Oman’s Fishery Management Dives into 21st-Century Waters

August 13, 2015


  • The Sultanate of Oman is trying to diversify its economy beyond oil and as part of that initiative, is working to overhaul its fisheries sector.
  • The World Bank is working with the country on a plan to vitalize and better manage its fisheries as a step toward boosting livelihoods and making the sector ecologically sustainable

In the past four decades, the Sultanate has grown into a middle-income country, and was ranked first of 130 countries surveyed by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in its 2010 Human Development Report in areas including health and education. Yet the country is overly reliant on oil revenues, and fisheries are not productive as they once were.

Oman's government is committed to transforming the management of its fisheries – one of its lagging, traditional sectors. The sector is again recognized as important to the future of Oman, as well-managed fisheries can be a bountiful and renewable resource and contribute to food security of the population, especially the poor. Today, many fishers live in small villages where most family members work as or with artisanal fishers. But the ocean’s health is fragile, the fish are migratory, and stocks have been depleted over time.

As a starting point, the Omani government has begun the process of overhauling the fisheries sector, and has asked the World Bank to help devise a plan to boost the sustainable livelihoods and prosperity of fishing communities. “The government wants to improve every element of the value chain, from fish harvesting, to packaging and logistics, to marketing,” said World Bank senior environmental specialist, Banu Setlur.

The World Bank has helped lay the groundwork for vitalization, offering technical expertise, bringing international good practices and engaging stakeholders on building a shared vision to renew fisheries.

" The government wants to improve every element of the value chain, from fish harvesting, to packaging and logistics, to marketing. "

Banu Setlur

World Bank Senior Environmental Specialist

During a series of workshops in 2014, everyone from ministers to fishers to tribal elders huddled with technical trainers who conducted detailed analyses on the state of Oman’s fisheries. Together, they mapped out a vision for the future, as well as a means for its implementation. “It was the first time in Oman that various stakeholders including fishers from the seven coastal governorates were involved in decision-making,” said Jamal Al-Kibbi, World Bank program manager for Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.

It was also a first for the World Bank, which is increasing its focus on renewable blue resources—fisheries, ocean resources and aquaculture. “The Oman Reimbursable Advisory Service (RAS) is a first in the fishery sector,” said Setlur, who is also the Bank team leader for the fishery engagement in Oman. “The Bank has been asked to link the government’s investment program in the fisheries sector to their vision of private sector led growth, while maintaining a focus on sustainable management of the natural resource,” she said. RAS projects offer customized local solutions through specific, technical assistance.

“We wanted to understand the indigenous knowledge, what’s working and what’s not working. They want to see development, and we are working with them to find a way to harvest more high-value fish in the most economical way,” said Michael Arbuckle, a member of the World Bank team.

This two-year effort culminated in a Government of Oman vision for fisheries and aquaculture to 2040: To achieve a profitable world-class fisheries sector that is ecologically sustainable and a net contributor to the economy of Oman.

And the way Oman hopes to get there includes a measure of consensus new to its culture, according to Al-Kibbi. “Oman has been highly appreciative of our advice and technical analysis,” he said. “But I think they are most appreciative of our convening power to put together top-level policy makers and all the stakeholders and direct discussion in a coherent fashion, consistent with their needs.”

The World Bank is also helping to prepare a pilot investment project in Abalone and Cuttlefish following international best practice. Support for abalone stock enhancement is planned through scaling up hatchery activities, and improving the environmental compliance of these facilities. The management of these valuable fish stocks will be increasingly turned over to the fisher communities, supported by scientific and advisory government services.

The Bank hopes to support organizational management, business development and management training, and fisheries management planning for new institutions built around fishers and other key players. The vision is an ambitious plan that is designed to reinforce sector governance by strengthening monitoring and data collection; quality control; and branding and marketing. New fishery management would help the authorities be more responsive to the actual needs of fishing communities, and would help mobilize private investments into the sector.

The goal is to bring fisheries back as an economic resource -- both rooted in tradition and utilizing the newest advances to cultivate high-value fish.