Aquaculture for all

New Irish Abalone Farm Reveals Industry Potential

Clams Economics +4 more

IRELAND - Ireland's first state of the art abalone farm has opened and will begin commerce with the Japanese market.

This week, Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Mr. Tony Killeen, T.D. officially opened Ireland’s first state of the art Abalone shellfish farm, Tower Aqua Products Ltd., in Beara, Co. Cork.

Owned and operated by Michael O’Neill and business partner Aidan McGurn, the farm has been researched and developed over the last five years, and with the help of Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM), the Irish Sea Fisheries Board, a feasibility study was carried out, following which grant aid for the farm development was approved.

Speaking at the launch, Minister Killeen highlighted the benefit of the business to the local community: "I am delighted to be here today to officially open Tower Aqua Products abalone farm. It is testament to the entrepreneurial spirit in this country even in these difficult economic times; that small enterprises such as Tower Aqua are starting up new ventures and progressing new and innovative ways to do business that will ultimately increase output and generate jobs for our coastal communities.

"West Cork is well known internationally for its quality shellfish and I hope that this intriguing new species will also become well established and sought after worldwide. There is no doubt that the beautiful clean waters around the Beara peninsula and the pursuit of the highest standards by this farm coupled with BIM’s business development support will ensure Irish abalone gains an excellent reputation in our key markets."

The decline in abalone fisheries over the last decade has led to an increased market share for aquaculture or farmed Abalone, and culture technology is now well established in several countries. The most important producing countries include China, Taiwan, South Africa, Australia, Chile and USA.

Abalone are not widely known in Ireland as they are not a native species and there is currently no domestic market for the shellfish. However, they are considered a delicacy in the Far East and demand a high value as a result. The species, Ezo awabi, which is presently farmed in Ireland is the preferred choice in Japan and can demand up to €40- €60 a kilo. The export market therefore offers great potential for the years ahead.

Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) are currently working closely with abalone farmers in Ireland (there are presently 6 farms in operation) to develop business plans, identify new routes to market and a brand identity for Irish abalone to grow the existing business and to give Irish abalone a strong position on the global market. If a strong brand is developed and new routes to market are achieved, the abalone industry aims to achieve 13 tonnes of production by 2010 culminating in 84 tonnes by 2014.

Jason Whooley, BIM’s CEO explains the potential that exists for this novel industry; ‘The worldwide production for abalone currently stands at 30,000 tonnes. Through strategic business development, Ireland’s abalone industry can benefit from operating in this competitive market just as we have with already well established species such as mussels, oysters and salmon. The development of new species such as abalone in the Irish aquaculture industry is a perfect example of how an innovative new company from rural, coastal Ireland can drive innovation in the seafood sector as a whole. BIM is proud to have supported Tower Aqua from the outset to develop this facility and we are presently working closely with this sector on business development and innovation plans that are set to further grow the sector over the next five years’

Tower Aqua Products Ltd also plan to develop an innovative ‘polyculture’ system as part of its overall operations whereby the exhaust seawater from the shore-based abalone farm, which is captured in large tanks before being discharged back into the sea, will be used as a nutrient rich source to grow special seaweeds. This seaweed will then in turn be used as feed for the abalone. The end result is that the seawater which is taken in to the farm is purified or bio-depurated by the seaweed and returned to the ocean in a very pure form. This innovation, when it comes on stream, will help to ensure that the farm’s environmental and economical performance is enhanced.

This and other innovations with regard to the sustainable farming of a novel species earned Tower Aqua Products an All Ireland 2008 JFC Innovation Award for Rural Business.

When fully operational in approximately three to five years, the farm will have a total stock of approximately 2 million animals, with an average annual harvest of approximately 500,000 abalone equating to 40 tonnes of output per annum, the vast majority of which will be destined for Japan. At full capacity, the farm expects to employ up to 10 people full time, thus making a significant contribution to the local rural economy.

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