Coronavirus: Fish processor closes as markets collapse

Coronavirus: Fish processor closes as markets collapse
John Nolan, manager of Castletownbere’s Fishermen’s Co-Op. People are panic-buying dried goods and tinned fish, he says.

One of the country’s largest fish processing companies is shutting down because the EU’s fish markets have collapsed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This could lead to shortages of fresh Irish fish around the country.

Processors are now calling on the Government to set up a task force to save the industry.

A meeting was held between them and the Agriculture and Marine Minister Michael Creed yesterday and he vowed to help.

But producers want to know more details about how he plans to help keep the national fleet going and save the fishing industry.

They are concerned more needs to be done to not only make sure the country remains supplied with large quantities of fresh fish but that the industry survives the Covid-19 crisis.

All 64 of the boats managed by the Castletownbere Fishermen’s Co-Operative have been asked to come back into port.

The last of them will start arriving back at 6am this morning. Whatever they catch will be processed and put into huge freezers.

They plan to close for a week but they could be closed for up to three months.

Similar closures are taking place around the country.

John Nolan, of the Castletownbere Fishermen’s Co-op, said: “The markets have collapsed.”

Patrick Murphy, CEO of the Irish South and West Fishermen’s Producer Organisation, said: “The current fishing fleet is too big for the national market.

“And the European markets don’t want the fish the national fleet is catching because their biggest customers — restaurants — have all closed.

So, the Government needs to find a way to not only make the industry viable during this crisis, but it also needs to promote fresh fish to the Irish.

“And our supermarkets need to don their green jerseys and sell it.”

He is behind a plan to give people free fish in the Bantry and Castletownbere branches of SuperValu today

At present, a huge amount of fish Irish companies process is exported abroad.

The Castletownbere Fishermen’s Co-op, which has 400 self-employed fishermen and 100 fish factory workers, normally has a turnover of around €65m.

It exports fish all over the world, with some €20m turnover from its frozen prawns alone.

Coronavirus: Fish processor closes as markets collapse

Mr Nolan said: “Nobody could have predicted what is happening at the moment.

“Now it is not possible to put the fishing fleet fishing because the European market can’t consume it. I am hoping more clarity in the market will emerge over the coming days.

“The world has collapsed a little bit and we can’t do anything in the European market. There are loads of fish but there is not sufficient enough market.

All the restaurants are closed, the public houses are closed, and people are panic buying dried goods and stocking up tinned fish.

On March 13, the Department of Agriculture said it was taking the necessary steps to ensure “producers and processors can continue to operate effectively and keep supply lines open.

And it stated that among its “critical priorities” was making sure “fishermen can continue to land fish and place them on the market”.

Speaking after yesterday’s meeting, the agriculture minister vowed: “I will provide necessary supports to the sector over the coming period.”

Mr Creed said the main focus of the meeting was to “discuss and understand the situation on the ground and to consider possible measures that would allow fishing to continue”.

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