WASHINGTON — When Saudi Arabia’s new president, Mohammed bin Salman, came to the White House on January 20, the Gulf was poised to resume its recovery after a year of war and economic depression.
That’s because the kingdom has a history of sourcing its fish.
The kingdom imports about 80 percent of its seafood, according to a report from the Gulf Research Institute, a nonprofit research organization based in the United Arab Emirates.
But the government has yet to decide whether to reopen the region’s fish markets, or to reopen its fish markets to foreign fish sellers.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s second-largest exporter of seafood, has faced intense pressure to stop importing fish.
The government has banned seafood imports by foreign fish companies and the industry has been severely impacted by sanctions imposed by the United States and European Union in retaliation for Riyadh’s military actions in Yemen and its support for the Syrian government.
For years, Saudi seafood companies have had a tight leash on the markets, restricting the flow of foreign fish to Saudi Arabia and prohibiting fish exports.
Since Trump’s inauguration, the Saudi government has begun issuing licenses for fish imports from the United Kingdom and other European countries, allowing Saudi to buy fish from European suppliers and from U.S. suppliers.
But the ban on seafood imports has largely been ineffective.
In March, the International Organization of Seafood Exporters (IOSE) reported that Saudi Arabia had allowed fish imports to total 1.7 million metric tons and that the government had restricted imports of seafood from 10 countries, including the United State, the European Union, and China.
It’s unclear if Saudi Arabia will be able to meet its new export targets for seafood exports, which have been slashed by 80 percent since Trump took office.
“They are really struggling with the fish problem,” said Alaa El-Sayed, an analyst at the Gulf Center for Strategic and International Studies, a research and advocacy organization based out of Washington.
“The government, especially, needs to do more to open up the markets to international fish buyers.”
But it’s also unclear what will happen when the fish markets reopen, and what Saudi Arabia can do with the foreign fish buyers it has signed deals with.
Saudi has not been a big fish buyer, so it doesn’t have the ability to import a huge amount of fish.
But Saudi’s government has said that it is committed to importing more seafood from outside the Gulf region.
What Saudi Arabia is able to do depends on how much it can get from outside sources.
While Saudi Arabia imports a lot of fish from outside of the Gulf, its government has not had a lot to say about how it is going to feed its growing population, according the Gulf research institute.
“There are many concerns with the economy, and the government does not want to speak about the current situation,” said El-Shadbou, the institute’s executive director.
In Saudi Arabia on January 21, the government unveiled plans to open the first ever market to sell imported fish in the country.
It said the market will be located in the kingdom’s eastern province of Najran, located about 25 miles (40 kilometers) northeast of the capital, Riyadh.
Its plan to open a market is likely to be greeted by disappointment among the foreign buyers who have been waiting for more than two years for a chance to fish and eat their fish at home.
Khan al-Bashir, a Saudi fish wholesaler and businessman, said that when he was told that the markets were opening, he was a little skeptical.
“It’s too much fish for a market,” he said.
“But it is a possibility.”
But the market, he added, “will provide a good opportunity for us to buy a lot more fish.
They can put a lot in it.”