Irish organic salmon to launch in China

Published on
December 23, 2013

Irish organic salmon is set to make its debut on the China market in March next year. But the bureaucratic nature of the organic licensing system will mean it won’t initially be certified as such in China, explains the China-based Irish firm piloting the launch.

Farmed Irish organic salmon will be available in China from March to October with smoked salmon available year-round, explained Stephen O’Sullivan, CEO of Shanghai-based Ocean Fresh, which has been importing oysters and mussels.

Speaking to SeafoodSource, O’Sullivan said the salmon is sourced from Murphy’s Irish Seafood, which farms salmon off Ireland’s southwestern Atlantic coast and claims to be the pioneer of organic salmon in the country. Murphy’s accreditations include the Agriculture Biologique certification from Quality-France SAS as well as organic certification from German-based Naturland Verband. Yet a stringent new certification system in China does not recognize internationally accepted certifications and requires importers to reapply under the local organic certification process. Thus the salmon will not initially be sold under the organic labeling used in other markets, said O’Sullivan.

Environmentalism is a key marketing point for Ocean Fresh which, “aims to positively change the way seafood is sourced and consumed by bringing to market seafood that is good for people and the planet,” said O’Sullivan.

Irish seafood exporters have focused on China in the past year, with the Ocean Jade brand emphasizing it stands for quality and sustainability: Crab are caught using “gentle” trap and pot methods, with under-sized crabs returned to the sea.

Crabs are sedated, cool-packed in gel ice and then vac packed for the flight to China by four firms – McBride Fishing, Carr Shelfish, Sofrimar and Shelfish de La Mer – that sell to China under the Ocean Jade brand.

Ocean Jade’s frozen cooked brown crab is available to the China market year-round, with limited availability for live product in the first half of the year. While China is proving an “enormous” and promising market, the sheer flow of newcomers into the market has played into the hands of Chinese buyers, allowing them to lower prices, said Hugh McBride, Ocean Jade director. Many new entrants have had an unrealistic view of the market in China, said McBride, who has found Chinese buyers “very tough” negotiators on price.

Separately, two other Irish firms, the Rockabill Shellfish Co. and Atlantfish Ltd., have combined to market the Royal Atlantic Gold brand in Asia. The duo, which claim to account for 75 percent of Ireland’s prawn catch, have been selling langoustine as well as lobster and razor clams up to 20 centimeters long.

An “abundance of clean and fresh seawater” means Ireland can aspire to rival Norway in output, McBride told a guide published by Bord Bia, Ireland’s food promotion organization, earlier this year. But access to credit remains an obstacle to growth, according to Irish fisheries firms. There are other obvious hurdles to Irish ambitions: Bord Bia runs a skeletal operation in China, with a handful of staff covering the entire territory.

Resourcing its ambitions may be vital if China is to be a reality for the country’s seafood producers. More Irish government assistance is needed to grow the country’s seafood sector, said O’Sullivan, who wants some of the “huge assistance” given by the Irish agricultural ministry to marketing the country’s beef and dairy products to be redirected to promoting seafood exports.

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