Irish fishing co-op: Brexit is the big unknown

After nearly 50 successful years, one Irish fishing co-op finds it difficult to plan ahead.

Brexit is one of the biggest unkowns Ireland's seafood industry is currently facing, John Nolan, managing director at Castletownbere Fisherman's Co-op, told IntraFish.

The co-op, which fetches 75 percent of its €56 million ($60.2 million) annual turnover from exports, is seeing challenges on both the fishing and the market side.

The United Kingdom is a major market for Irish haddock, and this is also the case for the co-op. In addition, 30 percent of its shrimp are caught in British waters.

"Brexit is a worry, of course," Nolan said. "It's difficult to plan too far ahead at the moment. Brexit is a big unknown.

"Will the CFP [Common Fishing Policy] change? We don't know."

Castletownbere Fisherman's Co-op, which will celebrate 50 years in business next year, has worldwide customers. However, its main focus is on Europe.

Spain is its biggest market, after it inked a supply deal with retail giant Mercadona some years ago for the supply of witches, megrim, hake and monkfish, followed by France, Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom.

It also has customers in Africa for its horse mackerel and blue whiting, and it is "trying to open up the Chinese market," Nolan said.

Plans to grow further are in the cards, but "until Brexit is finally decided it's difficult to make plans."

The co-op is 100 percent-owned by fishermen, and has more than 65 Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and BIM Responsibly Sourced Standard-certified boats, as well as one processing plant under its belt.

What has worked for Castletownbere Fisherman's Co-op was to cut out the middleman, Nolan said. "We work for the fishermen and our aim is to always do the best with the least amount of links in the chain."

He described Mercadona as a "very forward-thinking company, who is taking care of the boss, which is the customer. As a supplier we're a partner."

The company was recently awarded the ‘Green Business of the Year’ at the annual Green Awards held in Dublin, for its energy efficiency initiatives including the installation of solar photo-voltaic panels last year, which cost €250,000 ($268,808) and will deliver electricity savings of 10 percent a year.

On Monday, UK Prime Minister Theresa May announced the United Kingdom will trigger article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty on March 29 to formally start exit negotiations with the European Union.

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