Big ambitions for Ireland's seafood

Published on
April 1, 2013

Jason Whooley, CEO of BIM, the Irish Sea Fisheries Board, is on a mission to change the country’s seafood industry to help it become more competitive, and in doing so to open up new market opportunities.

Irish vessels land more than 40 commercial species and the value of the catch in 2012 was GBP 822 million (USD 1.2 million, EUR 968,000). Two-thirds of this is exported, with 67 percent selling to traditional markets in Europe, which are currently static or declining.  Of that, 14 percent goes to Nigeria, 4 percent to Asia, 2 percent to Russia and just 0.2 percent to the United States.   

“There are great opportunities on the wider global market, but a recent analysis of the country’s processing capacity showed that the small size and scale of the majority of companies is hampering such development. To turn this round, we have been working on a new long-term strategy, that will enable companies to reach out and grab new opportunities,” explained Whooley. 

“The greatest prospects lie in supplying fast growing markets with large centres of population, especially in Asia,” said Whooley. “Our new strategy will help companies to collaborate and to set up joint venture operations and partnerships to enable them to operate competitively in this arena.”

The aim is to scale up to have 1 to 2 entities in each of the shellfish, pelagic, salmon and whitefish sectors with a turnover in excess of EUR 50 million (USD 64 million), supported by a range of smaller companies.  

A collective route to market scheme was launched in January and offers grant aid and expert advice on achieving collaboration and increasing competitiveness in export markets.

The scheme follows a pilot undertaken in 2012, in which BIM encouraged the set up of two seafood collectives, which are currently developing new business links in Asia.  

In building the strategy, BIM looked beyond its shores, to see how other countries have supported companies to develop new markets, and invited experts to Ireland to share their knowledge. The result was a Global Seafood Player seminar, held at the end of March, to which seafood companies, financiers and other industry players were invited to learn from others’ experience. 

Opened by Simon Coveney, Minster for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the seminar attracted more than 100 delegates and combined presentations with a lively panel discussion session.

Gary Hooper, CEO of Aquaculture New Zealand, told delegates how the country’s mussel processors have got together to develop the Pure New Zealand Greenshell Mussels brand for the Chinese market. “Sales are growing fast and success is the result of collaboration, together with innovative thinking and new marketing ideas,” said Hooper.

Food futurist Christophe Pelletier outlined trends and changes likely to occur at global level and explained how these must influence future strategy for Irish seafood producers. He looked in particular at the Chinese and other emerging markets and at the role aquaculture needs to play in supplying seafood to future generations.  

Finance was covered by Gorjan Nikolik, a senior analyst with Rabobank, who specializes in the seafood sector.  He provided an investment banker’s perspective on global seafood opportunities and spoke about key drivers in emerging markets. He also highlighted opportunities for tapping into investment funds, private equity and venture capital, to help companies develop new collaborative partnerships.  

In particular, he offered hope for those seeking funds to develop aquaculture initiatives. “As aquaculture grows and matures I think it will become more similar to the farming of poultry and pork and this will motivate investment from the large meat companies,” he said. “I also foresee investment potential from Chinese companies looking to secure supply for their domestic markets because seafood will be in demand long after meat demand is satisfied in China.”

The work undertaken by BIM fits in with the government’s own strategy, Irish Food Harvest 2020, which aims to help all sectors build capacity and adapt to new challenges and opportunities. Goals for the seafood sector include an increase in revenue to at least EUR 1 billion (USD 1.3 billion), the creation of 3,000 new jobs and an ambitious 78 percent increase in aquaculture production.  

“We believe there is potential for increasing value in the sector by improving quality and undertaking additional processing, and the BIM Seafood Development Centre is well placed to help develop innovative, consumer oriented seafood products.  In addition, we need to refine marketing effort, encourage more non Irish landings into the country, and develop production potential for new species,” explained Whooley.   

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