BANGKOK, Thailand — The kingdom of Saudi Arabia claims to be on course to up its farmed shrimp output to 200,000 metric tons by 2025 as part of the state’s ambitious aquaculture development program, announced earlier this year.

The state is investing $400 million in developing its total aquaculture output to 600,000t over the next five years, meaning that shrimp is set to account for a third of the Saudi market by volume.

According to Haydar Al Sahtout, an adviser to the Saudi Aquaculture Society, the country’s shrimp production is set to drop in 2019 from 64,025t to approximately 50,000t; however, this is expected to be a one-off drop within a longer-term upward trend, the adviser said, speaking at the recent Infofish shrimp conference in Bangkok, Thailand.

“We expect a slight drop in 2019, but again strong new projects are in the pipeline under construction, with big investments and international investors on the way — many of you have heard or read about the plans now,” Al Sahtout told listeners.

The state government will be making Best Aquaculture Practices certification mandatory for all shrimp farmers by next year, Al Sahtout added, noting that the Middle Eastern kingdom has been developing strong biosecurity measures in an effort to safeguard against diseases as the industry grows.

In Saudi Arabia, shrimp farming is almost entirely situated along the southern shores of the Red Sea, and there are no small-scale individual farms — all are vertically-integrated farming projects, with feed mills, hatcheries, farms and processing plants all connected under the same umbrella.

“Only vannamei is allowed in the country for now, although there are some plans for bringing in freshwater shrimp in the eastern province later on,” Al Sahtout said.

The country also obtains its specific pathogen-free, or SPF, shrimp broodstock from Thailand, he added, provided by agri-conglomerate Charoen Pokphand Foods (CPF).

Middle East set for rapid shrimp growth despite 2019 whitespot setback

Production across the Middle East is likely to follow Saudi Arabia’s lead, with strong government support leading to a slew of farming expansion projects across the region, according to Al Sahtout.

However, 2019 has seen a drop in total shrimp production across the region to just under 100,000t, believed to be caused by outbreaks of whitespot disease this year.

Robins Macintosh, executive vice-president of CPF, noted that Saudi Arabian farmers had also been importing shrimp broodstock that was specific-pathogen resistant/ specific pathogen tolerant/ all pathogens exposed from other sources besides CPF, which were attributed for spreading the syndrome.

Nevertheless, those farms where whitespot had been detected were still performing relatively well, he said.

The expectation is that shrimp production in the Middle East will rise to 500,000 metric tons before the end of 2030, adviser Al Sahtout said.

In part, this will be driven by major government projects in existing shrimp farming players Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran, as well as the development of new production sites in Oman and Qatar.

In late 2017, Egypt opened a major new integrated tilapia and shrimp farm, the largest in the Middle East, at a cost of $90 million, built in a partnership between China’s Guangdong Evergreen Group and the Egyptian military.

The effects of this new development are unclear, Al Sahtout said, as official data has been difficult to come by.

“So far the production over the past 10 years has been steadily growing, but we are not sure what has been happening over the past three or four years,” he told listeners. “In Egypt, we are not aware of diseases, but whether production has remained stable at 7,000t from 2014 or gone up or down, we can’t say for certain.”

Iran’s export-oriented vannamei industry is also promising to rise sharply in production over the next decade, according to Al Sahtout.

“In 2018, they reached 45,000t, we expect slightly lower production in 2019, but they are preparing to take off to more than 60,000t by 2021.”

Major new government projects in Oman and Qatar have also set lofty production targets; Oman is currently developing five shrimp farms with backing from Thailand and Singapore, with a 2030 target of 71,200t of shrimp per year.

Meanwhile, Qatar, which currently has no shrimp farms at all, has plans to set up some initial farms using US technology capable of producing 3,000t per year, then rapidly ramping up annual production to a goal of 100,000t in the next five years.

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