After Egypt, the Islamic Republic of Iran has the second largest population of the Middle East with more than 80 million people. The total area of the country is 1.65 million km2, which includes 1.636 million km2 land area and 12,000 km2 of water surface. It has a coastline stretching for 2,700 km. To the south, it borders the Persian Gulf and the Oman Sea and in the north, the Caspian Sea. Iran is mainly known for its crude oil exports, which is still the main economic activity and government revenue. Unknown to most people is that Iran is also the largest fishery producer in the region, and has a large potential as a sourcing country for aquaculture products. As the marine fishery has reached its biological limits, the Islamic Republic of Iran wants to shift from fisheries to aquaculture, the latter having increased from 1,510 tonnes in 1975 to 346,118 tonnes in 2015. The majority of this production takes place in remote southern areas of the country, where food security is an issue due to lack of infrastructure. Different types of aquaculture are practiced as a result of varying weather conditions across the country. Rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), Chinese carps (Cyprinidae) and shrimp species (Litopenaeus vannamei and Macrobrachium rosenbergii) are the most common species cultured.

In Iran

Sourcing news

Species in Iran

Click on the species and find out more about the species in Iran

Iran's seafood sector

According to FAO, Iran's total production of fishery and aquaculture commodities counted 985,000 metric tonnes (MT) in 2015. More than half (58%) of the total production was derived from marine waters, the remaining from inland waters (FAO 2015). Capture fisheries are responsible for most of the seafood production (637,779 MT), but the contribution of aquaculture has sharply grown: from 4,935 MT in 1978 (less than 1% of the total seafood production) to 346,118 MT in 2015 (35% of the total seafood production). Nevertheless, the role of the seafood sector as a contributor to the Iranian economy is limited and its share of the agricultural sector remains low. About 80% of the total aquaculture production is utilized for domestic markets, the main commodities being fish, shrimp and caviar. As fish was not a popular part of the Iranian diet in 1980s, per capita consumption increased from 1 kg/year to 9.2 kg/year in 2014. Expansion of aquaculture throughout the country and marketing campaigns performed by the Iranian Fisheries Research Organization (IFRO) and Ministry of Health have changed the widely held image of seafood. The total number of people employed in fisheries has risen from 93,213 in 1993 to 208,472 by 2014.

Fisheries and aquaculture production

Source: FAO 2017

Both captured and aquaculture production in Iran have increased steadily. Most of the wild capture species are from marine waters (86%). However, as wild fish has become more limited due to declining stocks in the Persian Gulf and

Caspian Sea, the biggest increase of seafood production in the last few years have been realized by aquaculture. Between 2011 and 2015 the production of cultured species, which are mainly from inland waters, increased with 40%.

At the end of the last Iranian year (ending March 2016), Iran produced over 1 million metric tonnes of seafood, its highest production levels so far. It is expected that future growth from aquaculture will continue since demand for trout particularly is exceeding production. The government is supporting a program to increase Iran's seafood output in a sustainable way.

Production per species in 2015 (tonnes)

Source: FAO 2017

According to updated FAO statistics, seafood production from marine and freshwater resources have both increased over the previous five years. Wild marine fish represented

over 50% of total seafood production in Iran. About 35% of the wild marine fish compose of demersal fish, which are mainly caught in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman.

Most aquaculture production in Iran is comprised of freshwater species (94%), except for marine shrimp production. Cultured marine shrimp production has increased significantly over the past few years and counts for nearly 2% of the total seafood production in Iran. Each year, French companies sign contracts with Iranian farmers for the joint production and export of large amounts of shrimp. The required knowledge and technology, at each step of the production process, is brought to the table by the French companies. These include the latest shrimp farming methods and the know-how of producing larvae.

Export markets

Source: Trade Map 2017 International Trade Centre, Please note that the figure above shows mirror data.

As statistical information from major importers of Iranian seafood has not been reported, the figure above does not fully represent the total annual values in US$ obtained by the export of Iranian seafood products. Direct export data from

Iran reached 350 million US$ in 2016, compared to the 50 million US$ shown by the mirror data.

The United Arab Emirates are Iran’s largest importer of fish and seafood products, with a peak value of US$ 29 million in 2013 accounting for 39% of total Iranian seafood exports. While the value of import by the United Arab Emirates for seafood from Iran has decrease in 2015 and 2016, the UAE import share has grown to 43% in 2016 and they still remain Iran's biggest importer.

Tariff problems are expected to be the main reason for a decline of export values in general. It is likely that Iran cannot compete with lower tariff countries in Asia, which makes it important to reach out to other potential export partners. There have been some recent attempts to enter the Japanese and USA markets with shrimp, but export quantities are small.

Export products in 2016 (000 US$)

Source: Trade Map 2017 International Trade Centre, Please note that the figure above shows mirror data.

Only 8% of the seafood produced in Iran is exported. This small percentage is a consequence of reduced fish stocks of the various types of caviar-bearing sturgeon, which has led to a virtual ban on the sturgeon industry (Iran's main seafood

export commodity). Moreover, cultured fish, such as rainbow trout, are mainly produced for the domestic market due to its small size (700 - 800 grams).

According to Trade Map, crustaceans are, at the moment, the most profitable export species of the Iranian seafood sector. In 2016, 47% of the total seafood export volume was comprised of crustaceans, creating a value of 23 million US$. This is a reduction of US$ 7 million compared to 2015. Overall, the export values of Iranian seafood species have decreased in recent years, but with international sanction being lifted and surpassing diseases like the early mortality syndrome, Iran is keen on reviving its seafood industry. However, after the United States' abrogation of the the Iran nuclear deal, the future of Iranian exports is uncertain.