Marine Harvest Ireland keen to expand, explore Chinese potential
Undercurrent News: August 2, 2013
By Neil Ramsden
Marine Harvest’s other UK arm, in Scotland
Marine Harvest Ireland (MHI) would be keen to explore the potential of the Chinese market, but first needs to expand its production, it told Undercurrent News.
Speaking the day after Ireland finally secured full market access to China for its salmon exports, the Irish arm of Norway’s salmon farming giant said its product would find a welcoming market in China, but it is currently running at full capacity.
While this year it will probably produce “no more than 11,000 metric tons”, a long-term aim is to produce around 20,000 by 2020.
“Long-term, this is an excellent opportunity for Ireland’s export market as the Chinese market is expanding. It is therefore potentially very lucrative to the country,” an MHI spokesperson told Undercurrent.
“Unfortunately, as things stand currently, this will make very little difference to MHI as we are currently operating at full capacity. We have applied to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine for new licenses and reviews of current licenses to operate fish farms off the coast of Ireland. These are still being processed and until we can increase our operations we are unable to increase our production of organic Irish salmon.”
Aquaculture licensing has not been functioning of late, but the department has assured MHI it is trying to rectify this with the introduction of new templates and parameters to encourage sustainable best practices, as well as the application of environmental EU directives, the firm said.
Currently MHI does not export to China, but it would be very keen to, the spokesperson said.
“We produce organic Irish salmon of exceptional quality. It is a high-end niche product and we believe there would be a demand for this product in China.”
At the moment the farmer is unable to fulfill all the orders it receives for its product, as all its Irish fish farms are operating at full capacity. While it has applied for licenses to operate additional farms around the coast of Ireland, until such time as a decision might be reached it is unable to explore opportunities in other markets.
Opposition to growth
Irish campaign group Save Bantry Bay has expressed its concerns that any attempt by Ireland’s salmon farming industry to meet Chinese demand would be too large a step, and that the existing levels of aquaculture are already harming the environment.
“Even if each person in China ate just one small portion (100g) of Irish farmed salmon a year, they would be consuming nine times Ireland’s current total output,” it said in a statement.
MHI responded to this by pointing out its operating procedures adhere to the highest standards and best practices, and will continue to do so.
“China is potentially an enormous market, but we would only be interested in certain high-end niche market positions, as we do in other large markets,” the MHI spokesperson said. “Our ambitions in Ireland remain very modest relative to other salmon producing countries.”
“The Faroe Isles is a country roughly five times the size of Achill Island, off the west coast of Ireland, and it produces 70,000 tons.”
Only last month Marine Harvest Scotland announced it had seen sales of £25 million to China after just two full years in the marketplace, the proving what a lucrative market the country is.
Direct sales to China opened up for the first time at the start of 2011 after an agreement was signed between the Scottish and Chinese governments, and Scottish farmed salmon has proved very appealing to the Chinese market with sales of £9m in the first year alone.
“Traditionally Chinese consumers have not placed a great deal of value on the origin of their fish and a Made in Scotland label was simply not going to be enough,” said Georgina Wright, head of sales for MHS.
The solution was to develop a brand appropriate for the Chinese market. Market research showed consumers associated the words good, beauty and dignity with salmon.
These have been combined into a recognizable Chinese character which is pronounced in the same way as “delicious” and holds connotations of freshness, health and beauty.
Currently MHI is the largest aquaculture company in Ireland, producing premium salmon under the brand name of Donegal Silver, and organic salmon under the brand names of Clare Island Organic and the Organic Salmon Company.