Seafood: Industry looks to marketing initiatives A difficult export climate is hitting processors hard and even the locals are slippery says Andy Lee Northern Ireland's seafood industry is heavily dependent on exports, which means the strong pound is causing its £65m processing sector some serious headaches. Around 80% of the industry's turnover is generated by overseas sales, and the pound is a major worry for companies like Co Down based Rooney Fish, which processes shellfish and white fish for customers in France, Italy and Spain. Managing director John Rooney says: "The pound is crucifying a lot of us at the moment. We also had a very bad millennium, because France consumed far fewer shellfish than expected after bad weather and power cuts turned their celebrations into a non-event." Rooney is also dismayed at pressure on supplies caused by EU quotas, particularly on white fish. "We just haven't got enough white fish, and the imports are coming in and destroying us. The situation needs to be sorted out." The unfavourable export climate is causing widespread concern. However, the industry is fighting back by modernising processes, and through a range of marketing initiatives from Northern Ireland Seafood, the industry-wide body set up to promote sales at home and abroad. In May, NIS will launch an e-commerce web site designed to help members to do business online ­ one of the first such ventures by any trade organisation. Una O'Kane of NIS says: "By giving our members the chance to involve themselves in the design process, we have provided a valuable trading resource to the 10 companies currently signed up, enabling them to sell anything from a dozen oysters to ten tonnes of herring." Next month, NIS will also exhibit at ESE2000 ­ the European Seafood Exposition in Brussels ­ and co host an Irish seafood gala reception attended by high profile guests from government and industry. Dennis Law, the organisation's recently appointed chief executive said the event will be a vital marketing tool to gain access to new international markets. If the industry is using the internet to promote itself abroad, it also has a lot of work to do at home. Northern Ireland consumes 36% less seafood than the rest of the UK, and 45% less than the Republic of Ireland [Taylor Nelson Sofres]. The proportion of Northern Ireland consumers claiming to buy fish is in decline. The retail profile for fish sales is switching to multiple grocers, with the number of people buying from fishmongers down 7% since 1997. To raise the profile of seafood, NIS recently organised a major promotion offering any consumer who bought fresh fish the chance to reclaim half the purchase price. It is also taking information about seafood to children in schools, and holding a series of barbecues to push fish as a fun, nutritious meal. {{Z SUPPLEMENTS }}