Donegal company secures Asian fish contract

A Donegal company has scooped a huge contract to sell fish to Asia during a trade mission to China.

A Donegal company has scooped a huge contract to sell fish to Asia during a trade mission to China.

Fishing company Atlantic Dawn has secured a deal to supply a 12-tonne shipment of the tiny boarfish on a trial basis to Chinese seafood distributors Sinopesca.

Karl McHugh of the Killybegs company said that finding a consumer outlet for the boarfish -- often called red fish and weighing just 50 grams -- would transform the fishery and add €45m to the value of the catch. “For our industry it’s like finding gas or oil in Irish waters,” he said.

Traditionally the fish were used solely for the fishmeal trade and were worth around €200 a tonne. But Chinese interest in selling the species for human consumption could see this jump to €1,000 a tonne.

That would result in the total value of the Irish boarfish quota jumping from €11m to €56m. It could also add a further four months to their fishing season each year, Mr McHugh said.

“These are state-of-the-art vessels and they’re very expensive ornaments to be left at quayside doing nothing,” he added, explaining that boarfish had always been present in North Atlantic waters but fishermen had not thought them a viable catch because they were so small.

However, the cut in the quotas available to trawlers for traditional species such as mackerel meant other species were now being examined.

Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries Simon Coveney, who is leading the trade mission to China, said the development of the boarfish trade had the potential to generate significant additional income for the fisheries industry.