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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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