Posted on Wednesday 25 January 2017 by Ulster Business
To have profiled just one of the two livewires behind what can only be described as the reignition of the marine economy in Kilkeel and the surrounding district would have been only half the story.
We chose to focus on both Davey Hill and Alan McCulla because together they have breathed new life into an age-old industry and put realistic plans in place to turn the area into a fishing and offshore services hub of global significance.
That will be quite an achievement, particularly in an industry which has faced so many challenges over the years.
Sea Source, the organisation which employs both men, is the brand name for the collective known as the Anglo North Irish Fish Producers Organisation (ANIFPO).
Established in 1984, the members’ organisation was set up to manage the quotas of a fishing fleet of more than 50 vessels and to maximise the value of the landed catch at Ardglass, Annalong, Kilkeel and Portavogie.
By 2007 it grew to include a fish sales division, quickly adding a processing plant, a move which has allowed its members to catch, sell and process their own fish or shellfish under the Sea Source name.
“It means we’re adding value to the product and ultimately getting more money back to the fishermen and women who caught it,” Alan McCulla, who is in charge of the seafood side of the business, said. “The more we can do to make the industry more economically sustainable for our members the better.”
Furthering that aim is a well-rounded proposal to extend the harbour in Kilkeel, a move which would allow large vessels to dock there.
At present there are some vessels owned by Kilkeel fishermen which are too big to land in the town and their owners are forced to head for harbours in Scotland or even Denmark.
An extended harbour would mean that fish would be landed in the town, processed there sold with Northern Ireland provenance as far afield as Japan and add to the local economy.
“Kilkeel is on the brink of a new era in which fishing and offshore work combine to create a wealth of industrial activity which will re-ignite the marine economy,” Alan said.
The industrial activity he refers to is the other major string to Sea Source’s bow, one which Davey Hill manages.
It involves the diversification of vessels to work in the offshore energy sector, servicing wind turbines and other marine energy technology as part of the Anglo North Irish Offshore Energy Services Ltd, or Sea Source Offshore.
It has undertaken a number contracts which have included the deployment of 11 vessels to lay a communication cable between between Wales and Ireland and work for Danish wind turbine company DONG Energy.
“We’ve put a lot of work in behind the scenes, upskilling both the boats and crew, making sure all safety measures are in place and that we’re ready to work with the energy companies,” Davey said. “But it was all worth it.
“We can now harvest a living not just from fishing but from diversifying as well. We’ve even trained people up to become marine mammal observers, an initiative of our own.”
With such an innovative approach to the marine industry – one which also includes supply businesses such as marine mechanics, fish processing, a skills and training centre and other related activities – it’s no wonder that Alan McCulla reckons an extended harbour could create 1,000 jobs for the region.
“In the Irish Sea basin, there are many competitor ports along the south west coast of Scotland, the west coasts of England and Wales and the Republic of Ireland yet Kilkeel stands out as the most forward-thinking and ambitious of them all. This position needs to be consolidated and Kilkeel must be upgraded to make it for purpose for the challenges and opportunities which lie ahead.”