As consumers sit down to enjoy top quality Irish oysters this Christmas in Ireland, France and the Far East, the shellfish industry and policy makers will be digesting a new report by top agri-food economist, Professor Alan Renwick, which calculates the current and potential economic contribution of this rapidly developing sector of the Irish food industry.
Prof. Renwick reports that oysters contribute €58 million to the rural economy and support a total of 760 full time jobs, with the vast majority of income earned from exports. He states that a further increase of €6 million and an additional 77 jobs can be produced with every 10% increase in production.
The Chairman of the Irish Shellfish Association – a part of IFA – which commissioned the report, Jerry Gallagher, said, “The challenges for the sector primarily arise in relation to regulation and licensing, in particular the processing of applications for new and renewed sites. Animal health and food safety requires ongoing attention with continuously improving water quality in our inshore areas being the key to the future of the sector. Oysters are so highly dependent on clean water for every aspect of their business that the sector is effectively Ireland’s first line of defence against threats to our coastal environment”.
Alan Renwick’s recommendations, following extensive study of the situation which included on-site interviews and visits to farms around the coast, are strong and pragmatic and should be the compass for the sector in the medium term to grow successfully. The recommendations include simplifying regulation, the introduction of contingency plans, strengthening the market identity and creating more added value outlets. He also encourages more effort in terms of improving technical efficiencies and greater collaboration between producers on common issues.
Responding to the report, Jerry Gallagher said, “Each subsector of the seafood industry has its peaks and troughs and oyster farming is no exception. However the medium to long-term analysis of the industry here shows the huge potential for us to grow and market a unique seafood product internationally based on a significant network of people and businesses at local level. We continue to rely on the best advice available from both BIM and the Marine Institute to deal with challenges posed by the environment but our goal is to become a self-sustaining, export-led business, beating off any competition by virtue of the quality of our shellfish and our coastal waters.”
The ISA particularly thanks An Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) for their vital contribution, not only to the production of the report but also for their assistance to the oyster industry in the provision of professional technical and marketing development services. “The board of BIM is a key partner with industry in moving the sector forward and creating jobs and exports in line with its own strategic plan and Foodwise 2025”, said Jerry Gallagher.