DOHA (Reuters) - Qatar plans to expand fish farming to meet growing demand for fresh fish in local markets and maintain stocks in offshore Gulf waters in the face of devastating climate change.
Although fish in the Gulf have generally adapted to higher water temperatures, the frequency and scope of coral reef bleaching in recent years suggest the region is at real risk of losing its bio-diverse ecosystem in the coming decades, said Pedro Range, Research Assistant Professor at Qatar University.
Global warming damaging to coral reefs, coupled with overfishing, could cause a 30% decline in future fish catch potential in Qatari waters by the end of the century, he said.
"In terms of climate change unfortunately the actions we can take on a local scale are irrelevant. What we can do is control local pressures that interact with climate change, in terms of controlling fishery stocks and habitat availability."
Last November, Qatar launched its first offshore aquaculture project, using floating cages producing seabass.
The Samkna fish farm, located 50 km (30 miles) offshore from Qatar's Ruwais region, produces 2,000 tonnes of fish annually.
"We have started an expansion plan to double our production capacity to 4,000 tonnes. We are obtaining permits for the expansion and building new cages," said Mahmoud Tahoun, operations and development director for marine aquaculture at Al-Qumra, the company running the Samkna fish farm. "Five years from now, we expect to cover 60% of local demand."
Fish farm production is supposed to prevent the depletion of fish stocks in offshore waters, where access is regulated by Qatari authorities. But Range said if that the broader international problem of excessive production of greenhouse gases that create climate change is not tackled, then none of the local fish-preservation efforts can be effective.
A University of British Columbia study in 2018 found that a third of marine species could become extinct in the Gulf by 2090 because of rising water temperature, changing salinity and oxygen levels, and human activities such as overfishing.
(Reporting by Eman Kamel; Writing by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)