A fish farm. Picture: 123RF/Nadtochiy
A fish farm. Picture: 123RF/Nadtochiy

Riyadh — The desert kingdom of Saudi Arabia, long synonymous with its oil wealth, may soon produce and export a less likely commodity: farm-raised salmon.

Vikings Label FZC, a company majority owned by Norwegian investors, is planning to set up the country’s first salmon farming project, aiming to supply Saudi consumers with as much as 5,000 tons of the cold-water fish annually by 2023.

The facility will cost about $90m, and the company is seeking $25m of that from investors, CEO Lukas Havn said.

So far, one Saudi investor — Hani al-Saleh, CEO of transport services company Arabian Hala — has pledged funds to the project, Havn said.

Vikings Label is also in talks with Saudi banks and the Saudi Industrial Development Fund.

Seafood companies such as Vikings Label see growth opportunities in Saudi Arabia, which is increasingly promoting healthy lifestyles and eating habits as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s broader strategy to overhaul the economy and transform society.

Aquaculture is one of the businesses for which Saudi officials hope to attract investment. Vikings Label would be the country’s first salmon farm, according to the government’s National Fisheries Development Programme.

The company hopes to start building fish tanks and other aquaculture facilities north of the Red Sea city of Jeddah in the first quarter of 2020, Havn said.

“The farm will be built in a way that’s expandable, so production can reach up to 10,000 tons,” he said. “We could export to countries around the kingdom.”

Saudi authorities want to almost double per capita fish consumption in the country to 13kg by the end of 2020 and to 22kg — the global average — by 2030.

That’s an ambitious target for a nation in which lamb dominates palates, and heart ailments as well as diabetes are common.