Des Moore is the head of production at Majestic Oysters, a key producer based in County Donegal, Ireland. In an exclusive interview with SeafoodSource, Moore said his company and other oyster companies in Ireland and France have ramped up exports to Asia.
Sales to China have been especially strong, as Chinese demand for oysters has been on the rise in recent years. However, oversupply now appears to be pushing down prices. The largely export-driven industry has been hit by what Moore terms the “carnage” of 2015, when an influx of big oysters hit the market at low prices in China – where buyers have a preference for large-sized oysters. That dragged down price and they still haven’t recovered, Moore said. As a result, Majestic has shifted focus to other parts of Asia and mainland Europe, with bulk sales of its Speciales-variety oysters to France.
Based on Ireland’s west coast, Majestic had been shipping 80 percent of boxed product to Asia, according to Moore who operates the firm with French oyster specialist Jacques Cocollos. Majestic has been having a good oyster season in 2016, with little or no mortality, according to Moore. He’s also happy that licensing of sites by Irish authorities has sped up, allowing aquaculturists to increase the quantity and quality of their sites. A more efficient licensing of aquaculture is part of ambitious plans by the Irish government to increase exports of seafood.
SeafoodSource: Can you explain more about the influx of big oysters into China?
Moore: At the beginning of 2015, there was a huge overproduction of large oysters in France and Ireland. The market in China was developing steadily at that period with good prices. Suddenly an influx of brands selling large oysters at ridiculously low prices created a situation where importers were spoilt for choice. Since then, many suppliers into China have not been making profits and the situation hasn't rectified itself. Indeed I, [along with] oyster farmers from Nova Scotia, Namibia [and] New Zealand perceived the Far East – and particularly China – as offering an endless customer base at good price. Neither has materialized.
SeafoodSource: How will oversupply in China rectify itself? Is supply drying up?
Moore: It remains to be seen how the market in China will progress. Only time will tell whether it is better to grow large oysters for this market or to sell the smaller grade two, three and four oysters in the European mainland market or the low-priced buffet market. Singapore, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Malaysia all provide some good market niches but the weekly [air] departures are low and need to exceptionally good quality to progress in an upward sales pattern.
SeafoodSource: What prompted Irish authorities to open up licensing of sites?
Moore: The Irish authorities have really progressed their licensing backlog quickly and efficiently. The complex lag phase of appropriate assessment and rigorous efforts to comply with conservation objectives is leading to a number of good sites being licensed. This has greatly enhanced my business, with a range of sites allowing for the production of top-quality oysters available for packaging all year round. Ireland is well-placed with its cool temperate climate to grow these bigger oysters with good meat. 2016 showed minimal mortality in all sites in Ireland. [But] it does appear that the percentage of big oysters is minimal due to the reluctance of farmers to grow big at a low price.
SeafoodSource: Has the demand from France for Irish sites continued? Are problems water quality still ongoing?
Moore: A number of French concerns have consolidated and enlarged their sites in Ireland. The lack of herpes, vibrio, etc. in Ireland in 2016 cannot be easily explained, but [it may be the result of] no extreme periods of heat or rain occurring – consequently no conditions to trigger problems.
SeafoodSource: Are there any other countries in the EU increasing or seeking to increase oyster output?
Moore: Portugal appears to be the only other country showing a production increase, apart from France and Ireland, but warm summer temperatures in Portugal - or anywhere temperatures reach 30° C – can quickly render an ambitious good-performing site into a dead derelict site with the least fluctuation in environmental conditions.