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Irish Seafood Sector Swims Uphill

by 5m Editor
2 April 2009, at 1:00am

IRELAND - Bord Iascaigh recently issued its 2008 end-of-year review of the Irish seafood industry which shows that the sector performed robustly despite very difficult trading conditions in all principal markets.

Salmon’s Success

Sales of salmon emerged as the seafood sector’s star performer where sales increased by 13 per cent in 2008 to €58.7 million. Pre-packed sales of salmon were up a substantial 28.8 per cent on 2007. The pelagic sector also performed well where sales of mackerel, horse mackerel, blue whiting and herring reached €130 million.

Total retail sales volume of all seafood increased by 12 per cent in 2008 while the value of these sales increased by 3.2 per cent to €185.8 million.

Total Seafood Sales reach €731 million

Total seafood sales on both domestic and export markets, excluding direct landings for Irish vessels into foreign ports, amounted to €731 million in 2008, a decline of 3.5 per cent on the corresponding value in 2007 reflecting adverse currency movements and rising consumer demand for lower valued seafood products. Of this total, seafood sales on the domestic market amounted to €381 million while export sales totalled €350 million.

BIM Support

Total BIM investment support to the seafood sector in 2008 amounted to €33.3 million. 94 firms engaged in aquaculture received investment from BIM amounting to €3.31 million, in an aggregate investment programme amounting to €8.25 million. Total investment for the future fleet and sea fisheries amounted to €34.6 million with €1.33 million provided to support processing and marketing.

Driving the industry forward in 2009

Similar to other sectors, Irish seafood companies face significant challenges in 2009. However, BIM sees niche opportunities for growth especially in the export of organic products, most notably, salmon and new innovative products in the whitefish and shellfish sectors.

For example, BIM believes that there is immediate scope for expansion of the organic certified farmed salmon sector with the potential to create significant new jobs. In 2007, Ireland produced 10,000 tonnes of farmed salmon of which some 70 per cent was certified organic and these fish fetched a price premium 40 per cent above the regular market price. It is estimated that the markets could comfortably absorb at least another 5,000 tonnes of Irish organic farmed salmon without impacting on the price. An uplift of 5,000 tonnes in output of organic salmon from Ireland could generate up to 300 full time equivalent jobs in this area alone.

“With increasingly challenging economic conditions globally, it is crucial that Ireland focuses on maximising the seafood industry and supporting new growth areas in the sector to ensure the maximum economic and social contribution to Ireland’s coastal communities, and Ireland as a whole,” stated BIM Chairman, Rose McHugh

BIM Chief Executive Jason Whooley explains how Ireland can best position itself on the world market going forward.

“Sterling weakness has had a significant impact on our export values. In addition, we are seeing a shift in consumer purchasing away from higher premium seafood towards lower cost products. This has serious implications for trade in shellfish products, in particular, and also for certain whitefish”, stated Mr. Whooley .

Differentiation is key….

“Whilst there is some scope to achieve further cost savings, Irish seafood producers will find it increasingly difficult to compete solely on price in what is becoming a commodity-led seafood market place. Differentiating Irish seafood products will therefore be a key focus and BIM will be working closely with the industry around innovation and new product development to enable them to distinguish themselves from many of the low cost alternatives” he added.

In order to redress the current difficulties facing the industry, BIM is committed to implementing measures to improve ‘Sustainability and Quality’ and ‘Route to Market’.

In terms of Sustainability and Quality, BIM intends on rolling a number of measures under the umbrella of the existing Quality Seafood Programme (QSP)*(1.please see notes to editor) to ensure that Irish industry adopts best practice when it comes to quality standards, responsible fishing and environmental management.

In terms of Route to Market, BIM will take the lead role in bringing forward proposals for developing a route to market strategy for the seafood sector in 2009. These proposals will take into account each step in the chain from producer, processing and distribution to end-customer for both domestic and export markets and make recommendations on optimum structures to drive competitiveness and value-adding capability in the Irish seafood sector.

New Approach Required

“There is no doubt that in the current climate the industry needs to adopt a different approach to doing business,” says Whooley. “Traditional business models will need to change if we are to be profitable in the future. The number of Irish companies competing with one another in the European market place cannot be sustained. At a minimum, there is scope for increased co-operation between many of our exporters and indeed those serving the domestic market. This more collegiate approach must be pursued if we are to maximise the undoubted potential that exists in the Irish seafood sector”.

Sustaining and Creating Jobs

BIM plays an important role in sustaining and creating employment opportunities in coastal communities and the agency will be focusing on wealth generation and jobs growth in 2009.

CEO Jason Whooley commented, “There are currently approximately 11,000 people either directly or indirectly employed in the fishing and aquaculture sectors*(2. please see notes to editor) The current economic downturn and the rise in unemployment further highlights the importance of traditional sectors and indigenous industries, such as fishing, that provide vital employment in coastal areas where there are few employment alternatives. BIM will focus on maintaining employment in these areas and is set to drive a number of key initiatives in 2009 that will further enhance the importance of the fishing and aquaculture sectors as a platform for creating new jobs.”

Training

Training and up-skilling is another key focus for BIM in 2009 having already delivered training programmes for 1,900 seafood industry personnel in 2008. Training is an integral part of BIM’s overall strategy to increase employment in the sector and an extensive training programme for 2009 is set to roll out from BIM’s dedicated regional training centres in Greencastle, Co. Donegal and Castletownbere, Co. Cork as well as aboard their three mobile coastal training units (CTUs).

CEO Jason Whooley concluded: “We look forward to 2009 being another successful year for the Irish seafood sector. However, we must continue to be innovative in our approach if we are to successfully meet the challenges posed by the global economic downturn and the resulting market difficulties. Through the seafood sector, Ireland can leverage a key natural resource to sustain and grow both economic activity and jobs in key coastal communities. A continued strong focus on moving the industry further up the value chain should be a key priority as this is the only way that we can compete effectively in the global marketplace.”

5m Editor

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