Belfast Telegraph

Asian chefs get a taste for Northern Ireland's top fish as industry body pushes exports

By Rachel Martin

Some of Northern Ireland's top fishermen have ventured to Hong Kong to fly the flag for the region's best catches.

It comes as many in the industry hope that opportunities arising from the UK's vote to leave the EU will open up new exports and allow the region's own fishermen exclusive fishing rights in the waters surrounding Northern Ireland.

"It's time to get down to business and make the most of trade opportunities," said Alan McCulla, chief executive of Anglo North Irish Fish Producers' Organisation (ANIFPO).

The co-operative is run by fishermen and owns Sea Source, a company which markets, processes and sells Northern Ireland caught fresh fish.

ANIFPO sent a team of two to a major Asian food industry event - Restaurant & Bar Hong Kong - which is a food industry trade exhibition boasting thousands of the finest food products in the world.

Accompanied by a representative from Invest NI and Jim Hannan of Hannan Meats, the team set out on a mission to meet those ordering fresh sea produce for Asia's top seafood restaurants and raise awareness of the quality found in Northern Ireland fish.

Restaurant & Bar Hong Kong is an influential fine dining and bar exhibition for Asia-Pacific countries. The event focuses on the high end of the food service and bar industry.

Last year the expo was attended by more than 20,000 industry professionals and featured 350 exhibitors. And this year's show is expected to be even bigger.

The event is strictly limited to those working in the industry and is not open to members of the public, making it an ideal venue for doing business.

ANIFPO's presence at the event cost the body almost £10,000 - a sure vote of the confidence by members in the region's ability to export.

No deals have been signed in Hong Kong yet, but Mr McCulla said he was confident that the Northern Ireland produce had gone down well.

"We have found the experience to be really positive," he said. "Chefs have been very impressed with the quality and the freshness of our produce. They've been smelling it, nosing it, pulling it apart - seeing what they can do with it."

Going down particularly well were the region's langoustines, monkfish and scallops - which some chefs noted to have a better consistency than scallops they were used to working with.

"They're also impressed with how quickly we can get it from our boat out to their restaurants," said Mr McCulla.

"Catch landed in Kilkeel on a Thursday morning will be brought to the fishermen's own processing factory that same day, taken straight to Dublin Airport, fly out with Emirates freight and be with them on Sunday.

"We're making the most of opportunities we should have been looking at even before Brexit. Three weeks ago we were out in Toyko in Japan."

Sea Source is a company owned by Northern Ireland's fishermen involved in the harvest, sale and processing of fish, as well as other marine based activities.

In July, the co-operative opened the UK's first fishermen-run shop.

The Northern Ireland Fish Producers Organisation Ltd (NIFPO) was formed in 1975. Their headquarters is located in the old Coastguard Cottages in Portavogie.

NIFPO today has approximately 150 member vessels predominately based in Northern Ireland's fishing ports of Portavogie, Ardglass, Annalong and Kilkeel as well as at other ports throughout the UK and Ireland.

Belfast Telegraph