Irish aquaculture production topped 44,000 tonnes in 2016 – a 9% increase in volume over the previous year which translates to a first point-of-sale value of €167m and accounts for 1,900 jobs, up 6%, according to the 2017 BIM Annual Aquaculture Survey.

BIM 2017 Aquaculture Survey

Mussel farming. Photo courtesy SFPA

In 2016, the survey notes that Gigas oyster production at 10,000 tonnes accounted for 25% of Ireland’s overall aquaculture production – up 11% on 2015. Even more significant however was the increase in value of this species over the previous year – up from €35m to €41m. In value terms, Gigas oysters now account for 74% of Ireland’s shellfish aquaculture.

On the finfish side, BIM’s data declares that 2016 was a successful year for salmon farmers who recorded a total harvest of 16,300 tonnes, valued at €105m – an increase of 24% and 16% respectively.

Of the total 1,900 jobs in Ireland’s aquaculture industry, the survey notes that the oyster sector (Gigas and native species combined) is by far the largest employer offering 1,330 jobs, or 70%.

Challenging year for mussels

The survey reveals that 2016 was another challenging year for the seabed cultured and rope mussel sectors which had a combined 16,000 tonnes harvest valued at €12m – down slightly on 2015 due to a competitive market for both sectors and a shortage of seed mussels for the seabed growers in particular.

BIM is optimistic however, noting that increased mussel seed settlement observed in recent years is likely to be reflected in the 2017 harvest.

As for Ireland’s shellfish sector as a whole, the survey presents the harvest figure and value for each of the main groups: Mussels (rope): 9,760t – € 6.5m Oysters (gigas): 9,681t – €41.5m Mussels (seabed): 6,361t – € 5.8m.

These figures are dwarfed somewhat however when compared to the salmon sector’s 16,300t annual harvest valued at €108.6m. Nevertheless, when viewed in terms of employment, the shellfish sector is the clear winner overall with 1,178 job, and salmon farming a long way behind with 211 jobs.

Of the fifteen counties listed by BIM as having some form of aquaculture activity, only three are not coastal: Kilkenny (freshwater trout); Roscommon and Tipperary (both perch). As for the numbers working in aquaculture, Donegal is the clear winner with 481 jobs.

The survey breaks these down as 246 Gigas oysters; 125 native oysters; 82 salmon; 14 rope mussels; 10 seabed mussels and 4 scallops.

In 2016, the aquaculture industry delivered just over €28m to the county.