Seafood sec­tor re­builds con­fi­dence

Irish Examiner - Supplement - - FOOD & DRINK IRELAND - Jim O’Toole BIM, chief ex­ec­u­tive John Daly

Dur­ing a year of global eco­nomic tur­bu­lence in 2016, the Ir­ish seafood sec­tor grew by 7% and now heads to­ward a na­tional GDP con­tri­bu­tion of €1.1 bil­lion.

“Con­sid­er­ing the many ex­ter­nal fac­tors hap­pen­ing in­ter­na­tion­ally, these fig­ures rep­re­sent a very pos­i­tive re­sult,“says Jim O’Toole, Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer, BIM, Ire­land’s Seafood De­vel­op­ment Agency. “The fig­ures show that the seafood sec­tor is in growth again, and we are op­ti­mistic about en­abling con­tin­ued growth into the fu­ture.”

Ir­ish seafood ex­ports are up 5% to € 559m with 2,039 fish­ing ves­sels and 156 seafood pro­ces­sors reg­is­tered in 2016. Hav­ing taken up the post in April, Mr. O’Toole pre­vi­ously held the po­si­tion of Di­rec­tor of Meat & Live­stock and Sus­tain­abil­ity De­vel­op­ment in Bord Bia where he led a team of se­nior ex­ec­u­tives in the de­vel­op­ment of Bord Bia’s Ori­gin Green ini­tia­tive.

Pre­vi­ous to this, he was re­spon­si­ble for the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the agency’s Qual­ity As­sur­ance Schemes, work­ing with Bord Bia in London, Mi­lan and Paris.

“We have also seen a re­cov­ery in the value of con­sump­tion here in Ire­land, which is re­flec­tive of our im­prov­ing eco­nomic for­tunes, and we have also seen an in­crease in in­vest­ment in the sec­tor, which is an­other sig­nal of con­fi­dence re­turn­ing to the sec­tor.”

Amongst the gen­er­ally upbeat fig­ures for 2016, data from BIM’s an­nual aqua­cul­ture sur­vey shows pro­duc­tion has in­creased by 9% to 44,000 tons, the value of which in­creased by 13% to €167m. “This does in­di­cate that this sec­tor will see in­creased ac­tiv­ity and will be an en­gine for growth in the fu­ture.”

Vast ex­pe­ri­ence

Up to his cur­rent ap­point­ment, Mr O’Toole chaired the Beef Work­ing Group of the Sus­tain­able Agri­cul­ture Ini­tia­tive Plat­form and the In­ter­na­tional Meat Sec­re­tariat’s Beef Com­mit­tee. He is a Board Mem­ber of the Ir­ish Na­tional Ac­cred­i­ta­tion Board. At a time where the re­al­ity of Brexit looms ever closer, BIM — like all other com­mer­cial con­cerns — is busy pre­par­ing to chart the un­known wa­ters that will fol­low.

“It is im­por­tant to un­der- line the sig­nif­i­cant threats that a bad out­come from this could bring about, but it needs to be un­der­lined that, rel­a­tive to some other sec­tors, seafood is less de­pen­dant on the UK. In ad­di­tion, seafood has shown a very strong ca­pac­ity to di­ver­sify over re­cent years, and we’ve seen growth in a num­ber of ar­eas, Asia, in par­tic­u­lar.”

Value of seafood sec­tor

The Ir­ish Seafood sec­tor con­trib­utes ap­prox­i­mately € 1 bil­lion in GDP to the econ­omy, with €280 mil­lion worth of fish landed into Ir­ish fish­ing ports in 2016. The two big­gest ports, Castle­town­bere and Killy­begs, ac­counted for € 111 mil­lion and €85mil­lion re­spec­tively. The in­dus­try em­ploys 11,000 peo­ple, di­rectly and in­di­rectly, with €380 mil­lion do­mes­tic sales di­vided into € 239m re­tail and food ser­vice at €141m. Sal­mon and cod are the top two sell­ing species — €94.5 mil­lion and €47.5 mil­lion re­spec­tively — with sal­mon sales up 11.5%. Ire­land’s main mar­kets are: the EU at €367m, in­clud­ing the UK;, Asia € 56 mil­lion; and Nige­ria €33 mil­lion.

Mr O’Toole cites the four pil­lars to BIM’s strat­egy — skills, sus­tain­abil­ity, in­no­va­tion and com­pet­i­tive­ness — as key to fu­ture growth. “BIM has an ex­cel­lent rep­u­ta­tion for train­ing. We have two Na­tional Fish­eries Train­ing Col­leges, and Coastal Train­ing Units that travel to ev­ery port in Ire­land to de­liver train­ing.”

On av­er­age, BIM de­liv­ers 207 cour­ses in 25 lo­ca­tions to 1,700 stu­dents equat­ing to 14,000 con­tact hours ev­ery year.

“What we would like to see is rather than just pro­vid­ing the reg­u­la­tory train­ing is how we can help pro­vide ca­reers at sea, or as an oys­ter farmer, pro­ces­sor or seafood re­tailer.

It’s not enough any­more for a fish­er­men to only con­cen­trate on the catch and his ves­sel,” he says.

“The fish­er­man of 2017 needs to speak the lan­guage of fi­nance and sus­tain­abil­ity.

Our seafood pro­ces­sors need to in­vest in R&D tal­ent and mar­ket­ing ex­per­tise and our fish­mon­gers need to of­fer con­ve­nient pre- pre­pared fish in-store or fresh fish and chips to their cus­tomers — not just a wet fish counter.”

