Hit enter to search or ESC to close

Fish and Seafood sector

Sector Summary

The seafood sector has remained strong throughout 2019, with the global issues of Brexit and volatility in the world trade markets still on going. The seafood economy has slowed somewhat due to these challenges along with more specific challenges in shellfish and whitefish markets. Ireland’s most popular product, farmed salmon, fell further in 2019 but this was offset by higher prices for a range of seafood products. Employment in the sector grew by 2% in 2019, and now there is more than 16,000 people employed directly or indirectly in the seafood industry. This is mainly focused around coastal regions, with levels reaching 15% in Donegal, 7% in Cork and 6% in Galway-Clare, with the seafood sector remaining of huge socioeconomic value to these areas.


Domestic Growth

The domestic fish sales were worth 496 million euros for 2019, with 300 million of this being retail and 196 million being foodservice. Total fish sales have increased by 1.3%, while total grocery sales have increased by 3%. Fresh fish sales in particular are responsible for driving this growth. The average price per Kg is up for both. Fresh Fish has gained switch spend from all proteins.

This follows continued consumer demand for seafood with its obvious health benefits. With increasing consumer awareness of sustainability and coupled with investments in seafood retail outlets indicated confidence in the seafood sector. The foodservice side also continues to show steady growth, with it rising by 4% over the last year. In retail, the sale of salmon and cod remains the most popular species in Ireland. Sales of haddock, trout and pangasius have increased significantly throughout 2019. The sales of several species has declined however, with the likes whiting, plaice and crab, falling by 11%, 30% and 11% respectively.

Export Markets Growth

Irish seafood exports were worth €605 million in 2019, a 6% increase on 2018.

Europe: European markets, especially France, Spain, Italy, the UK and Poland continue to dominate Irish seafood exports, accounting for some 53% of Irish seafood exports.

In all, continental European markets absorbed 64% of Irish seafood export output, worth €374m, with international markets the destination for a further 28%, worth €169 million and the UK 9%, to a value of €53 million.

France remained the largest export market for Irish shellfish accounting for 27% of sales. Highest growth for shellfish was seen in the UK, where exports grew by 56%.

Asia: Three Asian markets – China, South Korea and Japan – are the sector’s most important international markets and collectively accounted for over 14% of total seafood exports. The Japanese market recorded exceptional growth of 70%, to be worth €22 million, while exports to China increased by 40% to €51 million.

Irish pelagic fish increased by 89% in value in China and by 48% in Japan to more than €20 million.

Africa: Nigeria continued to be the most important African market for Ireland’s seafood sector, the destination for more than 50% of Irish seafood exports to Africa worth €29 million.

Egypt grew in value by 86% to absorb €18 million in Irish seafood.



Quota cuts of 12% had a direct impact on pelagic volumes exported in 2019, with even steeper cuts in quota of 20% on Irish mackerel and blue whiting, and 25% on herring, all impacting on the sector’s export potential. Most of the Irish fleet’s mackerel quota was caught at the beginning of 2019, which had major follow-on consequences in terms of storage costs. The processing sector was required to deal with all landings in one short season rather than the traditional two seasons. Prices and demand for Irish mackerel was strong, particularly in Europe and Asia, resulting in export values increasing by 14% in spite of a 1% drop in volume.

Export values achieved by Irish shellfish exporters were strong throughout the year, as demand continued to outstrip supply across many export markets. In all, value increased by around 5% as volumes fell back 1%.

The largest shellfish export category in 2019 was frozen langoustines, although oversupply in the market made for challenging conditions, and resulted in a decrease in export values to the main markets in Italy and Spain.

Irish brown crab exporters had a challenging year due to the drop in demand for processed crab in China. This had a negative impact on the returns and prices paid to fishermen, despite some strong performances in key European markets.

The European market is the main focus of Ireland’s mussel exporters and, in 2019, was extremely competitive. This was partly the result of increased competition from Chile and Germany, and the Netherlands. However, Ireland’s organic certified mussel offering has a clearly segmented position, which provides a certain level of market protection.

Performance of these whitefish is directly related to quotas, which were relatively stable in 2019. Exports of whitefish continue to be dominated by three European markets – France, Spain and the UK – which together accounted for around 80% of total whitefish exports, worth €9 million.

Irish salmon exports recorded a value increase in the region of 14% over the year and Irish organic salmon is perceived as a premium quality product across the main organic markets in Europe. The 2019 growth came against the backdrop of some serious production challenges. Supply of fresh organic salmon ceased during the final two months of the year due to issues surrounding the impact of jellyfish and planktonic ‘blooms’ on salmon stocks on a number of fish farms.

The Irish oyster sector had another strong year with export values increasing to over €30 million. This was despite challenges in China, which has a preference for large size oysters of which there was reduced export values in 2019 by over 20%.

Related Websites