UAE-based oyster farm making push for US regulatory approval

Published on
June 10, 2021
A package of Dibba Bay Oysters.

The Middle East’s first – and currently only shellfish farm is seeking more international sales as it continues to ramp up production.

United Arab Emirates-based Dibba Bay Oysters has partnered with U.S.-based aquaculture consulting and advisory firm Kingsbridge Strategies as it makes a push to expand its export markets. Part of that expansion is a move to gain approval through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s shellfish importation process, known as the National Shellfish Sanitation Program.

The push for sales in the U.S. comes just five years after the company was founded by Ramie Murray, in 2016. Historically, the region has had pearl-oyster farms, but commercial cultivation of oysters for food had not been tried. From an initial output of just 5,000 oysters a month, Dibba Bay now plans to reach production of 600,000 oysters a month by the end of 2021.

Dibba Bay Oysters reached out to Kingsbridge due to its experience in the industry and the difficulty of navigating the U.S. shellfish import process, Kingsbridge President Thomas Kehoe Jr. told SeafoodSource.

“We were brought on board for two reasons,” he said. “To help scale their international sales footprint and distribution, and also gaining access to the U.S. markets, which is not easy, particularly with live bivalves given the FDA regulatory processes.”

Kingsbridge was founded by its CEO – and Thomas Kehoe Jr.’s father – Thomas Kehoe Sr. He has decades of experience in the industry, currently sits on advisory boards for the U.S. Trade Representative, and has a number of other clients in the aquaculture space.

“We bring a unique mix of skillset to the table for the global aquaculture, global seafood business in terms of sales, permitting, regulation,” Kehoe Sr. said.

Kehoe Jr., meanwhile, spent most of his professional career as an attorney and an investment banker, and has experience with how private companies can raise capital.

Murray said the partnership with Kingsbridge will help expand the reach of Dibba Bay Oysters.

"Dibba Bay is delighted to enter into this partnership with a view of aggressively growing our international footprint into the United States of America and beyond,” Murray said in a release. “The Kingsbridge team has an unmatched background with over 70 years of combined experience in the global seafood industry and pertinent relationships unlike any other.”

That combined experience will assist with the importation process, Kehoe Jr. said. The FDA has a strict protocol for the importation of live shellfish, which needs to be met before a company can send products to the U.S.

“Currently, only four countries outside of the U.S. sit on the interstate certified shellfish shippers list, which is kind of the gatekeeper for live bivalves here in the U.S.," Kehoe Jr. said.

Only Canada, Korea, New Zealand, and Mexico have been approved under the uniform sanitation requirements of the National Shellfish Program. Achieving that for Dibba Bay will take time – and the cooperation of the U.A.E. government, Kehoe Sr. said.

“The path to becoming licensed and certified is a country-to-country path,” Kehoe Sr. said. “The U.A.E. is now in the early stages of approaching the U.S. FDA, and then we will take the football once that whole process starts.”

Accessing the U.S. market, Murray said, will open the company’s oysters up to important premium retail markets.

“The U.S. gastronomy and premium retail markets, particularly in large metropolitan cities like New York, Miami, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, as well as key tourism destinations such as Las Vegas or Long Island, will hopefully be delighted with the opportunity to enjoy Dibba Bay’s exceptional gourmet oysters grown off the east coast of the United Arab Emirates,” he said.

Accessing the U.S. market would serve a secondary purpose of proving the farm meets rigorous standards as it attempts to gain access to other international destinations, Kehoe Sr. said.

“We think it’s going to happen, because the U.A.E. has the resources and the mind to make it happen,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Dibba Bay Oysters

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