The clean, unpolluted waters around Ireland’s 7,500km coastline are rich in aquatic life and form an exceptional environment for seafood. The rough Atlantic waters which shape the Irish coastline are confronted with the warm waters of the Gulf Stream and the cold fresh waters which flow off the Irish bog lands. Over 12,000km² of turf bog is present in Ireland which makes it one of the last remaining ecosystems of this type in Europe.
Exports of Irish seafood for 2011 amounted to €415million, representing a 12% increase from 2010, with all categories of seafood putting in a strong performance. The main European Irish seafood markets are France, Spain, UK, Germany and Italy, with the EU accounting for 75% of exports.
Markets outside of the EU are also of vital importance notably for Ireland’s pelagic fleet which fishes mainly mackerel, herring and blue whiting. Nigeria and Russia are among the main markets for these species. Irish shellfish exporters are continuing to make significant gains in markets like Asia, having secured success particularly in the export of live brown crab.
The Irish seafood industry generates an estimated 11,600 jobs, supporting the economic viability of remote, rural and coastal communities. At production level it is estimated that 4,987 people are employed in fisheries, 1,936 in aquaculture, 3,507 in seafood processing and 1,185 in ancillary services.
With an estimated value of €131 million, the Irish aquaculture industry continues to significantly contribute to the seafood sector. Irish aquaculture follows strict quality guidelines through the BIM run Quality Seafood Programme which includes schemes for Irish Quality Salmon, Irish Quality Mussels and Irish Quality Oysters.
Irish farmed salmon is certified under quality schemes which are audited to EN 45011 standard. This ensures a high level of environmental management practices and animal well being. Consequently Irish farmed salmon is accredited by the most renowned quality labels such as AB Bio, Naturland and the European organic label. Irish salmon is also renowned as a pioneer seafood product for organic certification and is recognised as a leader throughout Europe.
Farmed mussels and oysters feed naturally on wild phytoplankton in the sea. The environmental impact of mussel and oyster farming in Ireland therefore is low. Many Irish mussel farmers are certified under BIM’s Quality Seafood Programme which controls environmental management practice, food safety and product quality. Irish mussel farmers have also achieved European organic certification for their eco friendly practises. More information on mussels is found on the dedicated site www.irish-mussels.com Irish oyster farmers are certified under the Irish Quality Oyster Programme which controls criteria such as shell shape, meat content, farming and environmental management practice. A dedicated web site gives full information on the scheme: www.iqo.ie.
Irish wild fisheries are controlled by the European TAC and quota management system. In addition to this, however, many species fished in Irish waters also come under particular environmental quality schemes such as Irish V notched Lobster and line caught Irish Friends of the Sea tuna.