Mr O’Toole cites the suc­cess sto­ries in tal­ent ac­qui­si­tion from BIM’s Seafood De­vel­op­ment Cen­tre Grad­u­ate pro­gramme that has placed trained food mar­ket­ing and seafood tech­nol­ogy grad­u­ates in seafood com­pa­nies around the coun­try. In the area of sus- tain­abil­ity, the suc­cess of Bord Bia’s Ori­gin Green pro­gramme has helped bring Ire­land a solid rep­u­ta­tion for its green cre­den­tials in key mar­kets. “BIM have a ro­bust and fully in­te­grated sus­tain­abil­ity work pro­gramme for the en­tire sec­tor from fish­er­men to farm­ers to pro­ces­sors, and our Re­spon­si­bly Sourced Stan­dard is an in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­cred­ited stan­dard for the catch­ing sec­tor.”

In ad­di­tion, the agency’s Green Seafood Busi­ness Pro­gramme works with seafood pro­ces­sors to im­ple­ment ‘green’ ef­fi­cien­cies in their fac­to­ries.

“It is tes­ta­ment to our sec­tor’s ded­i­ca­tion to drive sus­tain­abil­ity that seafood com­pa­nies are one of the high­est par­tic­i­pants by sec­tor in Ori­gin Green, just be­hind pre­pared foods with 51 com- pa­nies be­ing ver­i­fied mem­bers to date and a fur­ther 15 seafood com­pa­nies reg­is­tered and cur­rently devel­op­ing their plans.”

In­no­va­tion is a com­plex area, and es­pe­cially for an in­dus­try that ex­ports 70% of seafood as a bulk com­mod­ity, and which needs to change to 50% added value seafood through Food Wise 2025.

“We have a prod­uct that is highly per­ish­able and a high level of R&D is re­quired to de­velop in­no­va­tive tech­nolo­gies that can over­come the chal­lenges of shelf life and trans­porta­tion. BIM has al­ready car­ried out the first in­ter­na­tional bench­mark­ing study in seafood in­no­va­tion this year and this is form­ing the back­bone to a new strat­egy we will launch later this year that will evolve our ser­vices to in­dus­try in this are to pro­vide greater in­sights to equip our seafood com­pa­nies to stay ahead of the game.”

Look­ing at fu­ture proof­ing the in­dus­try through greater com­pet­i­tive­ness, Mr O’Toole says: “We need to move from a frag­mented in­dus­try to a well or­gan­ised sec­tor to in­clude a se­ries of net­works in or­der to share re­sources and in­for­ma­tion that will build scale al­low­ing us to com­pete ef­fec­tively. BIM has al­ready led the way in this re­gard with the China Coun­cil — a co­op­er­a­tive group of seafood pro­duc­ers all tar­get­ing the grow­ing Chi­nese mar­ket.

“This co­op­er­a­tion is not just ap­pli­ca­ble to our seafood pro­ces­sors — we want our fish­er­men to work more closely to­gether to as­sess the im­pli­ca­tions of the new leg­is­la­tion on their fish­ing ef­forts, busi­ness skills and strate­gies that can be de­vel­oped and used by fish­er­men to ben­e­fit fish­er­men.”

“The agency’s Na­tional Seafood Con­fer­ence, ‘ Win­ning in a Chang­ing En­vi­ron­ment’, will take place on the 29th June in Gal­way. “This con­fer­ence will chal­lenge our di­verse in­dus­try to con­sider the di­rec­tion of their busi­ness and the over­all sec­tor in light of cur­rent chal­lenges.

“We have en­gaged a broad range of ex­perts and opin­ion lead­ers to de­liver in­valu­able in­sights around our core pri­or­i­ties from an Ir­ish and in­ter­na­tional per­spec­tive. We are look­ing to strengthen our col­lec­tive po­si­tion as we con­tinue to adapt to chang­ing cir­cum­stances and look to se­cure the long term vi­a­bil­ity of Ire­land’s €1 bil­lion seafood in­dus­try.”

Del­e­gates will hear how Nor­way is lead­ing the way in seafood in­no­va­tion from Øvyind Fylling- Jensen, Chief Ex­ec­u­tive of Nor­we­gian re­search agency Nofima, and from Ai­dan McHugh of Ea­ton Square who will demon­strate how seafood com­pa­nies can make in­no­va­tion work for them.

Gilles Doignon, Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Of­fi­cer with the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion (DG Mare) will demon­strate how com­mu­ni­cat­ing about sus­tain­abil­ity through the ‘ Farm­ing in the EU’ cam­paign has trans­formed public at­ti­tudes across the EU, and An­drew Mullins from Bord Bia will pro­vide an up­date on how seafood is an in­te­gral part of the food port­fo­lio in the Ori­gin Green pro­gramme.

Dr. Joanne Fearon, Food and Nu­tri­tional Sci­ences in Univer­sity Col­lege Cork will show how in­vest­ing in tar­geted skills and ed­u­ca­tion in the Agri- Food sec­tor pays div­i­dends with a fo­cus on her ex­ten­sive ex­pe­ri­ence in this field in­clud­ing the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture, Food and the Ma­rine’s Grad­u­ate De­vel­op­ment Pro­gramme which has pro­vided in­dus­try spe­cific train­ing and de­vel­op­ment to 1,800 young re­searchers to date.

Brexit plan­ning: BIM, like all any other busi­ness, is busy pre­par­ing to chart the un­known wa­ters cre­ated by the UK’s exit from the EU.

BIM chief ex­ec­u­tive, Jim O’Toole, wants to work closely with fish­er­men to as­sess likely im­pacts of any fu­ture EU leg­is­la­tion on their work. Photo: Don MacMona­gle

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