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The AgraME team recently visited Bader Mubarak, CEO of Fish Farm for an in-depth discussion on the farm’s conception, development and what they have planned next.
Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you got in to the aquaculture industry?
I come from a fisherman family, a long line of fisherman actually. My father started a fish farm in Fujeirah and I took over from there.
How did the Fish Farm begin?
There was a company call Asmak which is Greek owned I believe, and in 1997 they wanted to start a cage farm here is the UAE. We supported them in how to go about setting this up, and we were in a good position to do so as we also own the Mubarak Marine Company which owns around 48 vessels that supply barges and the like to the local industry.
Mubarak Marine was our main business, and as part of this we also have a shipyard which gives us the means to build our own vessels, so we have everything we needed to ‘play around in the water’ if you will. So, with the fleet and expertise that we had, we helped Asmak set up their operations, mooring systems, cages and even went as far as giving them some of our crew to help manage the operation. We have the passion, and we wanted to support anyone who was aiding what we love to do as much as we could.
In 2008 a ‘red tide’ came and heavily effected the Asmak farm, which forced them to start importing from Turkey and Greece reselling locally under the same brand. For those unaware of what a red tide is, it’s a bloom of harmful algae that suffocates reefs and damages fisheries.
Although this import/re-sale tactic worked well for them, it unfortunately had a knock-on effect of not re-investing back in to growing the local fish farm business.
It was this decision which gave us the drive to start our own farm. I sat with my father and discussed what was needed to make it happen, and we were confident we could do it so we went ahead. After a year of gaining permits and jumping red tape we were finally up and running, and ready to start producing.
As the first (and only) commercial fish farm in the UAE what challenges did you face to get the business to where it is today?
Going in to the aquaculture industry, we took the knowledge and tactics that we had picked up over the years and applied it to what we were trying to achieve. Were there failures? Of course, but success can not come without some sort of failure. Visiting aquaculture conferences, exhibitions such as AgraME and other events across the world also helped us in a big way and opened our eyes to what techniques, technologies and methods are successfully being used in more advanced markets than our own.
As the only fish farm in the UAE, over the years we had more and more industry people coming to the UAE to see our operations. In 2013, we saw the idea of the RAS System from Denmark and I wanted to move our farm from cages to a more technically advanced operation. Dubai has always been a leader at pioneering and implementing world class technology and we wanted to support that by doing the same.
In 2015, with the help of H.H Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Executive Council, we were able to pull all of our businesses under one umbrella, Fish Farm, and really start growing business with the aim of increasing output to the market.
In May 2017, we started our first sales from our Jebal Ali headquarters which has increased exponentially since. We have also been working on several awareness campaigns about the benefits of buying fish locally and supporting the local industry. We supply mostly to the local hotels, restaurants, hypermarkets, the Army and Emirates Airline lounges, and so on. As a new business, we are operating on quite low margins which is normal for any company that is finding its feet. As we build our client base and keep promoting the key benefits of sourcing produce locally, we hope this gap will widen allowing us to re-invest back in to our business and grow.
One of the main things we are looking forward to in the next 3-5 years, is having a strong enough aquaculture business with the capacity to cover our country’s needs of fish consumption and production demand, which would put us at 100 per cent food security towards seafood.
Food security is a big issue here in the GCC. What are your thoughts on how this is evolving and how is Fish Farm supporting this?
We want to be independent as a country when it comes to food security, and be in a position to export to our neighbouring countries if need be. It is scary to think that at the moment we are only covering 20 per cent food security at the most. They call it the 80/20, 80 per cent of our food is imported and only 20 per cent produced locally.
I believe that in just over one year, we could grow to meet the demand required and we have the finance to do that, but the market will not be ready for us to take on such a quantity of produce and to just buy from us.
A portion of the market is happy with their suppliers, so we need to firstly guard ourselves and look at the current laws, for example anti-dumping, which are in place about the importation of fish. Then we need to get a holistic view of where the fish are coming from, how much and where it is going. Once we know all of this we can then start building a strategy to increase the amount of locally grown fish entering the market.
Looking at the wider region (Middle East and Africa), do you believe that aquaculture has a key role to play to ensure food security?
Looking at Europe, 80 per cent of its consumption is from farms and 20 per cent is from the wild. These are the kind of figures that are making the wider industry stand-up and take note that fish farming is the future. Chile, Peru, Iran and some parts in Africa among others are growing at a rapid pace which is very exciting indeed.