Seafood sector remained resilient in 2020, new report says

Foodservice closures offset by increase in retail market

The seafood sector remained resilient throughout 2020, despite the ongoing difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic, a new economic assessment of the sector has found.

The Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) report found the sector adapted to the disruption triggered by the Covid-19 outbreak and associated measures to help slow its spread, with employment remaining stable and new markets were explored. More than 16,000 people are employed directly and indirectly by Ireland's seafood industry.

The value of the seafood economy in Ireland last year was almost €1.1 billion, a decline of 12 per cent year on year as the global markets were disrupted. Domestic consumption was 18 per cent lower as the foodservice sector was effectively closed for much of the year and the ongoing uncertainty over the UK's exit from the European Union contributed to challenging conditions.

Exports to European and Asian markets were lower, but the value of exports to Africa grew by 87 per cent, and the Middle East saw an increase of 43 per cent. The EU remained the top export market at €321 million, with the UK at €93 million and Africa accounting for €75 million.


Imports accounted for €327 million, with €188 million coming from the UK.

"Undoubtedly 2020 was a challenging year for the seafood sector but yet again the sector displayed its ability to adjust and refocus to the available market opportunities," said Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue, who launched the report. "The seafood sector maintained a strong and important continuous supply of top quality seafood overcoming the challenges presented by the pandemic."

Exports-imports were valued at €263 million, down 10 per cent, while private investment fell 17 per cent to €213 million. Government investment was 9 per cent higher at €203 million.

Irish vessels landed a total of €346 million into Irish ports, with Killybegs accounting for €112 million and Castletownbere at €104 million.

"There is no doubt that 2020 was a difficult year for the seafood industry with many markets experiencing reduced demand, directly related to the Covid-19 pandemic," BIM chief executive Jim O'Toole said. "The Irish seafood sector sells a lot of its produce to foodservice markets in Europe and in Asia which experienced lengthy lockdowns significantly impacting sales. The industry showed great agility during the year and looked to alternatives for its products, switching where possible from supplying hospitality to supplying the retail market and online sales."

Mr O’Toole remained optimistic about the sector’s future. “Looking ahead, there are many reasons to be hopeful and the sector is set to avail of the opportunities that will emerge as markets reopen and we can look forward to some recovery as 2021 progresses, notwithstanding the new challenges introduced by the Trade and Cooperation Agreement with the UK,” he said.

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien is an Irish Times business and technology journalist