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Galway Independent


A taste of the Atlantic

Thursday, 29th June, 2017 9:56am

The marine sector comes to the fore in Galway this week, as the city hosts a series of high level industry events. Newly appointed BIM CEO Jim O’Toole speaks to Rebecca Maher about the challenges and opportunities facing the sector

Galway hosts a series of major marine events this week, beginning with the Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) National Seafood Conference tomorrow, Thursday, followed by ‘Our Ocean Wealth’ summit, taking place on Friday as part of the national maritime festival SeaFest at Galway Docks, which runs over the weekend. 

BIM’s one-day seafood industry meeting, which takes place tomorrow in the Radisson Blu Hotel, is headlined ‘Winning in a Changing Environment’, acknowledging, among other issues, the looming spectre of Brexit.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine will hold a pre-conference Brexit Discussion tomorrow morning at 8.45am, when Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Michael Creed will deliver the Discussion’s opening speech.

The potential issues arising from Brexit for the seafood sector will be then explored in a guest panel discussion with key industry leaders that will be chaired by Dr. Cecil Beamish, Assistant Secretary General at the Department.

“We are very aware how volatile the market environment is and our focus is all about trying look at the opportunities and prepare the industry for those opportunities,” says Jim O’Toole, newly appointed CEO of BIM, Ireland’s Seafood Development Agency.

Moderated by Dragon’s Den’s Gavin Duffy, the BIM conference itself will focus on topics such as innovation - in a session titled ‘Change or Be Left Behind’ - sustainability, skills, and competitiveness.

The agency is also set to launch its Business of Seafood Report for 2016, which details the value of the seafood sector and its role in Ireland’s economy.

Contributing €1 billion in GDP to the overall economy, Irish seafood represents 70 per cent of the overall ‘Blue Economy’, valued at €1.4 billion. The seafood industry employs an estimated 8,500 people, in full and part-time roles, rising to 11,000 when indirect employment is included.

“The value on a macro level, on a national level, is valuable, but when you put it in the context of coastal communities where there may be fewer alternatives it is really fundamentally important,” says Mr O’Toole of the seafood sector.

Internationally, demand for seafood is soaring and is expected to increase by 50 per cent by 2030 and there is huge growth potential in the Irish sector, particular as seafood is already engrained in the country’s tourism offering.

Mr O’Toole points to the ‘Taste the Atlantic – A Seafood Journey’ along the Wild Atlantic Way, which includes local restaurants and food producers, as an initiative that encourages visitors to learn more about Irish seafood, such as local producers Connemara Smokehouse and Kelly’s Oysters.

“When consumers, be they from Continental Europe or elsewhere, when they go back from their holiday and whatever suntan they may have gleaned has faded away, what they will remember is the experience they had and they’ll talk about the seafood products that they dined on.”

Through Taste the Atlantic, they’ll also get the opportunity to meet some seafood producers, which will be “something that will lodge with them”. “That builds in creating that positive image that Irish seafood has,” says Mr O’Toole, adding that those visitors will then have a strong affinity with Irish seafood products when they spot them on the supermarket shelves in their home country.

Following BIM’s conference tomorrow, Mr O’Toole will serve as keynote speaker on the topic ‘The Coastal Economy’ at the ‘Our Ocean Wealth’ summit at NUI Galway on Friday, discussing how Irish business can succeed in a competitive and volatile environment. Other speakers include Fiona Monaghan, Head of the Wild Atlantic Way programme at Failte Ireland, Commissioners of Irish Lights CEO Yvonne Shields, Hywind Statoil advisor Geirr Haarr, SEAI CEO Jim Gannon and economist Dan O’Brien.

To round off the week in style, BIM’s Big Top on the Dock returns to Galway Harbour on Friday, Saturday and Sunday as part of the SeaFest family festival.

BIM’s Educational Seafood Experience is one of the highlights of the festival with exhibits including virtual reality displays explaining how Irish seafood is sustainably caught and farmed, live cookery and fishmongery demonstrations by top chefs. A seafood market will also take place outside the exhibition Big Top, co-ordinated by Bord Bia.

“People are fascinated by seafood and marine life and they don’t get demonstrations, to ask questions of experts to understand it in greater depth and it’s a great opportunity to do that,” says Mr O’Toole.

For more on Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM), see For more on SeaFest, see



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