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16 October 2014
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With the EU holding fishermen to ransom with constantly changing regulations, Brian Cunningham was forced to rethink his trade and make changes for the survival of his livelihood. Mussels, it seemed, were the way forward...


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It was a crisp morning in Spring when two YPAM reporters headed down to the Rostrevor harbour in order to meet Brian Cunningham, owner of two trawlers, whose business is to provide a steady supply of mussels to a European market. Until five years ago, Brian was an experienced off-shore fisherman fishing from Kilkeel harbour, a career forged by generations before him and which he himself went into at the tender age of 18 after the premature death of his father.

Brian had done well at school and had been encouraged by teachers to stay on and follow a fleeting notion of becoming a geography teacher. But when circumstances changed, the decision to fish for a living was inevitable and an easy one to make. Perhaps if Brian had known the crisis that was to befall the fishing industry he may have reconsidered and took the bus to St Mary’s Teacher Training College after all. With the EU changing the fishing regulations “every time they change their socks”, Brian’s livelihood, like many others, was hopelessly crippled.

At this, Brian made the decision to diversify into a different mode of fishing, that of mussel farming. So far this has proved to be a successful venture, offering highly skilled fishermen a choice beyond “a job in a prawn factory”. It also offers more regular hours and a better quality of family life to the men who before worked up to 100 hours a week on the sea.

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Salmon farming has courted much controversy with environmentalists highlighting the damage it’s doing to our coastal waters and to the survival of wild salmon. But Brian insists that mussel farming is a safe business which makes good use of barren waters. He leases an area of water in which he plants the juvenile mussels, nurturing them until they’re ready to be harvested.

At the moment he only fishes to demand and has private contracts from France and Holland. This means that they usually always fish on a Saturday and Sunday to be ready for the Monday and Tuesday delivery, bringing in twenty tonnes of mussels at a time if possible.


It’s a ten hour day and a physical job to say the least. On board the trawler is a computer showing a map of the leased area where they are licensed to fish. The mussel dredges are lowered into this
area and dragged behind the vessel. When they are full, they are pulled back up and dumped into
the bins. The mussels then travel along the conveyor belt, through the washing and grading systems before being put into bags ready to be transported.

While the job can be a demanding one, there is no doubt that these men love the life on the sea, claiming that one
day is never the same as another. While Brian is adamant that he doesn’t want his son to follow him into this trade, indeed threatening to "put him in a straightjacket" if he even suggests it, he himself has no regrets. However, he wants the government to take some responsibility for the industry and to encourage more diverse forms of fishing like this, so that the ancient skills of the fisherman are not eventually lost forever.

He himself has had to make major changes to his catch to survive and so far it’s seemingly been worth it. Not only is Brian able once more to make a steady living from the sea, but is also in a position to give employment to other skilled fishermen around him. Until, that is, the EU decide to change their minds on fishing once again…

Mussel dredges


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Brian Cunningham - June '08
Just thought I'd let local mussel connisures know that live/fresh produce will be available from an outlet in Warrenpoint in early 2009. Other products will include, live/fresh prawns, crabs, lobsters and scallops.Well I'm still farming mussels in Carlingford Lough . Business is pretty good and a few years on we are now producing the highest quality product on the Europeon fresh mussel market.

David - Mar '07
I agree! but why can't we buy them here? it seems stupid to me that mussel's cultivated in the very sea at our doors cannot be bought somewhere in the town, why can't they even sell a few in the wee fish van on Friday's?
Either that or we just nip out and "borrow" some, just like the days of apple scrumping.

Carol Carr - April '06
Living in Warrenpoint, we see the mussel boats regularly. It's great that the fishermen have been able to diversify, & at first we thought - "at last we'll be able to buy really fresh mussels locally!" - alas, none of this locally caught produce is available in Warrenpoint!



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