12 April 2017
The facilities at the National Aquaculture Group were phenomenal. World class.
December 2016 you travelled to one of the largest seaports in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. What was the nature of your trip?
I was invited to go there to facilitate at a workshop that was being organized by the Saudi Arabian Aquaculture Society. It was actually at the NAQUA group (The National Aquaculture Group), which is situated about 200 kilometers south of Jeddah alongside the Red Sea. And this has become an important issue for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia because the King of Saudi Arabia has created a 2030 vision where He sees the Kingdom producing 630,000 tons of aquaculture products by 2030. At the moment that sort of figure is in the sort of 40 to 50 thousand ton range. And they've got to try and get on top of these sorts of issues. So the idea was running the workshop to engage and get some ideas about how that could all happen and obviously based around increasing seafood consumption in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
While you were there did you share any special tips about seafood preparation?
Well we shared a lot of information because I guess the first problem that we faced was the fact that the local producers believe (just like so many other local producers around the world) that they produce the best quality products. And they are usurped by what they class as cheaper imports. And because that's an issue that's faced in so many countries (particularly developed countries) then you know we've got to find ways to solve that. And so we discussed the fact that they actually have a quality standard for aquaculture and how they could actually tighten that up and create a brand logo alongside that to promote that particular aspect.
And then maybe align that with their food standards, bring in things like a fish names standard that would then ensure there would be no confusion about the names of products. Because quite clearly, many countries around the world have very loose laws and regulations about things like fish names and quality and other aspects.
Most don't like to get into the quality area because they want to control food safety. Food safety is obviously paramount. But you know people need to know about quality. And the only way that you can actually highlight that you've got a better product is by having some sort of quality standards. So in many respects that people in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia were ahead of the game.
But like everywhere we can all learn from other aspects that are happening around the world. So we're putting together a number of different areas where they can they can investigate to see how they can engage. And not only within their systems but how they would pay for that in the fullness of time. I mean who would share in that, who are the stakeholders. We had some interesting discussions about the fact that probably they don't know every seafood retailer that there is probably there are people engaged in importing and they're not necessarily well known within the seafood area. So these are all things that need to be tidied up. And as I say it's not just in that particular country it happens in many countries.
In addition to the project covering about 70 miles of coastline, what else can you tell us about it?
Well the project itself is about the whole of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and of course we were just at one of the aquaculture groups. They're clearly the largest aquaculture group in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. And incredible to see the facilities that they have. They have control over both their shrimp and their barramundi that they are producing right the way through from brood stock, through the hatchery, through nursery, to grow out, through processing. And it's only after the processing that they lose control in the sense that it goes on to the next party. And of course that's generally where you know a lot of companies have the similar problem with the fact that as soon as it leaves your hands you're now hoping that the next people look after the product as well as you have.
So that then brings you into the sort of areas of retail and how do we make sure that retailers are doing the right thing. Are they training their staff? Are they making seafood retail a pleasant experience for people? Do they know what they're talking about when the counter staff talking to the customers? So all these sorts of things are being discussed in the whole process.
The facilities at the National Aquaculture Group were phenomenal. World class. I doubt I’ve seen better anywhere in the world. And so you know they've got a lot going for them. But of course not many people in the world would know that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a producer of aquaculture.
What if any are some of the challenges that are unique to such an operation and what are they doing to overcome them?
Well you're in the middle of nowhere aren't you? When you're you know 200 kilometers away from a main center in probably the most, what's the word?
The desert of the world if you like, you know? So you've got to produce your own energy, you've got to produce your own water. They have staff of somewhere like two and a half to 3000 people. So you've effectively got to create your own Village’s, towns, whatever. So you know that's an immense challenge. You've also got to bring together not only local people but also specialists from overseas. So you've got a mix of nationalities and you know we all know that in our world that we live that you know there are people who get on and people that don't. So you're adding to that extra flavor of the difficulty of being able to do these things. But all credit to them.
They seem to have a very fine operation. As I say I was immensely impressed with all the
ways that they’ve approached all their challenges, first class facilities and first class people.
AISP is interested in promoting a fish named standard. How would this help Saudi Arabia and for that matter any country?
You know one of the big problems of course is this confusion about names and it's in every country. In Australia we have the Australian fish name standard that's an approved standard through Australian standards authority. That meets global requirements as the normal standards. So it is the only standard of its type in the world.
Although Europe laid claim to having a fish named standard in their regulations. But of course typically with the European Union there are a lot of countries in the European Union and some regulate and police those things better than others. Nevertheless you know their system could be used and could be helpful in the whole process. It goes into a lot more detail than possibly the Australian fish name standard that just concentrates on creating one name one fish.
The European standard European authority process includes putting in about whether it’s a wild caught product, an aquaculture product, where it's caught, and lots of other details like that. So they're all quite relative to this and the outcome of all that is that consumers are better informed. And if you’ve got confused consumers, there's a chance they won't buy seafood. If you take away the confusion, there's every chance they will buy seafood. So it's in the industry’s advantage, (its to everyone's advantage) that we take away the confusion and try and stick to one name one fish.
Of course there's always going to be issues because of different languages etc. etc. But there is no reason why if the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia goes through the process to create a fish name standard they could then also involve other countries in the Middle East North Africa area and maybe create an Arabic list, which they would all be involved and share. In that way you're eliminating a lot of extra work in other countries.
So I think there's enormous opportunities. And clearly by taking that confusion away you'll get more sales. Additionally to that, it adds enormous strength to environmental situations that management processes and especially to food safety. Because I don't think you can have a food recall program unless you've got a fish named protocol. We see so much confusion when there are recalls. You can't have a food safety plan unless you've got an approved food recall process. So to me it's at the heart of food safety.
I think they'll follow through in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on this particular issue. And we certainly look forward to working with them. Our aim through the association is to try and spread this information and get others to get involved as well. Because the more people that do this the better off we'll be in the global seafood industry.
AISP is also looking to promote global standards and accreditation within the industry. Why is this important and how would this serve the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and any country?
Through the World Trade Organization you can't treat imports in any different way than you treat local products. Clearly you know a lot of local producers, be that in America, or Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, or in Australia, they always complain about imports. But the bottom line is if they're coming into the country and they're meeting the standards of the country then there's nothing you can do about that. But the only way you can lift the whole program (and this would actually help lift the image of seafood and the quality of seafood right across the world) is if you actually create quality standards, which are then ensconced, in your food standards processes.
That means that imports would have to meet the same standards as the local people do and that would only be a boon. I do think that all people get a bit carried away by talking about poor quality imported product. No doubt. That exists. But generally speaking in the world today, seafood being the most globally traded food product that it is, we have so many countries that have lifted their game enormously in the area of seafood production and processing. Many of them are have standards and audits of the highest level.
So I think it's about trying to the old “rising tide raising all boats” situation by adopting quality standards that would then increase the confidence of the consumer, and everyone's a winner.