This series provides insights into the global array of companies participating in this challenge as innovators or sponsors.
The 2nd of this Spotlight Series focuses on Aqua Bridge, one of the sponsors of this program. In the coming weeks leading to the grand Finale on the 7th of October, we will profile the other innovations and sponsors of this challenge.
Aqua Bridge Pioneers Middle East Aquaculture Investments
(Dubai, UAE) The Middle East is a hotspot for global aquaculture for a couple of key reasons. Food security is a topic that weighs on the minds of regional policymakers, and especially since the coronavirus pandemic.
Locally, captures of wild caught hamour fish from the Arabian Sea have reached unsustainable levels. Water resources for the 40,000 agriculture farms are turning saline, threatening crops but signaling an opportunity to reuse this land for aquaculture. Most states in the region from Kuwait to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have policies in place to use oil revenue to build national food industries.
Aqua Bridge, one of the main sponsors of The Yield Lab Asia Pacific’s Global Aquaculture Challenge 2021, is a company directly held by UAE Sheikh Ahmad bin Manna Al Maktoum, set up to ensure the development of the region’s aquaculture industry passes through a quality filter modeled on a public-private partnership model. In the current economic climate, there is more investor interest in aquaculture projects across the Middle East than Aqua Bridge can handle.
“It has got to the point where we have stopped enquiries,” Aqua Bridge CEO Mohammad Tabish said of the level of interest among local investors. “With the lack of interest in hotels and real estate, everyone wants to invest in food security.”
Food security is baked into the national psyche for the UAE, which first discovered oil in 1958 with the discovery of onshore and offshore wells that made the country one of the richest in the world in terms of GDP per capita. Notwithstanding the wealth of major cities Abu Dhabi and Dubai, older citizens remember the importance of the country’s fishing heritage.
The UAE’s oil wealth has allowed the government to invest heavily in pre-commercial research and future aquaculture technologies such as recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) to produce fish on land. The need for this pre-commercial activity is easier said than done. Local funded start-ups often have to contend with cheaper imports, such as vast quantities of imported Egyptian tilapia.
Aqua Bridge has focused heavily on building know how to use RAS, developing expertise in this field to oversee the development of the UAE’s first land-based Atlantic salmon farm and projects across the Gulf states, including early research into growing the harmour in a RAS system, at the Sheikh Khalifa Marine Research Center Hatchery. An expansion to this research facility at Umm Al Quwain, UAE will allow the country to produce 5 million juveniles of hamour, a local grouper, and other local species such as safi. Hamour, in particular, is a popular species and dates back hundreds of years as a critical food supply for Emirates citizens and neighboring countries such as Oman and Yemen.
“We have been focusing on hamour as the catch has gotten to a level that has become unsustainable,” Tabish said. “Meanwhile, the demand for hamour has been growingly constantly.”
UAE hamour landings fell to their lowest level on record in 2019 at 295 metric tons, according to data from the Abu Dhabi Environment Agency. That number has declined by 72% since 2010, when the catch was 1,064 tons.
While not a producer of harvest size fish, Aqua Bridge has developed the in-house knowledge to become the first commercial producer of European sea bream juveniles in Saudi Arabia, a feat that may allow the country to develop a new supply of this valuable species in the Red Sea. The Red Sea possesses some of the best ocean temperatures on the planet to develop a temperate aquaculture industry, oscillating between 28 degrees Celsius and 32 degrees Celsius for much of the year.
Saudi Arabia could become a viable alternative source of supply for seabass and sea bream to Greece and Turkey, which supplies the European Union from farms in the Aegean Sea. The European seabass and sea bream aquaculture industry has become the world’s second-largest in finfish after salmon.
Some other noteworthy projects that Aqua Bridge is working on include a corporate social responsibility project with Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil company, and a turnaround study to repurpose Tabuk Fisheries Co. in conjunction with KPMG, also in Saudi Arabia. The company was also commissioned to build a hatchery to grow hamour in Kuwait with the Kuwait Institute of Scientific Research (KISR). Aqua Bridge’s expertise has been recognized beyond the Gulf States, with the company commissioned to design a major new juvenile hatchery in Portugal. The company has also been involved in building the world’s largest sturgeon farm in the UAE.
Aqua Bridge will focus on new technologies and is in particular studying the ability to grow shrimp in a RAS environment. Another great opportunity in the UAE is the repurpose of agricultural farms to aquaculture, given the growing salinity of water used to grow crops. With each year, Aqua Bridge is becoming a focal point for all investments in the region and a leader in the global aquaculture industry.
“AquaBridge aims to boost sustainable aquaculture globally to add more players who in turn will drive food security and reduce the contribution of food production to climate change”, said Mohammad Tabish.
“Joining the Global Aquaculture Challenge was a step in that direction. We earnestly believe that innovation will be the key driver for the next generation of growth in the aquaculture industry. Our solemn belief remains that this investment isn’t just a vote of confidence in these bludgeoning companies but rather a long-term investment in ourselves, helping us grow along with the industry through cooperation, collaboration and cross-mentoring.”
4 Aug 2021.
Matt Craze and Oriana Aguillon, Spheric Research.