Fish exports in Yemen are one of the nation's most important sources of revenue after oil and agriculture and provide diversity to the export sector, according to officials and economic experts.
"Yemeni fish and seafood are well known for their high quality, which has increased demand throughout Arab countries and the rest of the world," said Nabil al-Kawni, an engineer who is director of quality control for the Ministry of Fisheries. "The amount of fish and other seafood that were exported during the first half of 2012 reached 62,000 tons with a value of $150 million."
Fish exports during the first half of 2012 included 18,000 tons of fresh fish, representing 20% of exports and a value of $65 million. There were 31,000 tons of frozen fish, representing 51% of exports worth $55 million. Another 7,000 tons of squid were worth $17 million. The remaining percentage was composed of other fish, according to a report published by the Ministry of Fisheries on August 14th.
"Seafood was exported to 24 countries, the most important of which is Saudi Arabia, which imported 19,000 tons of Yemen's total exports," al-Kawni said.
Al-Kawni said specialised processing and canning centres should be established at Yemeni export outlets, especially outlets on land, instead of exporting seafood products as raw material. This would increase the value and the price of seafood products in Yemen.
"Most of these products are exported as raw material (fresh and frozen fish), and the country is losing a great deal of money on its value," he said. "The value of these exported products could increase substantially if the bulk of it were processed before being exported."
Dr. Taha al-Fasil, an economist at Sanaa University, said Yemen's seafood exports contribute to diversifying the nation's export sector and supporting the balance of payments.
"Yemen primarily exports oil, followed by agricultural products such as fruits and vegetables and then seafood, so the latter constitutes one of the sources of national income and plays a significant role in employing a large segment of the workforce," al-Fasil said.
He said Yemeni seafood has a reputation for high quality, especially tuna fish that is highly valued among neighbouring Arabian Gulf countries. Yemen also produces shellfish and molluscs that are more expensive and thus more profitable to the national economy.
The Yemeni coastline stretches over 2,500 kilometres. There are an estimated 74,000 fishermen who work in 130 fishing co-operatives that own 21,000 fishing boats, according to Jamal Rajaa, an engineer and director of the Ministry of Fisheries' information centre.
He said fish co-operatives produce 98% of the total catch.
Rajaa said the fisheries sector in Yemen includes the traditional and industrial fishing sectors as well as aquaculture and tuna processing.
"Data is collected from all the coastal areas and then sent to the Ministry of Fisheries, which releases the data every three months," he said.
Rajaa said there are obstacles to gathering data in the fishing sector, notably the lack of databases and biological information and an absence of technical capabilities to assess the stock.
He said the ministry was making an effort through the Information Centre to overcome such obstacles.
"The fishing sector's statistical data will be much more efficient after the centre is linked with 122 fishing locations along the coastal provinces," he said.