Aimed at oyster producers around the coast, the one day event included a series of talks and panel discussions on all aspects of this important sector including current research projects, BIM business support programmes, industry perspectives and the marketing of Irish oysters to existing and new international markets.
Paudie Coffey, T.D. delivered the opening address and highlighted the importance of this sector to the economy: "Ireland produces premium quality oysters that demand a high price on our key overseas markets particularly France and the Far East. This achievement is testament to the hard work of our oyster producers around the coast who have worked hard to achieve a high level of quality assurance with assistance from BIM. I am particularly pleased to learn here today that production has increased to 8,700 tonnes as has employment with the sector now supporting 1,100 jobs nationally. With Waterford accounting for 40 per cent of the overall production this is good news for the local community and the economy as a whole."
The farming of pacific oysters (the most common oyster species farmed in Ireland) only began in Ireland in the 1970’s so it is still a relatively young industry. However, it has grown considerably in the last 35 years and is now a thriving business with production levels increasing to 8,700 tonnes in 2013 in addition to a rise in employment from 870 in 2010 to 1,100 in 2013. The sector also contributes almost €50 million to Ireland’s seafood exports. France remains the key export country for Irish oysters with Hong Kong now the second most important destination. Irish oysters are currently demanding an average price of €5.50/kg.
Research papers on native and pacific oysters carried out by University College Cork, the Marine Institute, Queen’s University Belfast and Bournemouth University were presented at the conference in addition to industry perspectives from Jim Harty, Dungarvan Shellfish and Iarfhlaith Connellan, Redbank Shellfish.
Donal Maguire, BIM Director for Aquaculture Development outlined BIM’s plans for the sector: "We will be continuing to work with our producers to assist them to grow and develop their businesses. There are excellent opportunities for branded quality assured Irish oysters in the market place in the EU and further afield. Through the provision of technical, financial and business development assistance, BIM aims to ensure that Irish growers are best placed to take advantage of the current favourable environment."
In 2013, against a background of challenging global and domestic market conditions, Ireland’s seafood sector continued to grow and trade impressively with the overall sector worth €810 million and the export market worth €484 million. Overall exports were down on the previous year but shellfish exports proved to be the exception with a five per cent increase on 2012 and a total value of €168 million.
In Ireland, approximately 150 oyster companies employ 1,100 people with the top 15 companies accounting for nearly 70 per cent of production.