Due to start production next month, BII will produce the ingredients from blue whiting and boarfish for the international food, beverage and pet food markets.
It expects a spray-dried soluble protein powder aimed primarily at the human nutrition market will be the most commercially significant product within its portfolio. Meanwhile the calcium powder will be produced from the fish bones and the company has already seen interest in this line from Asia.
The new plant will have an annual production capacity of over 10,000 tonnes of raw material at its new County Monaghan plant, which it says means it has the potential to become a “major new ingredient supplier”.
It also has planning permission for a 7,000 square metre plant in the coastal area of Killybegs in County Donegal, which will have a further annual production capacity of over 100,000 tonnes of the fish.
About 30% of this raw material will be processed into nutritional ingredients and the remaining 70% is primarily water, making the production zero waste, CEO of the company and former CEO of the Irish Sea Fisheries Board (BIM) Jason Whooley told us.
Whooley said he was making the move from fisheries board to nutrition ingredient processing because the sector represented a “really interesting and exciting opportunity”.
Owned by fishing vessel firms, he said the company had a “huge advantage” through complete control of its supply chain.
A different kettle of fish
There have been several high profile projects on Irish marine resources in recent years, not least the seven-year NutraMara programme backed by a €5.2m grant from the Irish government and MaraPep, which looks into potential anti-diabetic properties of peptides extracted from fish and seaweed.
From these projects Boarfish (Capros aper) and blue whiting (Micromesistius poutassou) have emerged as a particular opportunity for Ireland.
The species are among the most abundantly caught fish in Irish seas, with about 100,000 tonnes caught every year and a quota of 1.3 million tonnes set for 2017.
But the small bony fish hold little appeal for consumers as fillets and whole fish and their varying size has also posed a commercial barrier in this market.
“Because they’re not very ‘appetising’ and they don’t look very nice, the consumers will virtually ignore them if you put them on a fish monger stall,” Dr Chris Mclaughlin, one of the University of Ulster researchers behind the NutraMara project, told us in the past.
“We’re trying to figure out what we can do with this fish since it is normally discarded or used as fertiliser.”
From fillet to next generation protein
Whooley echoed this saying BII would take the under-utilised fish from feed and fillet to next generation protein source.
He said that while BII was not directly involved in these projects, he was very familiar with the publicly-funded projects and their scientists.
He said in many ways they were aligned in their ambitions to make use of under-utilised marine resources.
“There is a global constraint on protein and given the population trends, this will only increase in the future,” said Whooley, who has been working in the Irish seafood industry for 20 years.
“We have a fantastic raw material at our disposal and our aim is to work with prospective business partners to add value to our products and ultimately help reduce some of the protein supply challenges into the future.”