Marine Minister Michael Creed has been urged to ensure “swift and measurable action” to review procedures, reduce red tape and encourage development of the shellfish sector.

At the annual meeting of the Irish Shellfish Association, outgoing chairman Jerry Gallagher said “specific actions” were required to back up the broad aspirations of the seafood sector contained in the Programme for Government.

IFA Aqua 2016 

IFA president Joe Healy congratulates new Irish Shellfish Association chairman, Michael Mulloy (left) on his election

Coastal communities have waited too long for “affirmative action by the State” to encourage investment in aquaculture and create long-lasting jobs, he added.

“The message from this year’s conference is that we can only maintain and increase our competitive advantage by reducing costs of red tape; improving infrastructure in coastal regions; using EU funds wisely to protect against algal blooms, and by improving our presence and networking in new markets like Asia through agencies such as Bord Bia and BIM.”

Figures from BIM’s Annual Aquaculture Survey released to the conference indicate a strong recovery in fish and shellfish farming production through 2015, with the industry increasing in value by €34m to a first point-of-sale value of almost €150m.

Shellfish farming is now valued at €51m; oysters €38m and mussels €13m. 1,600 of total jobs in aquaculture are in shellfish production.

The survey also confirms that development in the last ten years has taken place largely without State aid and in the face of what it says are the ‘tremendous challenges and unnecessary obstacles in dealing with licence applications for renewals and new production sites.’

BIM’s CEO, Tara McCarthy welcomed the upturn saying the agency looked forward to maximising opportunities for the industry “through product differentiation, co-operation and consolidation.

“While 2015 was a challenging year for some operators in the shellfish industry, overall, it has been a positive year for Irish aquaculture. The 27% increase in production volumes is a welcome step towards the targets set out in the National Strategic Plan for Aquaculture, which sets a growth target of 45,000 tonnes across all aquaculture production by 2020.

“The European Maritime Fisheries Fund (EMFF) along with funding from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, is providing almost €30m to further assist the sector to develop and achieve these ambitious targets,” she said.

Ms McCarthy said BIM would assist aquaculture producers to attract new talent to the sector, and to build on its already strong sustainability credentials, and support its drive to add value.

IFA President, Joe Healy, aligned himself with the aquaculture industry by confirming that his organisation’s remit extends to all Irish food producers:

“Aquaculture is not the ‘new kid on the block’ anymore. We have a lot in common as food producers. It is often challenging to be a farmer and whether it is incomes, stock losses or environmental issues, all food production goes through cycles and IFA is there for you when that happens.

“Most importantly, we want to make regulation easier for you. That’s why our main job is to overcome the barriers of bureaucracy and red tape in the Department and its agencies.”