‘SEAFOOD is on-trend, and we have the best seafood in the world,’ was the message from Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM)’s chief executive Tara McCarthy, when she addressed the Business Breakfast, held as part of the Taste of West Cork festival, last week.
The breakfast, organised by The Southern Star, and held in the West Cork Hotel in Skibbereen, has become a staple of the festival programme in recent years, and the BIM chief was invited to be this year’s guest speaker.
The Clonakilty native began by revealing that her father is from Skibbereen, and she has many relations in the area.
She went on to explain that her appointment as chief executive of BIM last year came as major new opportunities began to emerge in the sector.
‘Growth is happening in the East, and this is a great opportunity for us,’ she told the capacity audience.
And she outlined some of the reasons why fish is becoming such a popular food – under the headings of health, convenience and sustainability.
‘Think of the carbon footprint of a cow, versus a salmon,’ she said, but added that there were still some obstacles to progress – including the quota system.
There is also no ‘unified voice’ for the fishing industry, in the same way as there is for farming, she said. And fishing is production-driven, rather than market-driven, when we really need to be looking at demand rather than supplies.
‘We need to create a vision and become “the” international leader in high value seafood,’ she told the room. ‘We have the best products in the world, but we are not capturing that.’
She added that BIM was now getting great assistance from Teagasc’s expertise as the State research body had a wealth of knowledge in areas like fats and proteins, given its long history of work with the dairy industry.
‘Look at our positives,’ she urged, ‘we have brilliant seas and an enthusiastic fishing industry.’
The ‘legacy’ of former marine minister Simon Coveney was a €0.25bn investment package from Europe, of which BIM has control over €142m.
‘I believe we have a phenomenal future, but it has to be associated with value added, we have to think better, not bigger!’ Ms McCarthy added.
When asked by Southern Star managing director Sean Mahon about the impact of the Wild Atlantic Way brand on the industry, Ms McCarthy said that fishing had embraced it, and there was even a ‘Taste the Atlantic’ programme whereby restaurants on the Atlantic coastline pledge to source their seafood from registered producers, who are also participating in the programme.
This enables visitors and diners to experience freshly caught and farmed quality Irish seafood from tide to table.
When queried on the controversial element of farmed fish, the BIM chief said that while she was not an expert in that area, she welcomed the research that backed the viability and safe option that is farmed fish and saw it having a very important role in the future of the industry. ‘It is also what the market is demanding,’ she added.