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Oman Fisheries: Few Steps Away from Becoming a World Class Competitive Industry

February 14, 2017

Modern fish sorting facilities provide women jobs in Oman. Photo: Banu Setlur | World Bank

Modern fish sorting facilities provide women jobs in Oman.

Photo: Oman Minister of Agriculture & Fisheries Wealth

The World Bank Group has supported the fisheries sector in the Sultanate of Oman with wide-ranging policy and technical advice, given—uniquely for the Bank to the fisheries sector—through a Reimbursable Advisory Service or RAS (2014–16). Fisheries are Oman’s second largest natural resource; before the discovery of oil in the 1960s, Omanis relied on agriculture and fishing. Its oil reserves finite, Oman is food secure to this day. Oman’s small, relatively wealthy population of about 4 million consume, per capita, almost double the global average quantities of fish. And, although 99% of the sector is still artisanal, its fisheries, says Banu Setlur, World Bank Senior Environmental Specialist, are just a few steps away from becoming a world class competitive industry.

What constrains Oman’s income from fisheries at the moment?

Banu Setlur: There are two things: currently, Oman only looks at the harvesting sector, the fishing itself, which contributed 0.7% to its GDP in 2015. But what we are saying is that it should include the entire value chain—from harvesting to processing to logistics, to wholesale, marketing and retail. If it were to do this that would double the current contribution fisheries make to Oman’s economy. Oman’s development would also benefit from greater attention to markets, domestic and international; from high value fisheries, instead of just the volume of fish landed; and from value added, which would help create new jobs. Today’s income from fisheries is low and unsustainable; the amount of effort that goes into fisheries is high though, resulting in over-exploited fisheries as well as in reduced amounts of fish being landed, and in declining productivity. To break this vicious cycle Oman, like other successful fishing economies, needs to manage its fisheries in a manner that will generate greater levels of income—levels that can be sustained over time.

Is Oman looking into ways of expanding its fisheries sector?

Banu Setlur: When it comes to fisheries, Oman compares itself to Norway, and wanted us to see how it could learn from it. Oman is very open to learning from other countries, whether developing or developed; it is very open to hearing what the best practices out there are. It’s very interesting because, although very different climates, Oman and Norway have similarities, like a very long coastline. We looked at Norway and took away things, such as how Oman’s fishing sector might—ever-so-gradually—move away from unsustainable management practices and its current dependence on the government. For this to happen, the government would have to earn the trust of stakeholders at various levels, and it would also have to give them increasing responsibility and accountability in the management of its coastal fisheries.   

Just how many Omanis depend on fishing for a living?

Banu Setlur: Approximately 45,000 to 50,000 individual livelihoods depend on fisheries or related activities. Omanis know though is that, if well managed, fisheries can be a sustainable, long-term resource that can contribute to Oman’s long-term vision of economic development and diversification. From our study, though, we realized only a small percentage of Omanis are full-time fishermen. A lot of them are part-time or recreational fishers.

Central Fish Market in Oman - Photo: Banu Setlur | World Bank

Central Fish Market in Oman

Photo: Oman Minister of Agriculture & Fisheries Wealth

" Oman’s economic vision is that, by 2040, the fisheries sector will become increasingly managed and financed by Omanis, and will employ young Omanis at competitive rates. "

Banu Setlur

Senior Environmental Specialist

How likely is that Oman’s younger generation will want to be involved in fishing?

Banu Setlur: This sector, fisheries, is very important to Oman, so it is very important for young, educated Omanis, both male and female, to be interested in the sector. We talked to a lot of people—at the university, local fishermen, young fishers—and it’s not just the harvesting that people can be involved in; there are all these other sectors we mentioned in the value chain. The government wants to see if it can capture the interest of young Omanis in this sector and asked us to look at socio-economic aspects of it.

How much employment can fisheries offer young Omanis?

Banu Setlur: Oman’s economic vision is that, by 2040, the fisheries sector will become increasingly managed and financed by Omanis, and will employ young Omanis at competitive rates. Oman being the developed country that it is, its fish markets are very advanced: if you go to one, you could literally eat off the floor. They are clean, hygienic, and well-maintained; everything’s digital and electronic. These are the areas where women can work. They don’t necessarily have to fish the fish, except for recreation.

What changes does Oman need to make if it wants to make more money off fisheries?

Banu Setlur: In terms of revenue, it is better to catch fewer but higher-value fish, and maintain the catch at a sustainable level of course. But this is a change of mindset that, experience shows, will take time, maybe even 20 to 25 years, as change like this should be evolutionary and not revolutionary. Using international waters and shared fisheries is also very important for Oman; it is up to it to work within international treaties, and with all its neighboring countries, to come up with an understanding of what, if it did this, its quota of fish would be. International cooperation is key—for example, 90% of fish harvest stocks in Norway are shared with other nations. And, if Oman were to become a hub for the Gulf Cooperation Council say in tuna, then that would really raise its job creation and income.