Saudi Arabia plans to produce 600,000 tons of fish a year, generating around 200,000 direct and indirect jobs in the fisheries sector, under its Vision 2030 master plan to diversify the economy.

The National Fisheries Development Program, founded in 2015, is tasked with this growth and hopes to attract $5 billion of investment from the private sector up until the end of the decade.

Key to these plans is the National Aquaculture Group, also known as Naqua, the Middle East’s largest firm in this industry.

Under this program, half of the new jobs that come from this fivefold boost in production will go to Saudi locals.

This move will allow the amount of seafood Saudi Arabia is able to export to grow. In 2020, the largest Arab economy imported 215,000 tons of seafood — which included tuna, sardines and Basa — and exported only 60,000 tons of aquaculture exports.

Based near Jeddah’s port, Naqua is a large-scale farm working up and down the fisheries value chain — from on-site feed production, to selling products through various firms. It produces shrimp, Barramundi fish, and sea cucumber, according to the company’s website.

The operation accounted for 86.2 percent of Saudi Arabia’s aquaculture production in 2018 and 80 percent of the Gulf’s output.

The group’s export shipments only trailed the Kingdom’s petrochemicals and mineral industries, according to the company. It is also the Middle East’s first firm to receive the international Best Aquaculture Practices certification. Vision 2030 aims to bolster the company’s production to 250,000 tons.

The surge to hit the production target of 600,000 tons of fish products per year is earmarked to come from Naqua’s expansion, other Saudi firms as well as foreign partnerships.

Naqua is a sponsor of the coming Saudi International Marine Exhibition and Conference, or SIMEC, which is set to take place from Jan. 30 to Feb. 1.

One of the milestones reached by the company was the development of a pathogen-free strain of Penaeus vannamei, commonly known as the whiteleg shrimp, following years of testing and research and development. This means the food is less likely to pass on illnesses when eaten.

Naqua enjoys some features that could potentially protect it from other competitors. For example, it has invested large sums in infrastructure to create a vertically integrated business, in addition to its locational advantages and long-term concessions and grants. It has so far invested SR4 billion ($1.1 billion) in the sector since it was founded in 1982.

However, Naqua is not the sole player in the aquaculture market. Riyadh-based Tabuk Fish signed a deal with NEOM in April 2021 to establish the largest fish farm in the Middle East and North Africa, according to the Giga-project city.

The firm will run a state-of-the-art hatchery for the megacity holding up to 70 million fingerlings (young fish), which will make it the largest farm of its kind in the Middle East and North Africa region, and will focus on improving local fish production in the Red Sea.

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