Leading Journal of the Irish & UK Fishing Industries

135 Classifications in 60 shellfish (bivalve mollusc) production areas safeguards public health and Ireland’s reputation as a world-class producer

The Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) has published the annual classification list for commercial shellfish (bivalve mollusc) production areas across Ireland, assessing 135 classifications in 60 production areas against strict safety requirements for human consumption.

Ireland produces an estimated 28,100 tonnes of shellfish – including mussels, oysters, clams, cockles and scallops – from classified production areas annually, and an additional 2,700 tonnes of scallops are landed from offshore sites. The Irish aquaculture sector is worth an estimated €64 million annually (at the first point of sale) and employs around 1,984 people across the country. Around 90% of shellfish produced in Ireland is exported, principally to European and Asian markets, and Ireland is the second largest producer of oysters in Europe after France.

Live shellfish can only be harvested from production areas which meet strict classification requirements for human consumption, as set out under European and Irish Food laws. The SFPA, in collaboration with the shellfish industry, conducts regular shellfish sampling in all production areas, monitoring the levels of bacterial contamination of shellfish to determine the risk and classification status.  Each production area is designated a rating that determines the conditions, if any, which need to be observed before shellfish can be sold for human consumption.

Across Ireland, nine production areas received ‘upgrades’ during the 2022 review of classifications, one production area received a shift in Seasonal A classification, twelve production areas received ‘downgrades’, one production area was de-classified for mussels, two production areas were declared as dormant, and two production areas received additional classifications during the 2022 annual review of classifications.

Paschal Hayes, Executive Chairperson of the SFPA said that Ireland’s shellfish monitoring programme was important for both consumers and commercial producers.

“One of the principal remits of the SFPA is to ensure that Irish and international consumers can be assured of the quality and safety of fish and seafood harvested here, and that we have sustainable stocks for generations to come. Shellfish production is an important industry in many coastal communities around Ireland and it is essential that the highest standards of food safety are maintained at all times. The SFPA works in collaboration with industry and other state agencies to ensure that production areas are of the highest possible standard and meet rigorous assessment criteria to ensure that the safety and quality of the shellfish placed on the market is not compromised in any manner. This work is an important pillar in both preserving and further enhancing Ireland’s global reputation for quality, safe and delicious seafood. It is incumbent upon all working in the industry to remain vigilant to any risks which have the potential to impact our seafood production areas and that we adopt a collective approach throughout with a focus on quality and sustainable seafood”.

Sinéad Keaveney, Team Leader, Shellfish Microbiology, Marine Institute said: “The publication of the classification list is the annual culmination of the ongoing partnership between the Marine Institute and SFPA in the microbiological monitoring of shellfish production areas in Ireland. As the National Reference Laboratory for monitoring E. coli contamination in bivalve shellfish, the Marine Institute oversees the national E. coli testing programme ensuring high quality test results produced by the laboratories. This contributes significantly to the assessment of the risk of microbiological contamination in shellfish production areas and the overall classification status of individual production areas.”