Net Results: Views From The West


TALL TED Shine is calling buyers to order. It’s a civilised 9am in Ros-a-Mhíl, Co Galway, and Shine is master of ceremonies for one of the only surviving fish auctions on the west coast.

Breton Stephane Griesbach, whose company Gannet Fish has nurtured a market here for “responsibly caught” fish, buys some black sole, some John Dory, and some boxes of octopus which will appear on Saturday morning in his Galway city market stall.

Griesbach is renowned for his “non-discard” approach in that he will persuade cautious consumers to buy fish that most skippers would expect to throw back.

The well-iced boxes in the main hall represent only a fraction of the tonnage landed into Sean Griffin, manager of the Galway and Aran Fishermen’s Co-op.

In his cold store, prawns are awaiting sale by telephone auction to buyers in Italy, the Netherlands and Spain.

Galway is the epicentre for the prawns or nephrops norvegicus which live in small burrows on the Porcupine Bank.

Such is the significance of the prawn fishery that the industry agreed to pay for a Marine Institute survey of the grounds this year by allocating part of quota to cover the cost, according to Dr Paul Connolly, Marine Institute director of fisheries ecosystems advisory services.

A new €2.4 million research programme at NUI Galway also aims to develop hatchery and ranching techniques for the stock.

Yet most Irish consumers “don’t even know there is such a thing as an Irish wild prawn”, says buyer Gay Fleming, who runs a fish company in Ros-a-Mhíl with his wife Freda.

The couple hand-peel their prawns from fresh, and freeze them to ensure they retain their flavour and distinctive pink hue.

Fleming sells direct to retailers and customers in Dublin, Galway and Limerick, but is well-aware that many consumers are happy to buy tiger prawns reared intensively in southeast Asia.

This volume of “third country” imports of fish and shellfish is growing, and will continue to do so while Germans seek cheap protein-rich food.

Irish seafood imports grew by 13 per cent last year, while EU imports increased by 8 per cent.

“The EU has to show it is serious about conservation as a cornerstone of policy,” says Bertie Flaherty, fish buyer with Iasc Mara Teo fish processor in Ros-a-Mhíl.

Ireland has one of the best examples in Europe of this.

The Celtic Sea herring fishery which was forced to close on the verge of collapse twice in the past 40 years is in its healthiest state for decades.

A management and advisory committee run in conjunction with the Marine Institute has successfully restored the stock to a level where the quota has risen from just over 5,000 tonnes in 2009 to over 18,000 tonnes this year, says Cathal Groonell, Iasc Mara managing director.

The recovery has already spawned a very measurable economic return to the locality of about €28 million annually, he says.

“That’s one good news story you don’t hear a lot about.”