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Hooked on rich waters but bound by red tape

It would be no exaggeration to say that John Harrington lives off the tide. The fish farmer from Ardgroom, west Cork, supplies organic mussels to the domestic, British and Continental markets.

Over the last three decades, John and his brother Flor have developed a thriving business and their Kush Shellfish brand has a turnover of more than €1.5m.

However, while they are masters of their trade, John Harrington points out that their business is essentially based on providing an environment for the mussels to grow and allowing the plankton in the tide to feed them.

"Tens of thousands of tonnes of feed are carried in and out of these bays twice a day by the tide and all we provide are the lines on which the mussels locate," John explains.

While growing mussels may seem a simple enough business, the Harringtons have sought to maximise the benefits of their environment by producing organic shellfish.

To secure this tag, they use bio-degradable oils on all machinery. The fact that they are located in Class A waters and in a Special Area of Conser-vation (SAC) does the rest.

The Harringtons have invested more than €1m in their business over the last three years, with the bulk of that money going on a new harvesting boat.

Marketing their produce both at home and abroad is now the focus. With this in mind they have sourced new buyers on the Continent, while also securing a contract to supply mussels to Superquinn.

While John Harrington believes Ireland could increase its mussel output 10-fold if there was the political will to do so, the clampdown on the issuing of licences means that they have had to develop partnerships with other fish farmers in order to grow their business.

However, he is passionate about the industry and maintains that highlighting the benefits of eating fish and shellfish is the best way to grow markets.

"I believe McDonalds should be selling mussels in time," John says.

Richard Murphy is another man who is a past master in developing markets and getting Irish fish on supermarket shelves.

Along with business partner Peter O'Sullivan, Richard established Shellfish De La Mer in the late 1980s.


The pair had originally been fishermen and started in the retail game by selling a proportion of their catch to local restaurants.

The business blossomed and they now own a major processing centre in Castletownbere employing more than 100 people and supplying more than 100 products across Europe and even the Far East.

They also have a strong presence on the home market, with contracts secured to supply Tesco, Supervalu and Dunnes.

The business has a turnover of close to €10m, with more than 50pc of the produce exported.

Richard has stayed involved in the fishing game and the company run five boats. They have also continued to supply the restaurant trade, as well as servicing both export markets and supermarket orders.

Richard is adamant that much more could be done to develop the fish farming industry if the proper structures were put in place.

He points out that Chile went from growing a couple of hundred tonnes of mussels to producing 150,000t in less than a decade because the Chilean government supported it.

"There are huge opportunities in Ireland for scallop farming but because of all the regulations it hasn't got off the ground," Richard says.

"We have some of the richest water in the world and we should be availing of the opportunities that exist. This is an excellent industry which gives real and sustainable jobs. It deserves more backing."

This view is shared by Johnny Power, who heads up Marine Harvest Southwest, one of the main salmon farming concerns in the country.

The company also has operations in Norway, Canada and Chile but the Irish concern is a stand-alone unit.

It employs 37 people and produces around 3,000t of salmon each year, which is worth around €20m.

There is a long history of salmon farming in the southwest, dating back to ESB's involvement, and Marine Harvest Southwest still have three sites off the Beara and Iveragh peninsulas.

The company has now moved into supplying organic salmon and Johnny Power is adamant that they could provide six times the volumes they currently produce.

However, difficulties in the planning and licensing process mean that securing clearance to expand existing sites or develop new sites is proving a major hindrance to expanding the industry.

Irish Independent