Seafood industry sailing on crest of a wave in Chinese market

Ireland’s seafood industry has the potential to achieve €1bn in sales by 2020 and create over 3,000 jobs through expansion into new markets.

The sector is currently worth €822m to the economy, employs 11,000, and has seen exports up 18% on 2011 to €493m in 2012. While traditional markets like the UK, Germany, Spain, and France have seen a decline in demand in recent years, markets in China and India are becoming the focus of the industry.

"If every Chinese person was to eat 100g of Irish seafood just once a year, that would equal 150,000 tonnes a year," said Christophe Pelletier of the Happy Future Consulting Group.

"In the coming years, seafood consumption per capita per year in China is expected to rise from 26kg today to 36kg in 2020. Just a 1% share of that market would be greater than 500,000 tonnes a year."

Global population is expected to reach 8bn by 2025, bringing demand for an additional 42m tonnes of seafood globally by 2030.

Irish firms must protect traditional markets, while optimising their customer base, and work on innovating new products, according to Gorjan Nikolik, food and agribusiness researcher with Rabobank International.

"Ireland has significant unused potential. With major production resources available, there is an opportunity to become a global player in the aquaculture industry," he said.

"Economies of scale can be achieved very quickly in this business, even without a large domestic market in place."

The establishment of joint venture operations and partnerships will play a key role in this expansion. Bord Iascaigh Mhara’s Collective Route to Market Scheme, launched in January, is aimed at promoting such collaboration by offering seafood companies grant-aid assistance and advice to work collectively to reduce costs and increase competitiveness on export markets.

Four Irish seafood companies pooled resources to set up Jade Ireland Seafood last November, a joint venture with an office based in Shanghai, and supported by BIM.

McBride Fishing, Carr Shellfish, Sofrimar, and Shellfish de La Mer, with bases in Donegal, Wexford, and Cork, have developed Ocean Jade, aimed at the Chinese market.

The company owns a fleet of fishing vessels and four processing facilities.

"The Irish seafood sector is small in comparison to our competitors and we quickly realised that in order to compete effectively and to supply such a large and growing market in China, we would need to use our collective resources to do so," said director Hugh McBride.

The firms behind Jade Ireland Seafood have collective revenues of €45m, with established clients in France, UK, Spain, Italy, and Korea.

Irish seafood exports to China in 2011 were €2.9m. Up to Jul 2012, exports reached €5.3m, an 80% increase on the previous year.