From a Scottish loch to the desert: UAE sets up its first salmon farm

With an indoor ski resort in the middle of a shopping centre, an African safari park and massive football pitches carved into its arid deserts, the United Arab Emirates has never ceased to amaze visitors.

But now a Dubai company is “importing” a Scottish loch – in the shape of 40,000 fish – to rear the first ever UAE-grown Atlantic salmon.

“We’ve made salmon in the desert, it’s pretty remarkable,” said Bader Bin Mubarak, chief executive of Fish Farm, which is based in Dubai, the largest city in the UAE.

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“Here in Jebel Ali we can create whatever country we want, be it Japan, Canada – whatever we need,” Mr Bin Mubarak said. “We control the temperature, tides, salinity and depth, and create sunrise, sunset, automatic currents as if it’s a river or sea, and make it as if we have a storm or calm weather.

Ewan McGregor in the film Salmon Fishing In The Yemen. Photo: Lionsgate/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock
Ewan McGregor in the film Salmon Fishing In The Yemen. Photo: Lionsgate/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

“This type of land-based salmon in a hot climate has never been done in the world before.”

The enterprise echoes Salmon Fishing In The Yemen, the 2011 British comedy-drama film starring Scottish actor Ewan McGregor, who played fisheries expert Dr Alfred Jones, hired to fulfil a sheikh’s dream to introducing fly fishing to the Yemen desert.

Some 18 months ago, the juvenile fish – supplied by Landcatch Natural Selection, based at Ormsary, Lochgilphead, in Argyll – were air-freighted to an onshore hatchery in Dubai and placed in tanks 20 metres wide.

Fish Farm plans to sell the premium, organic salmon in restaurants and supermarkets from 5 April.

From 2020, the company will sell the first salmon born and raised in the UAE, as eggs from the current stock have already hatched and the baby fish are being grown to market size.

Salmon is now the second most popular fish in the UAE.

Restaurant owners say there has been a generational change with younger people perceiving salmon as being “trendier”.

Landcatch began supplying the first of 40,000 fish of around 40 to 50 grammes to Fish Farm’s hatchery in November 2017.

General manager Dave ­Danson said transporting the fish by air had been quite an undertaking, but had proven successful.

“The regulations are quite strict. Moving fish, water and oxygen on an aeroplane requires Civil Aviation Authority paperwork, and competent people have to be trained and put in place.

“We did a lot of trials on the farm with the transport tanks, and got the system honed to where we wouldn’t lose a single fish. It’s a fair distance, 5,000 miles, and it got to the point where it was very, very successful.

“We were doing weekly ­deliveries of these live fish until they got all of the fish that they needed.”