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UAE fish farm angles for $200m to produce Atlantic salmon

UAE salmon farm Reuters
A fish market in Sharjah. Aquaculture is a central part of the UAE’s national food security programme
  • UAE’s Ocean Harvest looking for investors
  • Ras Al Khaimah facility planned
  • Raised pre-seed funding of $2.1m

A fish farming company in the UAE aims to raise $200 million to produce Atlantic salmon locally.

Ocean Harvest needs the investment to build a 100,000 square metre facility in Ras Al Khaimah.

Jawad Jamil, co-founder and CEO of Ocean Harvest, said they were appealing to sovereign wealth funds across the Mena region, impact and infrastructure investors, and family offices and general investors.

Ocean Harvest raised pre-seed funding of $2.1 million, with the backing of strategic investors Besix and Tech Group and a number of angel investors.

Jamil said that the company is “not a one-track play” and holds investor appeal in a number of areas including food security, environment impact and infrastructure build.

Based in Abu Dhabi, they promote themselves as a “land-based aquaculture startup.”

Aquaculture is the cultivation of fish, shellfish and aquatic plants for consumption.

The market size was estimated at $219 billion globally in 2022 and is expected to exceed $332 billion by 2032, according to insight company Precedence Research.

The UAE imports more than 70 percent of the 220,000 tonnes of fish it consumes every year.

Aquaculture is not without risk. Waste from fish feed and faeces can pollute the water and seabed around intensive fish farms. Chemicals and pesticides to control parasites and disease can also contaminate the area and impact surrounding marine life.

However, according to the UN Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO), new technology promises to eradicate many of the environmental fears associated with traditional cage and wild-capture farms. 

Jamil said that the farms have a positive impact on wildlife by eliminating the use of pesticides and other treatments.

“Our technology provides for optimal conditions for fish growth through state-of-the-art filtration systems and a fully controlled environment,” he said.

The industry is a central part of the Emirates’ national food security programme, which launched in late 2018.

A report by Morgan Stanley earlier this year argued that sustainable aquaculture represents one of the four largest opportunities for ocean impact investment, “with an estimated $150 billion to $300 billion in capital expenditures needed to expand capacity in the next 10 years”. 

Already, the Mena region boasts the Egyptian $450 million Ghalioun Project, which was set up in 2017 and is one of the largest fish projects in the Middle East and Africa.

In February, Arabian Agricultural Services Company signed an agreement with Neom Food and Cargill to explore how they can work together to support the sustainable expansion of Saudi aquaculture.

Ocean Harvest’s five-year plan includes the opening of the facility in Ras Al Khaimah in 2026, when the first salmon eggs from Norway, Iceland and Denmark will be added to the hatchery, before locally produced salmon is ready to be delivered in the UAE in 2027.

Ocean Harvest CEO Jawad JamilOcean Harvest
Ocean Harvest CEO Jawad Jamil

Jamil said his company’s goal is to locate more facilities in the UAE and branch out further across the GCC, into North Africa and out east, including Japan, China, Malaysia and South Korea.

Ocean Harvest was founded in 2021 by Robert Kupstas. He also co-founded Pure Harvest, which has raised $334 million across 11 funding rounds.

“Right now we’re in the midst of a difficult time for early stage startup VC investments overall,” Kupstas said.

“We’re in a fortunate position in Ocean Harvest in that we have the Pure Harvest track record. It’s not our first rodeo.”

However, the company has ruled out a listing for now.

Jamil said: “It is too early to decide on IPOs. I wouldn’t let my investors chase pixie dust.”

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