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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

From the Irish Sea to the UAE plate, a fish dinner is served

Two hundred kilograms of fresh cod had been flown out in from Ireland to make sure there are fish and chips at Yas Marina this Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend

Fish can be ordered online from Kilkeel, County Down, Ireland and it arrives in the UAE the next day. 
Fish can be ordered online from Kilkeel, County Down, Ireland and it arrives in the UAE the next day. 

The Irish town of Kilkeel is offering UAE diners a direct chance to order fresh fish virtually straight to their plates.

In a ground-breaking partnership, the Irish Sea Food Company offers Abu Dhabi and Dubai fish lovers the chance to order cold water varieties such as Atlantic cod and Dublin Bay prawns direct from their computers for delivery within a day.

The venture was launched from the 165-year-old fishing harbour to the UAE market in September.

“What we have is proximity to the fishing grounds and we’re sending fish that come fresh from the boats,” says Alan McCulla, chief executive of the Kilkeel fishery. “As the order is made through the website, we are in contact with our boats to make sure we can match it.

“It’s mission-critical to us that this a fresh, sustainably caught product that moves in a very seamless process all the way to Abu Dhabi and the UAE.”

Once taken from the fishing boats, orders are packaged and taken by chilled container vans to Dublin airport, just more than an hour away. The fish is then loaded on to a twice daily Etihad flight from Dublin to Abu Dhabi.

Visitors to this weekend’s Formula One events will have a chance to have a first bite.

Alan O’Donnell, the local director of Irish Sea Food, told The National that 200 kilograms of fresh cod had been flown out in the order that landed on Thursday and would be presented as fish and chips at Yas Marina as the events began.

Mr O’Donnell, a New Zealander, got into the fresh fish market through family holidays with his wife Jennifer, who comes from Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland.

“I saw the opportunities from going to Northern Ireland and experiencing the amazing quality of the food that is taken for granted locally but was very impressive to me,” he says.

“Looking at the opportunities in seafood we saw we could bring over the traditional cold water product such as cod, scallops and haddock that people would be used to, and which is a bit different from the warm water fish available locally.

“It’s also attractive to be working in partnership with a Kilkeel company that is so close to its community and has a commitment to sustainably caught produce under a better set of regulations than maybe is the case elsewhere.”

The distinction between frozen and chilled fresh fish is one of quality. Getting the packages from the Etihad jets that land at Abu Dhabi airport has been entrusted to Souq Planet, a well-established supermarket operator. Distribution to customer’s homes and a select few local hotels is done by Mr O’Donnell’s own chiller vans.

“It’s a big plus for us that Souq Planet has a base less than a mile from Abu Dhabi airport,” he says.

Mr McCulla says the link to the UAE is a part of a regeneration process that has led to the port, on the County Down shoreline facing out from the east coast of Northern Ireland, breaking into new markets.

Kilkeel has rebuilt from about the year 2000 when overfishing in the European industry caused the ruin of traditional North Atlantic fishing communities. It now has ambitious regeneration plans.

Factories have opened on the quayside and marketing tours of trade fairs and agricultural shows have taken its representatives around the world.

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Kilkeel sees the link to the UAE as a statement of its ambitions to win a following for its catch in its home markets and beyond Europe.

With the British exit from the EU looming ever closer, Mr McCulla is confident that the fishermen in the port can ride out any turbulence.

“The EU is not going to help us build a vibrant fishing industry in County Down,” says Mr McCulla, who is part of the industry committees that provide feedback on industry quotas that are set every year.

“Mother Nature has been bountiful to us but the lack of opportunities for the industry as a result of fisheries policies is a real issue for us.”

Politics is never far away in Northern Ireland and the issue of Brexit has set up a fork in the road for the town and its dominant industry.

While it seems certain that the new UK fishing policy will take the shackles off the domestic industry, there is a threat of barriers in selling to EU markets.

That includes problems with movement across the nearby border with the republic, through Abu Dhabi and Dubai customers receive their seafood. “We don’t want that to happen,” Mr McCulla says. “There will be new fishing agreement to decide on future access rights and quotas.”