At the crossroads between Europe, sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is rapidly developing as an aquaculture powerhouse. This year, our collaborators, Jonah van Beijnen, Kyra Hoevenaars and Gidon Minkoff of VB Consultancy and Greg Yann of Best Alternatives, will present a monthly contribution with the latest developments in the region, including country overviews, the development of new species and technologies, and focus on specific companies.
Tabuk Fishing Company (TFC) is a fish farming company that has been operating for 14 years on the shores of the Red Sea in northwest Saudi Arabia, an area that is now part of the NEOM mega project. The company produces around 1,500 tons of marine fish per year in coastal cages. Species include gilthead seabream (Sparus aura), European sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax), and gilthead seabream (Springdentex hasta), using fingerlings acquired from local and foreign hatcheries.
Aquaculture in the Middle East still relies heavily on fingerlings of Mediterranean species, but both government and the private sector strongly believe that the development of hatchery technology and grow-out technology for native species is essential to building a strong local aquaculture sector.
Aquaculture is an increasingly important source of safe, nutritious and sustainable seafood for people around the world. Globally, aquaculture production must double by 2030 to keep pace with demand. These increases in demand for aquaculture products, food security considerations and job creation have generated an increased need for skilled workers.
Besides grouper and trevally, one of the native species targeted is the sobaity seabream, also known as the silvery black snapper. It is a carnivorous fish that occurs naturally in the Persian Gulf and western Indian Ocean and is found mainly in shallow coastal waters. It is locally called sobaity and is popular in Middle Eastern markets. As the species is mainly only available in capture fisheries, supply is erratic and limited. Local experts therefore agree that sustainable closed loop aquaculture of sobaity has considerable potential.
In addition to operating the grow-out farm, TFC’s production manager, Petros Thomas, has set up an onshore R&D facility where the company develops broodstock of a variety of native and non-native species. At the end of February this year, his team reported a significant breakthrough in the R&D department, where sobaity spawners that had been transferred to the reservoir 18 months earlier spawned for the first time.
Broodstock were reared from fingerlings imported into the farm’s sea cages. After observing milt floating in the cages, staff decided to move 40 fish to a land-based broodstock tank to better observe them. At the first spawning, the fish had been in the aquarium for 18 months and weighed an average of 3 kilograms. They continued to spawn for 10 days in a row, producing over 3 liters of eggs (>3 million eggs).
The 10m3 tank that holds broodstock is part of a recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) with ambient light and dissolved oxygen (>5.2), pH (7.6), water exchange and temperature controlled. Fish are fed high quality commercial pellets at 1-2% body weight per day. The first spawning took place just before the full moon at a relatively low winter temperature of 17.5°C. Eggs were collected using an egg collector, and were disinfected and inspected before being stored in a rearing tank. The fertilization rate was over 95% and the hatching rate over 90%.
According to Petros, the event is a milestone for their business.
“We plan to operate a hatchery in the near future and with these broodstock ready to spawn, operations can begin immediately. Local hatchery production is very important as the import of fingerlings often results in considerable mortalities and the quality of the fingerlings can be poor,” he explains.
“I am very proud of the team, consisting of Sajin Kumar and two local technicians – Meqren Alfadli and Turki Binanzan. We had no prior experience with the species and currently have limited facilities to perform this type of hard work, but we still managed to achieve these breakthrough results,” he adds.
“It’s a great experience for the team; we learned a lot of new skills that will help the business move forward. This year, we plan to increase the number of broodstock to be able to produce sobaite fry for the new hatchery, once it is ready,” says Kumar.
Although there is still a big step between the production of the first larvae and the successful commercial production of the species, these developments are undoubtedly a step towards building a strong aquaculture industry in Saudi Arabia and NEOM which is based on local species and targets local and regional activities. demand.
Hopefully soon the first grow-out products from closed-cycle aquaculture at TFC will hit local shelves and restaurants so we can sample sustainably produced fish from the bright, clear waters of the Red Sea.