Counties Mayo and Galway once again traded places as two of the most important counties for shellfish production. Cork and Donegal are the largest producers with the rebels beating their northern neighbours soundly in the clean waters stakes.
Irish Shellfish Association (ISA) spokesman Richie Flynn said: “What is most surprising during the 2014 review was the reduction in quality in bays which had waste water treatment plants built nearby in the last decade. The reasons for this are complex but could be ageing equipment, lack of training and poor management of treatment plants.”
The national annual review of shellfish waters classification is a major part of IFA Aquaculture’s work on behalf of 250 small and medium sized mainly family based companies producing oysters and mussels around the coast. Each year the Association works with four national agencies, including BIM the Marine Institute, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and the Sea Fisheries protection Authority to assess, investigate and make crucial decisions on shellfish waters classification which can have potentially very severe or beneficial impacts on producers incomes.
IFA uses this informal league table approach to highlight problems for growers to contact their local authority and now also to deal with Irish water and the EPA
Bays are classed according to EU regulations as A, B or C and attainment of these credentials dictate whether a shellfish producer can sell directly to the market (A), or through a processor (B) or must relay their product in clean waters for a period before consumption (C).
“Consumer safety is our number one priority and the reputation of quality Irish shellfish is linked directly to how clean our waters are”, Richie Flynn said.
Irish farmed shellfish is currently in huge demand with markets in Asia and America opening up to fresh live oysters which are specially sent by air to high-end hotels and restaurants throughout the Far East.
Asian consumers cannot get enough live Irish shellfish and are willing to pay a substantial premium for the pleasure. Irish consumers are also turning to shellfish in droves with new oyster bars and menu selections popping up all over the country. Mussels are the ultimate fast food – tasty, quick and full of Omega 3 and other nutrients – bars and restaurants cannot keep up with demand from tourists who want to eat the fruits of the “Irish vineyards” they can see stretched in bays around the coast.
Guardians of the coast
Because it is so closely linked with their livelihoods, shellfish aquaculture producers are the most alert and pro-active guardians of coastal water quality. As well as assisting a major national monitoring scheme, shellfish growers in Ireland carry out a suite of tests and meet regularly to review the latest in international scientific trends and the work of the Marine Institute.
With each year new challenges are presented and 2014 is no different. The ISA has learned that in years where classification was not under threat e.coli spikes in some bays were ignored which subsequently became very important when they were still included in the assessments three years after they occurred.
Equally the long standing advice of keeping in close contact with your local fishery officer has never been more well-grounded with producers and SFPA staff collaborating in investigating spikes as well as persistent run offs and illegal discharges.