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Sustainability recognition for first oyster farm in the Middle East

February 13, 2023  By Colin Ley


Oyster lanterns under water (Photo: Dibba Bay Oysters)

Six years on from becoming the first oyster producer to adopt a farming location in the Middle East, Dibba Bay Oyster Farm is hitting amazing growth targets alongside the successful gaining of international recognition for the high-level sustainability of its operation.

Farming at Northern Fujairah, off the east coast of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Dibba Bay produces 300,000 oysters a month in what the company calls the region’s “pristine” water conditions.

“We have extremely clean seawater along a sparsely populated coastline,” Ramie Murray, founder and CEO of Dibba Bay Oysters told Hatchery International. “While our production site is relatively shallow, however, we are only metres away from deep water, flowing off the continental shelf. This is a combination of factors which helps to create an abundance of natural food for our oysters.

“Thanks to the purity of our water, the abundance of plankton and warm temperatures, our oysters quickly grow into a world-class product with exceptional meat to shell ratio, beautiful clean white shells, and a delicious fresh taste.”

Even allowing for Murray’s understandably positive description of the company’s product, the growth figures reported by Dibba Bay are hugely impressive.

“Thanks to the ideal temperatures which exist in the waters of Northern Fujairah, and the rich density of food that’s available throughout most of the year, our oysters have an incredibly fast growth rate, needing only seven to nine months to reach adult size,” he said. “European oysters, in comparison, can take up to two to three years to grow to market size.”

Dibba Bay Oyster Farm – Drone view (Photo: Dibba Bay Oyster Farm)

Stringent hatchery requirements

Founded in 2016, Dibba Bay buys spats from hatcheries around the world, seeds them into an oyster nursery, and places them in lanterns before lowering them into the water.

“We draw spat from a number of international hatcheries, all of whom must meet our stringent requirements for biosecurity,” said Murray. “In selecting hatchery suppliers, we look for maximum spat survivability and favourable growth characteristics, as suited to our unique environment.”

The good news for aspiring future suppliers is that Dibba Bay is also set on further expansion and is definitely still ‘open’ to connecting with hatcheries that can support its ongoing development plans.

In addition to setting high-growth production targets, the company is keenly focused on maintaining respect for the local environment, a commitment which earned Dibba Bay an international sustainability award in July this year in the form of Friend of the Sea recognition for sustainable practices. Certification by Friend of the Sea duly acknowledged that the company’s aquaculture facilities meet “strict sustainable policies.”

The certification criteria includes the need for applicant farms to have “no impact on their critical habitat, compliance with water quality parameters, no use of harmful antifouling or growth hormones, compliance with water quality management, social accountability, and continuous improvement of waste and energy management.”

Certification also covers the traceability of Dibba Bay’s packing and export operations, a part of the business which is split 50/50 between the servicing of local market outlets and the delivery of exports to Hong Kong, the Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles, Oman, alongside other destinations.

“We are the only certification body to apply the same approval requirements for both fisheries and aquaculture,” said Paolo Bray, founder and director of Friend of the Sea, adding that there was much to be positive about in the way aquaculture is performing within the global production and harvesting of fish for human consumption.

“While several NGOs have focused on negative issues in relation to aquaculture, with claims that are often not based on science, we gave fish farmers the opportunity from the start to apply for Friend of the Sea recognition alongside businesses in the fisheries sector. We did this because we wanted to place aquaculture on the same level as caught seafood from an environmental perspective. We felt fish farmers deserved this same recognition when we started and we still feel the same today.”

A World Sustainability Organization project, Friend of the Sea awards sustainable practice certificates to companies working in fisheries, aquaculture, fishmeal, and omega-3 fish oil. In addition, the organisation promotes projects related to restaurants, sustainable shipping, whale and dolphin-watching, aquaria, ornamental fish, UV creams, and others. The body also says it is the only sustainable fisheries and aquaculture certification programme to be recognised and supervised globally by the European National Accreditation Agencies.

Asked how gaining Friend of the Sea recognition was affecting Dibba Bay’s sales and marketing development, Murray said that the sustainability award was already drawing positive attention from across the company’s customer base.

“Our mission as an oyster farm has always been to protect our oceans and involve sustainable practices in all aspects of our business, thereby helping to safeguard the integrity of aquatic life,” he said. “We are proud to be acknowledged by Friend of the Sea for our sustainable farming practices. It is important to us that there is an accredited third party certifying our work and sustainability, demonstrating our certification status, which we believe will help consumers choose more consciously.

“Since July, therefore, we have implemented the Friend of the Sea logo across all our communication platforms and have received a lot of positive feedback from our customers. Some of our hotel and restaurant clients, in fact, are even requesting a sustainability certification as part of their supplier onboarding. The topic is definitely at the forefront of modern food production requirements, and we are proud to be able to supply the market with a sustainably grown product that has been certified by Friend of the Sea.”

Follow-on checks

“We have more than 1,500 companies in over 80 countries who are able to display the Friend of the Sea logo on their products,” added Bray. “Across this total group, roughly one third of certified businesses are involved in Omega-3 fish oil production, one third are from the fisheries sector and one third from aquaculture. We also follow an all-species approach to certification which allows our aquaculture coverage to embrace the complete range of fish farming ventures.”

Maintaining sustainability standards year-on-year, especially in the face of today’s surge in energy costs, is also a key focus of the Friend of the Sea model. Dibba Bay, for example, will be subject to an annual sustainability audit to reinforce the original certification status which it gained in July.

“Obtaining their certificate proved not only that Dibba Bay conducts a responsible farming operation according to our standards,” said Bray, “but also that the company has a broad commitment to protecting the environment.”


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