural abalone resource. We also hope to introduce abalone back into the region for local consumption and along with this we will be creating many jobs in the Mirbat region.”

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