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Where Are the Innovators in Ireland's Aquatech Sector - BIM Conference in Kerry

19th October 2023
BIM staff operate a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) near a mussel farm in Leenane, Co Galway
BIM staff operate a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) near a mussel farm in Leenane, Co Galway

Ireland’s potential in “aquatech” is the theme of a Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) conference in Kerry today, when one of the keynote speakers will ask why there has been no innovation in this area here in the last two decades.

As The Irish Times reports, Australian marine biologist Neil Sims recalls a conference here on “farming the deep blue” in 2004, where he says that international participants were “blown away” by the enthusiasm and innovative spirit of their Irish counterparts.

A report commissioned by BIM and the Marine Institute for that conference had made an “overwhelming” case for developing and expanding offshore aquaculture.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) had estimated two decades ago that the demand for fishery products would rise to 180 million tonnes by 2030. One of the report’s key conclusions was that finfish farming must move offshore for environmental reasons, including reduced impact on wild fisheries inshore.

Richard Donnelly, Development and Innovation Director of BIMRichard Donnelly, Development and Innovation Director of BIM

“I’d like to know what happened in Ireland since then,”Sims told The Irish Times, before travelling to Ireland, where he is one of several keynote speakers at the BIM conference in Killarney today.

Sims, a specialist in applied marine research, is based in Hawaii. His company, Ocean Era, has developed what is described as the first integrated hatchery and open ocean fish farm in North America.

“In the offshore aqua-technology space, I cannot think of one single innovation that has come out of Ireland in the last 20 years,” he says.

“It strikes me as disappointing, when the world desperately needs sustainable aquaculture, and when a number of leading environmental groups which had been having pitched battles over fish farming 20 years ago in the US now recognise that blue food is required and that a global climate crisis requires a softer planetary footprint,”Sims told the newspaper.

Ireland’s growing expertise in the developing aquatech sector means it has the potential to become a global leader in the field, with Irish aquatech companies turning over €200m last year, BIM has said..

Over €15m has been invested in aquatech businesses in the last six years, and more than 200 hi-tech jobs created in the sector, it says.

Aquatech is described as any technology or innovation driving sustainable seafood farming, and it can be applied progressively to the breeding, raising, and harvesting of fish, shellfish, and aquatic plants.

Participants at “Aquatech – Ireland’s Global Opportunity” in the Brehon Hotel, Killarney, Co Kerry include the Senior Vice President of the world’s first aquatech unicorn company, E-fishery; a US sustainable seafood expert; a global off-shore aquaculture pioneer, along with a host of Irish aquatech entrepreneurs, and representatives from the Irish Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF).

BIM chief executive Caroline Bocquel said: “We have over 60 companies working in aquatech here, and the sector is worth about €200m. Hatch Blue, who we work closely with, is a major aquatech-focused venture capital firm based in Cork, which has already made Irish-based aquaculture investments."

"We’re starting to see some very significant investments and some brilliant ideas – for example, the use of AI to monitor and provide early warnings on the health of aquaculture fish stocks,” Bocquel said.

The conference is linked to the BIM Innovation Studio, an intensive two week no-fee programme that aims to develop the technological readiness, industry fitness and commercial scalability of emerging aquatech startups.

Funded by the European Maritime and Fisheries Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF) and now in its sixth year, the initiative seeks out projects in Ireland and other European countries that aim to upscale the region’s aquaculture or alt-seafood industries.

To date, the total investment attracted is close to 50 projects and companies that have completed the Innovation Studio over the past six years – including 2023 - is €15.1M, with over 200 hi-tech jobs created, BIM says.

Several companies involved in this year’s Innovation Studio attended a delegation to Southeast Asia earlier this year with Hatch to grow their network and learn more about their potential market. The delegation has secured potential business opportunities on foot of this, BIM says.

The Innovation Studio supports the ambitious goals set out in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine’s Food Vision 2030 Strategy, namely to ‘promote Ireland as a knowledge base for aquaculture technology and research and attract external investment into the sector’, BIM says.

Read The Irish Times report here

Published in BIM, Fishing, Aquaculture Team

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