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Irish firm prying open Chinese oyster market

Move comes after management shake up and with Asian demand for Irish shellfish booming.

Ireland-based, high-end oyster producer Majestic plans to start selling its products into the metropolitan market of Shanghai within the next two weeks, as the company expands its footprint in the Asian giant, Managing Director Des Moore told IntraFish.

"There is a big market for all sizes," Moore said, noting that the company is already doing regular deliveries to Hangzhou and Beijing.

Moore, who took over the helm of the group after splitting with a French partner, previously supplied between 5-6 metric tons a week from France to 10 different countries, but two months ago switched operations to Ireland.

Moore's family businesses, based in Donegal on Ireland's west coast, sells oysters under the "Bells Isle" and "Unique" brands.

Exports of Irish seafood to Asia climbed 23 percent in 2018 to €96 million ($108.5 million), meaning Asia has overtaken the United Kingdom as Ireland’s second-largest seafood export market.

Since the beginning of 2015, when there was a huge overproduction of large oysters in France and Ireland, sales to China have grown steadily.

"We are doing about 3 tons a week to the Far East and I would say that will double," Moore told IntraFish, adding that the company plans to invest in new equipment to do so.

Moore said prices to China, particularly to Hong Kong, have been "very good" but the current political situation there has complicated matters, meaning less people are eating out in the special administrative region.

"It's not the right time to go into that market again," he said.

Since June, protests against an extradition bill that opponents fear would allow Chinese mainland courts jurisdiction over not only criminals but also political dissidents have escalated, descending into violence.

Majestic employs 15-20 people producing between 300-400 metric tons a year. As Moore draws up the company's new strategy he will consider whether and how much of that production will be shipped to mainland Europe, given that logistics routes are not straightforward.

Irish oyster production has been affected over the past two months by an algal bloom outbreak on the south coast of Ireland, with oyster mortality rates reaching between 30-40 percent, Moore said.

For that reason, he said, growth predictions for the year are difficult to calculate at this stage.

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