Image by Harrison Photography
Pictured (L – R) are Pat Close, Lough Neagh Fishermans Co-operative Society, and John Hood, Invest NI.
Lough Neagh Fishermen’s Co-operative in Toome is being assisted by Invest Northern Ireland and DARD through the European Fisheries Fund to invest over £400,000 and provide up to five new jobs in processing eels for export.
The co-operative, which currently employs 16 people, has received assistance of £121,380 from both Invest NI and DARD towards the new manufacturing process for eels which it previously exported live to processors outside Northern Ireland.
The new jobs include a new product development/marketing manager, already in place, and production operatives.
John Hood, Invest NI’s Food and Tourism Director, said: “Lough Neagh eels, which now have EU protected name status, have long been regarded by leading European chefs and high-end food retailers as a delicacy. Until a few months ago, live eels were shipped outside Northern Ireland for added-value processing.
“This investment by the co-operative focuses on adding value at Toome and the development of quality products aimed in particular at export markets. The co-operative is seeking to build on the existing reputation for quality and outstanding taste of the Lough Neagh eels and will help to ensure that the economic value of this unique natural resource continues to be developed sensitively and harnessed to the benefit of the business and the fishing families who supply the eels.
“The support has been shaped to encourage and assist the business to exploit the extensive marketing opportunities for the new added-value products in international markets,” he added.
Pat Close, Chairman of Lough Neagh Fishermen’s Co-operative Society, commenting on the investment, said: “This is a very significant project for the society, our suppliers and the wider community from around the lough who are involved in the fishing industry.
“We have established a new processing facility for the preparation and vacuum packing of the eels for sale in Northern Ireland, Britain and other parts of Europe, where they’ve been popular with restaurants and with ‘foodies’ for over 40 years.
“This investment, as the start of a process, will also result in the development of a distinctive Northern Irish brand as well as other added-value products for export. These projects will also help the society, a not-for-profit organisation, to secure new funding to enable us to continue to preserve what is the largest remaining wild eel fishery in Europe, one that’s recognised internationally as a unique resource and is immensely important to the local rural economy.
“The support and encouragement from Invest NI and DARD has enabled us to undertake this very substantial strategic investment for the society and to create additional employment opportunities for local people in food processing and new product development.
“We’ve also benefited from expert advice from the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise at Loughry through an Invest NI Innovation Voucher and are being assisted with branding and marketing by means of Invest NI’s Design Development Programme.”
Lough Neagh Fishermen’s Co-operative Society was formed in 1965 to manage the fishery and market the eels for the benefit of the co-operative’s members and local fishermen. Live eels are exported to customers in London’s Billingsgate Market and in the Netherlands and northern Germany for processing as smoked eel products.
Lough Neagh Eels gained EU protected geographical indication (PGI) status in September 2011, the first for any food in Northern Ireland.