Irish companies receive €3.1m to tackle fish discards

The joint investment by the EU and Irish governments will help companies invest in cold storage to comply with the EU's fish discards ban as well as boost production of farmed seafood.

Thirteen Irish seafood companies have been awarded €3.1 million ($3.6 million) from the EU and Irish governments to enable them to invest in processing and cold storage as a new EU law banning fish discards comes into effect.

“These grant awards are supporting both capital and innovation projects in seafood processing and aquaculture and for the first time we are supporting four capital projects specifically aimed at handling and storing fish landed under the common fisheries policy landing obligation. This funding will assist four key players in the sector in providing infrastructure for the handling and cold storage of unwanted catches,” Ireland’s minister for agriculture food and the marine Michael Creed said in a statement.

In 2015 the EU introduced a new landing obligation which requires all catches of regulated commercial species to be landed, effectively banning the practice of throwing away unwanted catch. The law is being phased in across fisheries and species and will be fully implemented by 2019.

Creed said the investment would enable the companies to look at new markets for unwanted catches including sale to the high end pet food market, as bait for shellfish fishermen or for the production of health care or pharmaceutical products.

Discarding by-catch – unwanted fish caught by fishing fleets – is a significant problem globally. A report earlier this year by the University of British Columbia and the University of Western Australia said that around 10 million tons of the 100 million tons of fish caught each year is thrown back into the sea, a practice which is fatal for most fish.

Tackling the problem has been given greater urgency in recent years with global fish production approaching its sustainable limit. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, 90 percent of the world’s stocks are at peak production or over-fished, with demand increasing as the world’s population rises. Ireland was last year labelled the worst offender for over-fishing in a report by the New Economics Foundation, which said the country had set fishing quotas in the North East Atlantic 25 percent in excess of scientific advice.

The funding to the thirteen companies, which is being delivered as part of a joint €240 million EU and Ireland investment program running to 2020, also aims to increase aquaculture production in the country by 45,000 tonnes.

Aquaculture, increasingly viewed as a way to meet rising fish demand and reduce stress on wild fish populations is attracting growing levels of investor interest. Fund managers and companies focused on scaling up aquaculture projects have raised money in recent months, and a seafood conference in May heard private equity is set to have a key role to play as the aquaculture industry undergoes a transformation.