Marine food ingredient plant planned for Donegal

Irish-Norwegian consortium propose €35m project to extract protein for fishmeal

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine  Simon Coveney told a conference today that ‘sustainable and science-based’ aquaculture would help to meet increasing demand worldwide for high-quality protein.   Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Simon Coveney told a conference today that ‘sustainable and science-based’ aquaculture would help to meet increasing demand worldwide for high-quality protein. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Wed, Apr 2, 2014, 16:28

Plans by an Irish-Norwegian consortium to build one of the world’s largest marine food ingredient plants in south Donegal have been described as a “game-changer” by Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Simon Coveney.

The proposed €35 million project aims to extract proteins, oil and calcium from species such as the tiny spiny-skinned boarfish, which Ireland currently has 70 per cent of the EU share of and which has been used for fishmeal.

Norwegian partner Biomarine Science Technology and the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO) say the project could target the food supplement market, and may create up to 50 jobs during construction and a further 70 direct and indirect jobs when in full production.

The subtropical boarfish has been moving north from the Bay of Biscay to the Irish south-west coast as a result of warming seas. Due to its bony nature and size, it is too small to be filleted easily, and was once regarded as “trash”, Mr Coveney noted.

Ireland has an 88,000 tonne quota for boarfish this year.

Mr Coveney, who made the announcement at the Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) national seafood conference held in Dublin today, said he understood the plant would be located in Killybegs, Co Donegal. It would become fully operational by January 2017, subject to planning approval, he said.

Ireland is well placed to take advantage of a rising world demand for seafood,with an extra 150 million middle-class people annually seeking high value protein, Mr Coveney said.

“Sustainable and science-based” aquaculture would help to meet this demand, he said, and the State now had the “most robust system” for approving fish farming projects in Europe as a result of EU intervention, he said.

He said he would not grant any licence unless he was satisfied the science behind it was “right” and he could stand over it. Earlier, Mr Coveney spoke to objectors to BIM’s plans for a 15,000-tonne salmon farm in Galway Bay outside the conference, with groups including the Federation of Irish Salmon and Sea Trout Anglers, Lough Corrib anglers and the Slow Food Galway network.

Clearwater Foods Canada chief executive Ian Smith, who is head of North America’s largest shellfish company, said China was expected to double its per capita spending on seafood products between 2007 and 2020, and there was a predicted six-fold increase in the Asia-Pacific middle class.

Consumers were demanding sustainability, traceability and safety, Mr Smith said.

His company, which was founded by two men with a pick-up truck and no boat in Halifax, Nova Scotia, back in 1976, had the widest selection of species certified by the Marine Stewardship Council of any harvester in North America.

The Irish seafood sector, currently valued at €810 million, faces similar issues to those faced by the Irish dairy industry in the 1980s, Goodbody director of corporate broking capital markets Joe Gill said.

These similarities included quota restriction, a fragmented processing infrastructure, a limited international footprint and zero presence on the stockmarket, he said.

Yet the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) valued the global seafood industry at $400 billion, Mr Gill said, and the growth in the “health and wellness” market was set to continue, with fish, as best protein per calorie content of any food, benefiting from that.

Mr Gill noted that the dairy sector evolved by consolidating through investment, and he urged the seafood sector to follow that route and to take a ten-year view. He proposed that the sector should have at least three stock-market listed seafood companies by 2024, as part of a €3 billion industry.

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