THE tiny boarfish was the toast of the Chinese port city of Qingdao last night after a major seafood distributor agreed to market the Atlantic species to the Far Eastern market.
Chinese seafood distributors Sinopesca agreed to take a 12-tonne shipment of the fish on a trial basis, with a view to importing commercial quantities if there is sufficient demand.
"For our industry it's like finding gas or oil in Irish waters," said Karl McHugh of Killybegs-based fishing operator Atlantic Dawn.
He explained 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.
Meanwhile, Glanbia confirmed that it has signed an agreement which will take the volume of dairy and nutritional ingredients being supplied by the Group to China from 7,000 tonnes to 9,000 tonnes.
Glanbia also launched a new whey protein brand for the Chinese infant formula market.
Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries Simon Coveney, who is leading a trade mission to China, paid tribute to the work done behind the scenes to secure the contracts.
As pioneers of the boarfish fishery, Ireland secured 68pc of the EU quota -- almost 56,000 tonnes -- when it was included this year in the EU Common Fisheries Policy.
Up to recently, 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.
Speaking in Qingdao yesterday, Mr Coveney said development of the boarfish trade had the potential to generate significant additional income for the fisheries industry. He also paid tribute to the work Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) had done in developing the fishery.
Last night in Nanjing, Mr Coveney officially launched 'Avonol' -- a whey protein concentrate powder -- for Glanbia. Exports of Irish baby food to China are valued at €128m.
Glanbia generated revenue of €115m from the Asia Pacific region in 2011
"Glanbia's success in China is hugely encouraging for other Irish food businesses, and I congratulate the group on its initiative," Mr Coveney said.
china Deals with bite if quality right: Page24