Seafood sector rebuilds confidence
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.”
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