Thousands of salmon grown in the Dubai desert swim in ponds from the North Sea, despite high temperatures.
From a small control room inside a closed land surface facility, an employee at Fish Farm reproduces the same natural conditions in Norway, which produces the best salmon, while the temperature in the ponds changes as needed to remain the same as in Norway.
According to the executive director in charge of the farm, Badr bin Mubarak, growing salmon in the desert is unimaginable. “But that's what we do in Dubai,” he says.
"We mimic the sunrise and sunset, the tides, a strong water stream and a simple river, as we simulate the deep and shallow waters," he told AFP.
Fish Farm says it is the first global company to grow salmon for commercial consumption on land.
In the four ponds, salmon swim, while the strength and temperature of the water stream, the salinity suitable for its growth, and the reproduction of appropriate natural factors are controlled.
Salmon usually live in cold waters in countries such as Iceland, Norway, Alaska, and Scotland.
At a time when the production of Atlantic salmon in a country known for its hot weather seems odd, he says that "providing this environment was the most difficult thing we have faced."
He points out that his company was able to simulate deep water, strong current, as in the ocean, as well as the salinity itself, with a similar water temperature.
Fish Farm brought 40,000 young salmon from a natural hatching farm in Scotland and thousands of other eggs from Iceland to be raised in ponds at a facility in Jebel Ali.
Salmon fish begin to swim upstream in fresh water, before they grow to swim with the current, and then the farm moves them to other ponds filled with sea water.
Fish Farm was established in 2013, with the support of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, to produce, along with salmon, various fish, including Japanese hamachi, which is used in the preparation of sushi. But Bin Mubarak stresses that salmon is the "greatest production" of the farm.
"The UAE imports about 92% of its fish from outside the country," he said. "The goal today is to cover what we import from abroad for food security."
"If a cyclone or flood occurs in a country supplying fish to the UAE, the state will be able to supply itself, which is the main objective of the project," he said.
Bin Mubarak expresses the ambition of the farm to be able to cover at least 50% of what is imported from abroad within two years or more.
He pointed out that among the declared objectives of «Fish Farm», switch to the use of solar energy, given the high cost of electricity.
Since last April, Fish Farm has started selling its product in supermarkets in Dubai, stressing that it is "100% organic". Organic fish are sold at a higher price than imported fish, but for many, the quality is more important.
"It's more expensive, but I think it's quality," said Katia, a German resident in Dubai, who was buying a fish farm salmon in a shop.
"I've tried other salmon, but this is less fat, and my family prefers it, which is organic," she said.
Katia believes that the UAE is making good efforts to produce fish, vegetables and more. "I think we should support that," she said.
Volume of fish trade
A report issued by the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry in late 2018 revealed that the volume of fish trade in the UAE amounted to about 2.58 billion dirhams (about 680 million dollars) in 2017, while the UAE imported 2.3 billion dirhams of fish and molluscs.
Pros and Cons
Jessica Sinclair Taylor of London-based environmental organization FeedBack Global said that full-scale cultivation of salmon on land has “pros and cons”.
Among the positives is the prevention of pollution in lakes or seas where salmon farms are usually located, Taylor said.
It also cited concerns about energy requirements and, consequently, carbon emissions.
Thousands of young salmon were brought by Fish Farm from a farm in Scotland.