Finalists in the inaugural BIM National Seafood Awards on November 17 have been judged in four categories: Competitiveness, Skills, Sustainability and Innovation. The ‘Aquaculture Enterprise of the Year’ category is in the ‘Competitiveness’ section and will honour a leading aquaculture company that has shown leadership and innovation in an aspect of the sector.

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The three finalists are: Kush Seafarms, Kenmare; Dungarvan Shellfish, Dungarvan and Wild Atlantic Shellfish, Lissadell, Sligo.

Kush Seafarms Ltd

Kush Seafarms was established in June 1987 and is a family-run business based in Kenmare, Co. Kerry. The lack of a functioning licensing system and dependence on the commodity outlets for its products meant that Kush struggled to find growth in the sector.

In 2009 they devised a new strategy based on innovation, value-added and partnerships and in June of that year, Kush was the first Irish company to secure organic certification. Uniquely for the sector, they then approached the rope mussel processing sector vis-à-vis outsourcing.

In 2010, working with Carr Shellfish Ireland, they launched an organic vacuum pack mussel at Biofach (the world’s leading trade fair for organic food). Contracts with companies in Switzerland and France followed, and they are currently working on the US market.

Kush decided there was potential in the premium rope-mussel IQF meat product and agreed an outsourcing arrangement in Holland in 2011. Despite the growth, employment figures have remained stable thanks to increased mechanisation and the company is profitable.

Dungarvan Shellfish Ltd

Six generations of the Harty family have lived and worked beside Dungarvan Bay since 1835. In 1985, they established Dungarvan Shellfish to produce high quality Speciale Oysters mainly for French aquaculture farmers. In 2014 however they decided to expand their overseas markets and started purifying and packaging their own oysters and selling under their own brand, ‘Harty Oysters.’ They now sell to China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore, the UK, Italy, Holland and Belgium, and margins have increased significantly.

Dungarvan Shellfish can meet supply all year round as Ireland does not have hot summers that interfere with oyster handling for export. Technologies which have supported their growth include a state-of-the-art purification system; a nursery facility for growing very small oyster seeds and a wind turbine.

Wild Atlantic Shellfish Ltd

Wild Atlantic Shellfish is owned and operated by the four primary oyster producers in Sligo Bay: Lissadell Shellfish hatchery; Atlantic Clams Ireland; Armada Shellfish and Coney Island Shellfish. Previously known as the North West Clam Marketing Group, it was rebranded and restructured in January 2015 to focus on marketing, packaging and sales with a particular focus on exports and is based at Lissadell.

The company’s competitive advantage is their closed management system whereby all seed is sourced from their on-site hatchery, ensuring that Sligo Bay has remained free of viral and bacterial infections commonly found on sites where seed is imported.

Exports to South East Asia started in June 2015 and the company was granted membership of the Bord Bia Origin Green programme in October 2015. Exhibiting at the Seafood Expo Global 2016 in Brussels and at FHA 2016 in Singapore generated orders from Malaysia, Singapore and China.