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Fisheries - Overview

The Irish seafood industry comprises the commercial sea fishing industry, the aquaculture industry and the seafood processing industry.

The Irish seafood industry is based on the utilisation of a high quality, indigenous natural resource, which has excellent potential for added value. The Irish seafood industry makes a significant contribution to the national economy in terms of output, employment and exports. Generating approximately 11,000 jobs in rural coastal regions, it is estimated that the industry contributed approximately €713 million to the national economy in 2010.

The Seafood Sector has very significant potential to grow and increase the value of output in the coming period. Demand for seafood is growing globally and this is driven both by per capita consumption increases in the developed world and overall global population growth. It is estimated than an additional 40 million tonnes of seafood per annum will be needed globally by 2030. Ireland has the potential to capitalise on this rapid growth and that is reflected in the targets set out in the Food Harvest 2020 Report.

Food Harvest 2020 sets out a roadmap for growth in the seafood sector and the delivery of the recommendations in that report are critical for delivering on the substantial potential of this sector. This potential is based on developing non- traditional species, improving quality and developing value-added products from Irish and foreign landings into Ireland for high value EU and niche markets.
The potential for growth lies in a number of areas. In sea fisheries, opportunities exist to increase the value of the fish caught by:

  • fishing for the market;
  • improving the quality and presentation of catch;
  • developing new higher-value seafood products and presentations;
  • attracting a larger share of the €1.18 billion worth of fish caught in waters from the North of France to the North of Scotland to be landed into  Ireland for sale, processing and transportation;
  • rebuilding and managing fish stocks so as to enable higher annual fish quotas

In aquaculture there is a strong global demand for both finfish (salmon) and shellfish (mussels, oysters). Ireland is well placed to increase its growth of these products but has to overcome regulatory problems resulting from the implementation of EU Environmental Directives (Natura Directives) before it can capture the true potential of the Aquaculture Industry. Aquaculture is a labour intensive (24/7/365) industry providing high value products. The expansion of aquaculture will result in job creation in peripheral coastal communities and will drive the expansion of the seafood processing industry through increased raw material supply.

Seafood innovation and new product development, together with maintenance of an international reputation for wholesome, fresh and natural seafood, produced in the most sustainable and environmentally friendly manner, are essential to the advancement and further development of the Irish seafood sector. State support for the sector is focused on initiatives that endeavour to deliver these fundamental requirements while also seeking to increase Ireland’s market share of the international seafood industry.

Geographically, the fisheries industry is predominantly concentrated on the western seaboard and the harbour towns of the south and east coastline areas. In terms of the fish catching sector, fish and shellfish are landed at six major fishery harbour centres (Killybegs, Castletownbere, Howth, Rossaveal, Dunmore East and An Daingean), at 40 secondary ports and a further 80 piers and landing places where fish landings are recorded. The main industry stakeholders are the primary production sectors of fish catching and aquaculture, the primary and secondary processing sectors, the marketing sectors and ancillary industries such as net making, vessel repair, transport, and a number of other services.

The prospects for seafood, both at a global and European level, are very favourable, especially in the medium to long term. The world’s population is growing strongly and is not expected to stabilise until c. 2050 when there will be more than nine billion people on the planet. The additional 4.5 billion people, on top of the current population, represent a massive new market for food. As a consequence, it is inevitable that demand for seafood will continue to grow for the foreseeable future with estimates suggesting that an extra 40 million tonnes of seafood will be required annually by 2030.

From a European Union perspective, the issue of seafood supply is already acute. Current market demand in Europe is of the order of 12 million tonnes per annum, valued at approximately €60 billion. The amount of seafood produced within the European Union, to meet local market demand, has declined substantially over the last two decades. In the 1990’s, imports accounted for approximately 40% of demand, whereas today that figure is closer to 65% and is showing no sign of falling.

As the emerging powerhouse economies of the Far East grow wealthier, their demand for seafood will continue to increase substantially. It is worth noting, for example, that the middle class in China is expected to quadruple in size to 600 million citizens in the next five years. This, together with an inevitable increase in fuel prices, will reduce the availability of cheap seafood from outside Europe, which, in turn, will have significant implications for the European market and for Irish seafood producers.

Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) has identified a number of key challenges to be overcome if the potential inherent in the Irish seafood sector is to be realised. These include:

  • Recessionary effects – reduced prices for seafood, difficulties in obtaining working capital, increasing interest rates;
  • Access to the resource – a stronger emphasis on environmental protection and conservation;
  • Lack of scale and inefficient logistics chain;
  • The growth of low cost imports from countries operating from significantly lower cost bases and a lack of differentiation of Irish seafood;
  • Changing consumer preferences – a premium on convenience, versatility and price.

BIM has formulated a new three year strategic plan  in response to the challenges and opportunities facing the industry and following extensive engagement with all the key stakeholders.